Stavroz is big. Considering the facts that this Ghent-based collective has been releasing a string of solid EP’s over the years (through labels like Laut & Luise, Délicieuse Records, Denature Records and their own Moodfamily) and that they have played sold out venues in every corner of the world, it's remarkable they have not yet been featured on any major magazine cover. More so, few people may actually know that other than Amelie Lens and Charlotte De Witte, Stavroz was the third act representing Belgian club music on Coachella this year.
Since the release of their debut EP in 2013, IJsbrand De Wilde and Gert Beazar – both DJ's and sound engineers – made Stavroz grow into a full band, now joined by Pieter De Meester and Maxim Helincks. Although the guys have a background in club culture, they have a unique way of stretching their concept of dancefloor music by blurring tempos and taking the listener into new and surprising directions. Some call it electronica, while other fans came up with the name gangster jazz. For the guys themselves, organic house still covers the load. We met with Gert and IJsbrand – both incredibly down-to-earth dudes – at their headquarters in Ghent for a little coffee chat.
Hey guys, how has summer been treating you?
IJsbrand: We already had a lovely time. In addition to clubs and festivals, we are increasingly playing concert venues. It's completely different. To start playing around 9 in the evening, instead of in the middle of the night, squashed in between other DJ’s. That's nice.
Gert: We recently did some shows like that in Turkey and Germany. It's an evolution that we've been pushing ourselves towards. Later this year, we also have gigs like this in New York and at Amsterdam Dance Event.
It seems you're quite big in other countries. Is that a matter of local taste?
G: Maybe, yes. Perhaps we are more associated with fluffy techno here in Belgium. In each region, genres evolve in their own way and at their own pace. Our music was picked up much faster in the Middle East and The Netherlands for example. That said, we can definitely not complain about the chances we are getting here. This summer we played Extrema Outdoor, Paradise City Festival and WECANDANCE. In September, Antwerp’s Docklands Festival will be added to that list. Our DJ-sets also regularly bring to Fuse club.
Although you started out as a duo, it seems that Stavroz has, both in the studio and on stage, become a full band thing.
IJ: That has grown organically. We just wanted to be a band.
G: On stage, we are two producers and two multi-instrumentalists. Maxim is predominantly a guitarist and Pieter mostly plays bass (or the occasional saxophone). Additionally, we all play a little bit of keys.
IJ: We also have a mixing console on stage. I do the front of house mix, which makes sense for our setup.
G: Many mixers (sound engineers) give priority to the instruments over the beats. In a certain way, we actually want our set to sound like a DJ-set, so the music has to pop out, not because of the instruments but from the rhythm and groove. Not everyone understands that well. IJsbrand is part of the production process of the music, so he perfectly understands how the live results should sound.
How do you figure out the energy and flow of a DJ-set as a 4-piece band?
G: This evolution towards a live performance where the crowd is constantly engaged on the dance floor did not go without a struggle. We didn't really have an example either. Of course, there are Belgian bands like Soulwax or Goose, which do something similar, but our music, certainly in the beginning, was a lot subtler and softer. That made it harder for people to really let themselves loose on the dancefloor.
IJ: It was a matter of trial and error. By playing live, our sound has also become less subtle.
G: On the other hand, sometimes cool song ideas emerge on stage. Occasionally you do something different, by accident or on purpose, and then the rest picks up on it. From these moments, some songs came out that are a bit heavier or more guitar-oriented for example.
So, future releases might sound rougher?
G: They may sound a little rougher than five years ago, but it is not Rammstein. It's still intimate. You can be rough and romantic at the same time.
At the same time, you also manage keep the tempo quite slow on the dancefloor.
G: We play a lot with the tempo during our sets.
IJ: It can go in all directions. We even go up towards 192 bpm in our current set.
G: A vibe does not depend on a certain tempo. It’s the atmosphere that prevails.
IJ: When we are playing at a moderate pace, we still put a certain rhythm into it, so the music doesn’t feel to slow for the listener.
G: Much like sex, you can also reach a climax if you go slow (laughs).
As we constantly meet new people and see different places, our sound is always evolving, so being able to act fast is important.
When will there be new music?
G: Around the turn of the year we'll release a new EP on our own label, Moodfamily. There's more in the pipeline of course, but we can’t tell you about that just yet.
IJ: We also made music with David Poltrock. It is not yet clear where we will release that one. It's a funny collab, because David used to be our teacher in school and now we’re having studio time with him. He really is a super nice guy and an incredible musician.
What does that collaboration sound like?
IJ: There is some prepared piano in there, which is his signature sound of course. There were no rules, we just started jamming. Afterwards, we took those recordings to our studio and started cutting them up and arranging them. Now we are working it out, sending files back and forth. We love where it’s going.
You mentioned your label, Moodfamily. What's the story behind it?
G: It's an agency too. We run the whole operation together with some friends. We're mainly involved in the creative side of the label alongside AMyn. When we’re not in the studio or on tour, we try to make as much time for the label as possible. It's something we just really enjoy.
more than that. If you release on other labels, you often have to wait for a
long time. You end up in a queue of releases, which could sometimes take months
or even years. If we want to release something in the short term, we can do
that with Moodfamily. As we constantly meet new people and see different
places, our sound is always evolving, so being able to act fast is important.
It’s a strange idea to realize that something that I make today, would only be
released in 18 months on another label.
In which ways does all the traveling affect the music?
IJ: Sometimes it does, very directly. We made the Gold Town EP in Mexico. In one of the tracks, 'All Day I Zama', there’s a recording of a local we met who was blowing on a seashell. We threw it in a sampler and made it into a synth.
So are you always armed with a recorder?
G: We try to be, but in the end, we always find ourselves recording with our telephone.
IJ: We make a lot of music on the road. When we have a few days off, we'll be working on new ideas. Sometimes, when Gert makes something and goes away for some time, I'll get behind his laptop. I usually messed everything up by the time he gets back. It's a fun process, actually. I also enjoy making music on planes.
G: You don’t want to know how many different Ableton files I get from IJsbrand called ‘vliegtuig’ (‘airplane’ in Dutch, ed).
It’s so nice to see that something you made at home can suddenly produce such a feeling with an audience in another country.
How does it feel to be on the road constantly?
IJ: It's heavy, but the energy you get from the crowd is always worth it. It’s so nice to see that something you made at home can suddenly produce such a feeling with an audience in another country. That's an amazing feeling.
G: It’s still hard to imagine that we get bookings in such faraway places. I never thought that would happen. And to meet so many different people, but then again also see many of the people you met before in all outskirts of the world.
Any favourite destinations by now?
G: Belgium, still. In one way or another, we are always nervous here. That has to mean something.
True. I'm never stressed, except when we play Belgium. You get more
satisfaction when you're playing at home. It's like a game of football.