Kozzmozz: 22 years of techno explorations

Pictures by Dimitri Bekaert, Wouter Maeckelberghe & Dlux

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For more than two decades, the Kozzmozz parties have been pushing quality electronic music forward. It’s hard to believe that its first edition on September 23, 1995, was merely a small get together on a boat, organised by two friends interested in the same innovative sounds. The response was so overwhelming, that more 'gatherings' were planned. Today, Kozzmozz is a leader in its field, pushing both Ghent and Belgian nightlife forward and inspiring people along the way. Just before the edition on June 24 at Vooruit, we had a chat with Kozzmozz founding father Mathias Kerckhof and one of the residents, Yves Debouvry aka Spacid.

Hi Mathias. Can you take us back to the start of Kozzmozz? How did it all begin?

"When I studied in Brussels In the early nineties, I would stay there during the weekends to go party at Fuse. During these sessions, I met Leo, aka DJ Kozz. We decided to put our heads together and organize some techno nights. These kind of events didn’t really exist in Ghent back then, so we had to look hard to find the right venue. We found it in the form of a boat: a barge called ‘Jozef K’ with enough capacity to fit 700 people. We embraced a true DIY ethic and made all the artwork ourselves. We were personally responsible for the sound and light installation. My father was, and still is, the manager of Raymond van het Groenewoud. We looked for weekends with no Raymond concerts planned, and scheduled those dates for parties so we could use the sound system. The sound on the boat was top notch: the wooden basin below the water level made you feel like you were dancing inside a subwoofer!

Our first edition on the boat turned out to be a big success, so we held several more. As our crowds grew bigger and bigger, at some point we needed two boats. In the end, we decided to look for a new venue. As we had finally found one, unfortunately we lost the authorization to use it at the very last minute so we decided to ask Kunstencentrum Vooruit for help. In those days, Vooruit was an arts centre only programming guitar concerts, ‘music with real instruments’ as they’d put it. This was pre I Love Techno. Big events where electronic music was played simply didn’t exist. Rik Vandecaveye, Vooruit’s front of house guy back then, saved the day. He gave us permission to host - for the first time in Ghent - such a large scaled electronic music event in this monumental building."

What was the music scene like in the city of Ghent when Kozzmozz was born?

Yves Debouvry: "The scene was very small and underground, far from the mainstream. Everything was brand new and very exciting. Before Kozzmozz, there had been a couple of R&S parties, attracting a couple of hundred heads. Even then, the label had a very international reputation and unquestionably put Ghent on the map as a sparkling new place where exciting things happened. Apart from that, there were parties called Funky Green Aliens and Code 303. The city also had some sort of house scene around Mo & Benoelie, two key figures associated with Club 55 at the Kuiperskaai. Together with the Zodiac, Club 55 defined the sound of house music in the early nineties. Also important to mention is the Music Man record store, one of the key players in the distribution of new electronic sounds. One of Ghent’s true DJ hotspots, the shop offered unique and peculiar music and it’s safe to say that the local music scene wouldn’t have evolved the same way without it. The start of Kozzmozz marked the third generation of electronic music in Ghent (after New Beat and early house music)."

How would you describe the typical Kozzmozz crowd then and now?

Yves Debouvry: "People at the parties were true music freaks and amateur DJs who knew what it was all about. Back then, techno had a dark sound and was nothing like the mainstream music of the time. There was a distinct sense of shared beliefs and interests. Today, 70% of the audience is still Ghent based, mainly a left-oriented crowd that likes progression, open-mindedness and good music. But we often have visitors from other Belgian cities who enjoy the particular vibe of our parties. Just like our Ghent following, we like to push boundaries. The art schools in Ghent are an endless inspiration to us, and we notice a particular interaction: a great deal of our audience are creative youngsters."

Who was playing at the early Kozzmozz parties?

Yves Debouvry: "Some of Belgium’s prime DJs like Steve Cop (Café D’Anvers) and Trish Van Eynde (Fuse) were our first regulars behind the decks. Kenny Larkin was our first international guest. With the first generation of international residents, we developed a close relationship. Bookings were discussed one on one on the phone, faxes were sent for practical agreements. We invited Robert Leiner (the ‘tech guy’ of the R&S label in those days), Adam Beyer (1996) and Steve Rachmad aka STERAC, who became our first international resident (counting more than 25 Kozzmozz visits!).

Other international residents include Juan Atkins and Green Velvet (‘96), The Advent (‘97), James Ruskin, Speedy J and Johannes Heil (‘98), Cari Lekebusch, Luke Slater and Mark Broom (‘99), Jeff Mills, Chris Liebing and Joel Mull (2000), Inigo Kennedy and Technasia (2001) and Dave Clarke and Robert Hood (2002). Not bad, right?"

Speaking of residents, how important is the local resident team for Kozzmozz?

Yves Debouvry: "Good residents are essential, but hard to find. A DJ who knows the crowd to the core is crucial for setting the right mood. In the early days, T-Quest took up that role brilliantly. He was a big inspirator and supplier of new trends in techno with his Music Man label. For the past eight years, I’ve lucky enough to be a resident myself, playing as Spacid. I believe that the warming-up set is comparable to making a first move for a winning goal in football: you create an incentive, but out of respect for the international guest DJ, you’re not the one to make the winning goal. The trick is to build up the tension while also adapting to a different range of international guests. You have to play in relation to the rest of the lineup. This of course also applies to the closing set. Resident DJ Kozz was renowned for his hard hitting closing sets. In the last 10 years, DJ Kr!z has been ending the Kozzmozz nights in style, paving the road for his Token label, one of the most credible and leading techno labels on the planet."

22 years or running parties, that mustn’t always been easy.

Yves Debouvry: "Indeed. The lack of creativity in techno music during 2000 and 2010 was quite a low point for Kozzmozz. We can honestly say that we had a difficult time to make ends meet. At a certain point we were the last ‘techno fortress’ standing in Belgium. But we didn’t stop believing in our vision, and that’s why we’re still here today. It is inspiring to see successive generations attending our events. There is a spot for everyone in our Kozzmozz universe, we don’t want to be elitist, everyone is welcome. The only thing that matters is the music."

After all these years, you must have some DJ anecdotes to share with us! Spill! 

Mathias Kerckhof: "Absolutely. I remember when we booked Adam Beyer for a New Year’s Eve party years ago. Snow and ice storms made it simply impossible to reach our venue (the infamous Jozef K boat). This resulted in a very quiet event, but still one to remember. We’ve been close friends with Adam ever since. I’d also like to mention our Kozzmozz trip to Ibiza, bringing Green Velvet, Steve Rachmad and DJ Hell to the legendary Space nightclub with us. 

The party with Jeff Mills at Het Kuipke was also unforgettable. He was charging a 7 digit DJ fee, and threatened to cancel his performance if he didn’t receive this exorbitant amount in cash before the start of his show. We only managed to collect it at the very last moment, which caused us a lot of stress!

Regardless of our long experience, we still encounter problems that are new to us. At one of our last editions, for example, we booked Dax J, who found himself in a true media storm after playing a track that offended the crowd at his show in Tunesia. He even received death threats. The local authorities took those death threats very seriously. While the audience didn’t notice any extra safety measures, it was the first time ever that one of our artists was secured at such a high level. The police even escorted him from the hotel to the venue. Luckily, Dax J kept his cool and played a banger of a set."

What does the future hold for Kozzmozz?

Mathias Kerckhof: "We’re planning to take the Kozzmozz parties on the road with shows in two other Belgian cities. And business as usual of course: we’ll keep doing our thing in Ghent four times a year, delivering top quality techno.

We’d like to conclude with a little teaser: mark 09/09/2017 in your calendars, as we’re working on something quite spectacular. You’ll hear more about it soon. Oh, and don’t forget to stop by at our next edition this Saturday! Enjoy our techno and spread the K!"

This Saturday, June 24, Kozzmozz presents KEPLER 186F at Vooruit in Ghent, featuring Kilner (live), Function (live), Dasha Rush and residents Kr!z and Spacid. All info, and more, on the Facebook event page.