One-time kings of the indie disco are still thoroughly ahead of their game, says Selim Bulut.
Perhaps this article is misleadingly named. Soulwax haven’t got a bad rep by any means, but since their peak as kings of the indie disco in the 2006-08 heyday, they seem to have fallen out of favour as a newer generation took over. This week saw fidget house staples and one-time Soulwax collaborators Crookers disband, something which seems symbolic of electro’s fading relevance. Sure, Soulwax’s brash, no-holds-barred brand of electro-rock is perhaps out of place in these austere times (or, to put it in simpler terms, they aren’t exactly Regis), but musically they are no less interesting now as they were then, and their sound is still genuinely thrilling and unique.
DJ Shadow – Six Days (Soulwax Remix)
Starting life back in the 90s, Soulwax took a while to find their feet. It wasn’t until 2002, following a couple of clumsy alt-rock albums, that the Dewaele brothers (the driving force behind the band) hit their stride. As 2manydjs, the two released their sublime mix CD ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’, a record which, amongst other praises, is something of a masterpiece of the mashup genre – dubious as that honour may now seem. The band hit another high note with 2004’s ‘Any Minute Now’, an album that landed at a perfect time where rock and dance had come together and awkwardly labelled electroclash. They then went back and remixed this album, reinterpreting it as a straight-up electronic record on 2005’s ‘Nite Versions’, the last album of original material the band have put out and the group’s greatest work to date. On ‘Nite Versions’, the synths became guitars, and the record was stitched together as a continuous DJ mix, taking on board the ethos of 2manydjs in blending what works on the dancefloor with what works at a cramped punk venue. In and around ‘Nite Versions’ they were also proving themselves to be the best remixers in the game, with each new remix topping the last – many of which were eventually documented on their essential ‘Most Of The Remixes…’ compilation. There were imitators, of course, but no one could articulate an electro banger with the same fluency that they could. As a sixth former, they were my perfect band – indie music you could dance to, and dance music that felt like an indie band.
Soulwax – Krack (Nite Version)
FACT Magazine once hilariously described the Dewaeles as having had a “career-long aversion to subtlety”. It’s true, and that’s why they’re so great. There is always a time for meaningful, intellectual club music, and there’s always a time to get academic about it. You can get subtlety any weekend you want, and it’s great, but where else can you go to an academy and bounce around to a deft and daft mix from Sparks to Mr. Oizo to Major Lazer via Altern8?
Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see how this approach to DJing was laying the groundwork for what Dan Snaith describes as “the EDM barfsplosion currently gripping the corporate ravesters”. Soulwax would perform their instant-gratification style of music not in dingy clubs but in aircraft hangar-sized academies. The 2manydjs visual show fed into the ‘live A/V’ culture that dominates festival appearances today. And it’s easy to see how the fist-pumping EDM group adopted Soulwax’s approach to the bass-drop banger and took it to its nuance-free nadir. But the difference here is that Soulwax are and have always been music nerds through and through. If one were to watch any of their mind-blowingly good Radio Soulwax episodes, you’d be met with this evidence immediately. Their ‘Librarian Girl’ mix, for example, features only tracks by library music obscurities from the 70s and 80s, and this sits alongside hour-long mixes of hardcore punk, jacking Chicago house tunes and dodgy rapping. The Dewaeles may not make music that necessarily appeals to the ‘heads’, but their record collections would put many a serious critic’s to shame. For many, listening to a 2manydjs mix is like a gateway drug to the wider world of odd, playful and frankly brilliant music.
Radio Soulwax – Librarian Girl
Against a backdrop of throwback house, traditional techno and old-school garage, music that revolves around the same old drum machines that were launched over thirty years ago, Soulwax sound thoroughly futuristic, able to build their own formulas and templates for dance music that distinctly belonged to them. They’re long overdue a new album now, the Dewale brothers having prioritised their non-stop DJing career over the release of new music, but whenever it may drop, it’ll be worth looking forward to.