Some have already spent years in the shadows, waiting for the right moment - others have barely left their bedroom studios. Some aim for headlining festival stages, others aim for nothing in particular – but all of them have developed a sound with the potential to turn a lot of heads. With this feature we shine a light on some of the most interesting emerging new talents our tiny country has to offer.
For this instalment we have travelled to the quiet city of Aalst. It’s here that one of Belgium’s newest techno talents is developing his music slowly, but steady. With well received releases on the highly acclaimed Black Sun and Stockholm Ltd record labels, Robin Dewolf aka Phara is on his way to become someone every 4x4 fan needs to keep their eyes and ears on. He may be under your radar for now, but we’re betting you’ll be seeing him behind the decks at your favourite techno clubs and festivals real soon.
Hi Robin, how would you describe your own sound in one sentence?
“Raw, powerful and varied techno. Many of my productions really have different sound because I like to experiment with diverse ways of working in the studio. I find it very difficult to work within just one frame. One week I like to put distortion on everything, the next I’m keeping everything clean. This keeps the production process interesting and as a result there are no breaks on the creativity."
Where did the love for techno come from?
"When I was a thirteen, I used to stay up late until 4am and listen to the livestream of I Love Techno (back when there was actual techno). That’s when I first got in contact with the genre. I didn’t really do much with it at this time as I was still too young to be allowed entry at these events. I still return to the oldskool stuff by guys like Dave Clarke. That was music that was a little rougher, which I still prefer. A clean track that sounds like it has been tweaked on for hours is just less my cup of tea."
What was the path you walked as a producer? We presume you didn’t start out making techno?
"Well, when I was about eight years old, I did percussion classes for a long while in music school. This was definitely important for my music education. Electronic music came a lot later when I discovered the ‘bass scene’, a style that doesn’t really get as much attention anymore as it used to, which is unfortunate because I still very much like it. Lots of percussions, basslines and catchy synths. With my basic music education, I quickly understood the in-and-outs of Ableton – and before I knew it I was watching YouTube tutorials all night, accompanied by countless bottles of soda and bags of chips. Once I was comfortable enough with the software I added my first synths and drum computers. These were the first of my collection that still expands to this day. The somewhat more limited amount of options that hardware provides, led me to make more repetitive sounds, like house – and later techno.
For a good amount of time I was making music with my pal Geordi Bogaert. Our music got picked up by the local house label 9300 Records, where we eventually released an EP with mostly melodic house under the name ‘Shin’. Even though I continue to make experimental house until this day – mostly under my Robert D. alias - I was increasingly tempted to make percussive techno. I made some bits and sent some stuff over to a couple record labels without much expectations. When Black Sun emailed me, asking if I was interested in releasing an entire LP with them I was delighted of course. This is how ‘Next Of Kin’ was born."
So, if we understand correctly, you’re releasing music under three aliases?
"Well, as a producer I think it’s important not to focus on just one sound. I’m not listening to techno 24/7. I grew up with the music of Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre and disco around me, so that definitely had its influence on me. ‘Shin’ and ‘Robert D.’ will always be my go-to names to push more melodic sounds, without the rigid ‘genre categorization’. The upcoming ‘Lost Legacy Tracks EP’ on 9300 Records will be prime example of that."
You just released a new EP on Stockholm Ltd, the label of Swedish techno legend Pär Grindvik. How did you end up there?
"Same as with my Black Sun release, I had just sent over some tracks without much expectation. It’s an understatement to say I was happy when the man himself replied with the proposition to release a track on an EP with different artists. Later on he asked if I could do a full EP."
Is this sound the direction you want to keep going in?
"I’m never really looking for a specific sound. When I go to the studio I never know what I will end up with after trying out the endless possible combination of synths, drums and effects. A long as I have fun making music I’m happy. Usually I use my girlfriend as a first test to see if my output is any good. She has the same taste in music and therefor she can judge my music honestly when I can’t."
What was the best gig you’ve played so far?
"Definitely ‘Herrensauna’ in Berlin. I’ve visited the city countless time as a techno tourist, but never actually played there. Before I went to Herrensauna I had already heard many great things about this place – and once I got there it lived up to my expectations. During the whole three hours of my set the crowd was extremely enthusiastic, even though I played a very varied set from Dance Mania classics to 138 bpm techno. The compliments I received afterwards definitely helped to make this gig the best in my career so far. I have to thank my booking office - Korridor - for this, they have done an outstanding job so far."
You’re from Aalst, a city that isn’t particularly known for being a party town – except during Carnival, maybe. What’s your position on the local scene at the moment?
"The local house scene has received a lot more attention the last few years, mostly because of the excellent Spektrum events – which already invited big names like DJ Haus, Palms Trax, DJ Richard, etc. The ‘big audience’ in Ghent or Brussels will never really be attracted to this relatively small city, but I consider this to be a good thing. Spektrum has built a small but very cosy scene where the local music enthusiasts can socialize and have a good time. By the way, these are the same guys that run the 9300 Records label, where I released two EP’s already, so you see the scene is very small and connected.
But when I talk about Aalst I can’t leave out Thomas Blankaert aka Innershades. With his stellar releases on Crème Organization, Pinkman, UTTU and our own 9300 Records he has put the city on the map music-wise (long after people like Tragic Error and Technotronic did so too). He has become a really close friend throughout the years and we share a lot of studio time."