"I'm just someone who likes to move forward; standing still is not an option". After more than 20 years of service, Belgium's most respected selector is ready for a new challenge.
In 1999, VRT's dedicated alternative radio station Studio Brussel announced a brand new show that would take listeners on a trip through the world of hip hop. The Hop (later changed to just 'Lefto') would air every Sunday evening. Together with his co-host Krewcial - and later, Gus - Lefto would educate generations of music fans with his signature selection of under-the-radar gems and special guests. In 2016 and 2017, the selector was given the award in the Best Radio category on the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards. Today, the Brusseleir has announced Sunday June 28's show will be the last one. After that, he will move his residency to Kiosk Radio.
(A few moments that capture the show's vibe throughout the years, selected by Lefto himself).
How do you look back on that early period of the show?
"Those early days, with Krewcial as my co-host, were groundbreaking for a radio station like Studio Brussel. The show was new and so different than what people were used to; we had a different attitude. Pasting music together with mixes and scratching was still uncommon on the national airwaves. In the beginning, we still had to find our way a bit. We only had the iconic Rodec mixer at our disposal. Other than mixing, you couldn't be very creative with it – so we had to find other ways to be inventive, like open mics and MC battles, which was still a novelty then. Some guests came with a big entourage; it really was rock and roll back then. Every Sunday felt like a party. Who would have thought that this show would be on air for 20 years? Big up to the Studio Brussel folks”.
What did the show mean to you personally over the years?
"For me, the show gave me a chance to bring unprecedented genres to the people – a unique opportunity. We wanted to let people know that you didn't need to be a weirdo to listen to rap or West-African rhythms. Gus and I always wanted to give the listener a little more. Nothing was considered ‘too weird’. That’s how you made the difference with other radio stations”.
"The music that was played during the weekdays was just
the tip of the iceberg. Anything that didn't fit the profile did not get any
airtime. So we saw it as our duty to give that music the attention it deserved.
Through the years, I barely left a mark on the daytime music selection, yet
some names I forwarded to the programmers went on to get a lot of public attention in Belgium,
like De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig, James Blake, Aloe
Blacc and Anderson .Paak, to name a few. This show was my
weekly appointment with the listener who was hungry for contemporary sounds and
new (and old) discoveries. I enjoyed presenting young Belgian talents in whom I
saw great potential to the world of hip hop and electronic music".
Our growing music scene sets an example for our society; it now has a voice it didn't have before.
In what way has the music scene in which you have been active changed throughout these 20 years?
"Young people have a much wider taste now. Nowadays, music is available everywhere, and a track can explode on the internet in a blink. Young artists are much better organized now too. They decide for themselves how they want to sell their product, and they set up their own strategy without involving major labels. This is certainly the case with rap music; everyone knows that rap is the popular genre at the moment. Artists are figuring it out all by themselves, and many strike a good distribution deal with a major later on".
"In short, I see a lot more bottom-up initiatives, which leads to more independence, which safeguards quality and originality. Other than that, it's a relief to see so many young Belgians from different cultural backgrounds blossom because of the internet (and not the state media). It was about time. Our growing music scene sets an example for our society; from LGBT activism to the Black Lives Matter movement, we support these communities and initiatives".
In the end, you got a 100% Lefto show without restrictions whatsoever. I certainly want to thank Studio Brussel for that.
What about you? How have you changed as a selector during that time?
"First of all, the golden years of rap were over by the mid-2000s. I knew it wouldn't take long before the genre would experience some kind of corporate takeover. For me, that was a sign I had to take a different approach. And so I went back to my own roots, somewhere between jazz and New Beat, and I started the new season with a different name for the show. 'The Hop' became 'Lefto', and we were given carte blanche; anything was possible. That's when the show started in the form people know it today: from house to bossa nova to jazz and rap and everything in between. This served as an ear-opener for many listeners. In the end, you got a 100% Lefto show without restrictions whatsoever. I certainly want to thank Studio Brussel for that, because that wasn't so obvious in those days. Actually, it's still not obvious today (laughs)".
Why does the story end now?
"That’s not an easy answer. First of all, there were a few disappointments. In my opinion, the station could have given more attention to the weekend shows. We couldn't use the Studio Brussel channels, so that meant we had to do all the promotion by ourselves. Secondly, I feel like the original soul of the radio station has gone. I'm very serious about music, its culture and its history. It became too hard for me to operate within their new identity”.
“Thirdly, when Duyster disappeared from the airwaves in 2015, we got moved to the 10 PM slot on Sunday night (Duyster was a popular radio show by Ayco Duyster and Eppo Janssens, but is now set to return next season, red.). That shift resulted in fewer listeners, less interactivity and less exposure in general. Finally, it became increasingly difficult to evolve over the years. We used to host live sessions with artists, but this became impossible for budgetary reasons. This gave us little room to make something special for the listener. I'm just someone who likes to move forward, standing still is not an option".
I'm just someone who likes to move forward, standing still is not an option.
"In those 20 years at Studio Brussel, I felt so sorry to see so many legends leave. I always learned from these people, and they learned from me. Even when I wasn’t working there, I often swung by for a chat with the team. This exchange of ideas is something I duly missed at the station during the last few years. There used to be piles of music magazines, records and CDs. You could learn about new music just by walking around. I should have left a long time ago, but I always assumed change was possible. When the station rebranded itself last year, I saw some ambition to change something, but in my opinion, the radio fell back to the old format too quickly".
© Lars Duchateau - Lefto and his guest during the 2017 Lefto XL Special
Are there any specific moments that will always stay with you?
"There are a lot of great moments to look back on after 20 years. I remember a show during which I got a phone call from my friend Flying Lotus, who wanted to come to the studio right away. I had to change my entire show on the spot, giving him a freestyle interview and guest DJ-set. The guest mixes by DJ Vadim, J-Rocc, Nosaj Thing, Ge-ology, The Gaslamp Killer, D-Styles and The Mixfitz are printed in my memory too, as are the live performances by Rejjie Snow, Opgezwolle, Typhoon, Great Minds, and so many others.
A special mention goes to all the Lefto XL sessions, which were special six-hour-long shows at night, and the 'Made In Belgium' live broadcasts from Ghent's Vooruit, where we gave up-and-coming talent a stage and radio exposure. Most people won't remember that Kirsten Lemaire started her Studio Brussel career with us. She formed a presentation duo with Gus; they had unforgettable sections like DE AGENDA, etc".
I'm never going to stop making radio. Promoting music remains my primary objective.
"I would like to thank all the artists for their contribution to the show; it would never have been the same without them. Krewcial, Gus and Kirsten Lemaire deserve the praise, as well as all the technicians behind the scenes who made sure our show was always on point".
Which music are you going to play on your very last show?
"There will be a lot of archive material. It's important to show all the listeners certain moments from the show one last time. Expect live fragments of our guests, and I just got a text message from Zwangere Guy, who absolutely wanted to be a part of the last show too, so we'll see where that goes (laughs)".
What's next? Are there any new projects planned?
"Yes, I'm never going to stop making radio. Promoting music remains my primary objective, even more than playing live gigs; I'm going to work at Kiosk Radio every Sunday evening between 6 PM and 8 PM, with a similar concept as the Studio Brussel show. This time, however, listeners can come right to the Kiosk Radio's shack at Parc Royal and experience the show live with a drink. I've been supporting this station from the beginning, and I feel it's important to support a community radio like theirs. They do a lot for the city, for Belgian DJs, for alternative artists, and for the different movements within our music scene. Don't forget I also host shows on Worldwide FM (every Wednesday) and Rinse France (every Tuesday). Other than radio, the lockdown had me giving a lot more attention to music production again. You can expect some of the material I've been working on to come out soon - the first of which is a project with SPREEJ (a rapper from Ghent, red.) that will see the light of day in early July".
"This was the very first episode. It aired in September 1999, back when the show was still called The Hop".
"The eight hundredth show was as good as it gets. The first hour is a selection of varied music, and a second hour is entirely dedicated to an artist, with an in-depth conversation and live performance. This one with Zwangere Guy was beautiful".
"This was the 20th anniversary show with Red D, Alia, Lander Gyselinck, Brihang, Ikraaan, Shungu and Zwangere Guy. For me, this was a kind of business card of what my show stood for; a spectrum of genres, from hip hop to soul to house. What a legendary show".
"This show was recorded at Made In Belgium, a great initiative for young up-and-coming talent. We gave them a stage, and people were invited to come over and see it for free, while it was broadcasted live, which is how it should always be".