Talking music and nightlife with Walrus and Gay Haze

Pictures by Fotopia

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Organizing parties in our capital can hardly be considered as a walk in the park. Running a vinyl label nowadays neither is. Nuff respect to those passionate souls who invest their time and energy into these activities. Meet Michiel Claus aka Walrus, one half of the duo running the Basic Moves imprint and Diego Cozzi aka Fais Le Beau, one half of the Gay Haze collective & DJ duo. As both have made their name in the Brussels underground scene, we sat down for a chat about outsider club music, organizing parties in Brussels, DIY philosophy and their upcoming performance at Horst festival.

Let us start with you Michiel; what is the story behind the Basic Moves label?

Michiel Claus aka Walrus: ‘It was founded by Ailsa Cavers (aka Islas) & myself in March 2017. My role at Basic Moves is mainly A&R (Artists & Repertoire, responsible for talent scouting & overseeing the artistic development of artists signed to the label, red.) and production, but also curating and organizing the events. Ailsa takes care of promotion, artwork & communication. We run the label in collaboration with Crevette Distribution. In fact, we are pushing each other forward. Because of our label, Crevette started its distribution channel, and we provide them with feedback and visa versa, it's like a conversation, learning together, slowly and surely.

As regards the musical output, we already have an idea of what to release. We are not the kind of label to send your demos to. We release old music as well as fresh music. I worked from 2012 to 2017 at the Dr Vinyl record shop (still existing today at downtown Brussels, ed.). It was there I met those guys from the early Brussels techno scene such as Sebastian S., Acid Kirk, Mike DMA and Deg. They made loads of music in the nineties, but there was no opportunity to release because around that time techno became mainstream in Belgium and surroundings. I always kept their story in mind, and after years I finally managed to convince them to let me hear it. It was a slow process, but eventually, I became friends with Mike and Deg, and they accepted to release their music. That, meeting Ailsa and the start of Crevette Records was the turning point for me to start the Basic Moves label.

In the liner notes of the 10th release you suggest, it might be the last release of the label. You think about quitting?

Michiel: ‘The original idea was to put the label on hold after ten releases and focus on an ambient label from 2020. But in those three years since we started, we discovered so much good music to be released that we decided to continue. So we are settled now for ten more releases (laughs). However, we change the format starting from release 11. All releases will consist of a double 12" with six tracks in total, almost a mini album. This allows the artist and us to have more freedom in track selection and show a broader palette of sounds. All our records are released on 500 copies. At the time, they are not separately digitally available. I work in a record shop, the tracks have been remastered for vinyl and cut on vinyl, so we want our music first to be available on vinyl. Which doesn't mean that the music will never be released in digital format; we are thinking to release the first ten releases digitally on Bandcamp in one package next year. Let's see... 

Our main goal is building an archive of good music that otherwise would never see daylight. Some of the tracks have gathered dust for twenty or almost thirty years before being released on our label.

Every Basic Moves release is accompanied by a story. How important is it for you to not just release the music but tell a whole story?

Michiel: ‘We put a lot of effort into it, maybe too much. We think it is nice to tell you about the background of the music and the artist. It also is a good way to distinguish from the enormous amount of music that is being released these days. From release 11 on, we will shorten the stories a bit and print them on the artwork instead of a separate paper'.

Diego: ‘I think you should continue doing that. Buying vinyl is more expensive than buying digital, so it is nice when you get an extra, being it artwork or a story.'

What is the idea behind the Basic Moves Chronicles?

Michiel: ‘With the chronicles, we plunge into the history of Belgian dance music culture. Next is the story behind the ‘Netwerk club/Cave de la Chapelle'. Michael Stordeur – better known as Mike DMA - used to organize parties at that place between 1994 and 1996. Music-wise there were no boundaries: DJs mixed ambient and downtempo tunes, breakbeat, drum "n" bass, deep house, broken beat and techno. I am happy to see those kind of sets resurging: nowadays DJ DJ's again dare to play sets ranging from 60-160 bpm. We will document the chronicles with texts, pictures and recorded sets from back in the days. We did a 2-hour radio show last year around this subject for The Word magazine. It contains an interview with Mike and a mix of Deg, and you can listen to it here.

We also have an interview with Jeff Mills coming up about decolonization and Afrofuturism and their relation towards electronic music. It is a collaboration together with Wiet Lengeler (aka Sagat) and the theatre magazine Rekto:Verso'.

Basic Moves describes its music as ‘outsider club music'. Can an outsider become an insider?

Diego: ‘Aren't we there yet? Considering the success of festivals such as Dekmantel, I would think this kind of music has become the mainstream of the underground.'

Michiel:' I suppose those festivals have a business plan. Basic Moves doesn't. We are happy to get break even. Our main goal is building an archive of good music that otherwise would never see daylight. Some of the tracks have gathered dust for twenty or almost thirty years before being released on our label.

I am not talking about reissues, which have become big business nowadays. With Basic Moves, we only release music that has never been released. ‘Outsider club music' stands for an outsider state of mind towards the dance music industry. We have no fixed formula or formatted sound, which doesn't mean that we won't repress a release that has been sold out.

The basic idea of Gay Haze is to have an excellent underground location which is not a club.

Are there any plans for a Gay Haze label or producing music?

Diego: ‘There are no specific plans for a label or music production. At the moment we focus on regular parties every month: every second Sunday of the month starting September 8th. We put a lot of energy and effort in looking for new venues. The basic idea is to have an excellent underground location which is not a club. It is a struggle to find party locations in Brussels. However, we did find one for our monthly parties: l'uZinne, a socio-cultural centre in an abandoned warehouse next to the canal. It isn't big: it has a capacity of 200 people, but that is how we like it. ‘

Could you tell us the story behind Gay Haze?

Diego: ‘Gay Haze exists for two years now. When my residency at Catclub ended, I felt a bit lost. I was wondering about what to do, and I decided to start my own parties. At that period, I often travelled to Berlin, and I wondered if a small gay party with the same vibe would work here. Brussels had Los Ninos and Catclub, but there were almost no small parties at underground venues. When I met Guillaume (Bleret, the other half of the collective behind the Gay Haze parties, ed.), we decided to work together. At our parties, we usually invite one or two international guests, mostly upcoming artists I meet on the road. This personal approach is important to me. Instead of sending emails to a booker I have never met to invite a DJ I never heard performing live, I prefer to connect directly. It also fits our DIY (Do-It-Yourself) philosophy.'

Michiel: ‘The same principle counts for us. We do everything ourselves. Consider it as a counter-reaction against the commercialization of the dance music industry: big stages, big agencies, big star DJ's, big budgets. No thanks, let us keep it on a human scale. We host two different concepts: we have our Basic Moves club nights at one hand.

The first two years we organized them in a small Latino club in the centre of Molenbeek: ‘Chez Jacques'. But it took so much time and energy to build everything up from scratch for one night. Nowadays we mostly host them in C12 /C11) where everything is available. For our third anniversary, we are hosting three nights: one in Brussels, one in Barcelona & one in Leeds/UK. Next to our club nights, we organize regular ambient listening sessions under the ‘Gems Under The Horizon' moniker. These listening sessions take place in a small 100 capacity jazz club in Anderlecht, and people can sit or lay down and let their mind dance. For these sessions, we have a very undogmatic approach: it can be ethnic music, jazz, modern classical, sound art, trip-hop, dub, electronic and acoustic music.'

Guillaume is also active for 24h Brussels which aims for a better nightlife in Brussels. In Leuven, Ghent and Antwerp, we see a similar movement and claims. In Brussels, the first charter is a fact in the St Jacques Quartier. Is this a first step towards a better nightlife in our capital?..

Michiel: "We have a few well-known clubs in Brussels such as C12 or Fuse, but there aren't many off-grid locations for small parties. Unless you want to go dodgy and illegal taking the risk to lose your sound system and money if the police turn up, so the 24 Brussels initiative is necessary. But a lot depends on the audience: many people are going out to seduce girls or get completely wasted, not for the music or the party. I think it is important to open up a dialogue with your audience a bit. When organizing parties, you have to dare to say ‘no' to people at the door. It is not about being elitist, but the wrong bunch of guys can ruin the atmosphere of the whole evening. But things are getting better recently, with C12, Kiosk Radio & the Crevette Records shop creating a real scene. Brussels isn't that big. We often see the same people at the Basic Moves parties frequenting the Gay Haze parties and/or the record shop.'

It once happened that a guy was harassing two girls at our party. Immediately one of our regulars intervened. That is amazing. We are one family.

Diego: ‘That is how Michiel and I met: we ended up at the same afterhours talking and playing records hour after hour! Those kind of moments are missing: where everyone connects around the music and plays more loose and weird stuff you wouldn't hear at the club before! With Gay Haze, we target an audience that knows what our party stands for and likes what we do. We always explain our concept when we announce a party. There is definitely still a need for gay parties where gay people feel safe and can freely express themselves. Which doesn't necessarily have to be exclusively gay, all open-minded souls are welcome. We attract a regular audience that takes good care of each other. It once happened that a guy was harassing two girls at our party. Immediately one of our regulars intervened. That is amazing. We are one family.'

You are both playing at Horst festival next weekend. Horst aims to blend and celebrate the worlds of art and music in an immersive festival experience with a focus on experiment and adventure. What can we expect at Horst Festival from you?

Diego: ‘I have never been to Horst, so I am as curious as you are. With Gay Haze DJ's we will be playing the closing slot on Sunday. Usually, we gather two days in advance, and we select our music for the gig. We prefer to go in different directions over creating a constant monotonous vibe.'

Michiel: ‘I am warming up on Saturday for Paquita Gordon. I saw her twice this Summer playing fast (Italian) trance so I might play a bit faster than usual at that hour. But sometimes she plays more eclectic, and I might ask her what she is up for, so we will see. I am much looking forward to sharing my records with the people at Horst.'