Soulwax: Life on the Crazy Analogue Spaceship Studio

Dance-rock heroes Soulwax toured with three drummers and a traveling disco. It only gets more unpredictable for the boundless brothers.

Soulwax. Photo by Rob Walbers

If there’s one thing you should know about Soulwax, it is that the Belgian dance-rock titans never do the same thing twice.

“I guess we’re kind of like junkies for discovering something new that excites us, whether that’s as a consumer or a producer,” co-frontman David Dewaele says, reflecting on Soulwax’s 20-plus-year career.

Since their formation in the mid-1990s, Soulwax has seamlessly adapted their sound to the time they are in, yet Dewaele and his brother Stephen remain bizarrely unpredictable with every project they touch. Their 2017 album, FROM DEEWEE, is their most unique and ambitious release to date, as the nearly 50-minute album was recorded live in one take.

“We came to a point where we hadn’t done Soulwax in a long time and we were thinking, ‘What would make us excited about new Soulwax, in what form?’ And that’s how we started to assemble this crazy analogue spaceship studio.”

The inspiration for FROM DEEWEE stemmed from Soulwax’s stage setup for their 2016 tour, Transient Programs for Drums and Machinery, which encompassed seven musicians, including three live drummers, adorned with analogue synths and synchronized strobe lights.

Their ambitious stage setup, finally coming to the U.S. from Europe, is “not an easy thing to tour with,” he says.

“It’s kind of a unique thing. We won’t be able to do this often — surely not in the U.S. So that’s why these dates with Coachella, San Francisco, and L.A. are very special to us,” he adds, referring to their show at the Regency Ballroom on Tuesdsay, April 17. “We noticed the limitations but also the possibilities with that setup. After a few months, we noticed these shows were really exciting and people were blown away by it, and we thought we should make this into an album.”

Taking on the challenge to record an album in such a painstaking manner required that the Dewaeles impose “brutal limitations” on themselves, like requiring certain musicians with specific pieces of gear to record in a limited amount of time.

“We got all the musicians together for a period of about two weeks where we rehearsed incessantly, so we could get the whole 60 minutes down in one take,” Dewaele says. “And then we could just hit record and play the album.”

The grueling dedication spent on perfecting FROM DEEWEE paid off, as the exuberant, percussion-heavy album is another jewel in Soulwax’s stellar discography. Being the band’s first proper album in more than a decade, there’s no indication the Dewaeles lost their step in crafting their brand of synth-heavy dance-rock.

Luckily for Soulwax fans, another decade-plus wait for new music is unlikely, with Dewaele claiming, “We’re on a roll. We’re doing so much stuff. We did three albums and three EPs just this year for the label, and we want to do another Soulwax album pretty soon, hopefully after the summer.”

The creation of this “mad analogue spaceship studio” is not the first time the Dewaeles have approached an ambitious, impossible-sounding musical project. There’s also Despacio, a gargantuan, 50,000-watt, vinyl-only touring dance club, created in collaboration with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy.

“It’s an insane project that shouldn’t exist except on paper, but it does — because a few people are mad enough to want to be involved,” Dewaele says of Despacio. “What’s good about it is that it’s sort of timeless, we started it five years ago, and it sort of developed and changed a little bit, but the essence of it I could see living on for another 20 years.”

Apart from touring as Soulwax, the Dewaele brothers are never creatively dormant.

“Whether it’s remixes, producing other people’s material, soundtracks, dance music, DJing — it’s all in the same church of excitement for us,” Dewaele says when speaking of him and his brother Stephen’s always active musical involvement, which includes their side project 2manydjs. “If we focus on one thing for too long, we get a little bored, so we’re fortunate we have all these different things, and one of the things we want to try and do later this year is another 2manydjs project.”

The open-minded attitude and eagerness to experiment is what fuels Soulwax to succeed in a volatile and unpredictable landscape like the music industry. When discussing the internet’s impact on the music industry, Dewaele reflects on the advantages and disadvantages, claiming, “There’s less of a hurdle for people to start making music or release music, and in a way that’s positive.”

Dewaele goes on: “Before, it was kind of divided into underground, middle ground, and mainstream, and that middle ground is gone. There used to be indie artists who were huge, but that doesn’t exist anymore. There’s either huge artists like Beyonce or Lady Gaga, and then there’s just a plethora of cool small things, and that’s really exciting.”

Soulwax, Tuesday, April 17, 8 p.m., at The Regency Ballroom. $35; theregencyballroom.com

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