Soulwax are back after a hiatus of 12 years no less & they have returned all guns & drums blazing with both a magnificent album and a jaw-dropping live show. It is very rare for a band to come back after such a long period and not be remerging into the limelight for either the cash and/or to take a trip on the nostalgia train. It is even rarer for them to arrive back with new material this good. You know when you go back to see a fav band live after they’ve been away a long time, you normally have to ‘endure’ the underwhelming new tunes and wait for the old classics to be performed? This is most definitely not one of those occasions. Not even close.
But the reason Soulwax’s latest incarnation is so spot on is probably because the reality is that the Dewaele brothers have never really been away. They have instead been continuously evolving through a variety of different mediums. In the last decade or so they’ve been producing & presenting incredibly innovative and amazing sound & vision experiences in a variety of different guises and formats. Whether it was as the sound system Despacio, the 24hr audio/visual app Radio Soulwax, creating 15 fictional bands for the soundtrack Belgica, launching their own Deewee label and studio or jetting round the world playing to thousands of fans as 2manydjs they have been pretty flat out. And now they are back with a new version of their band Soulwax, featuring themselves, original band member Stefaan Van Leuven, Laima layton (mixhell) and no less than three drummers, Blake Davies, Victoria Smith and Iggor Cavilera from Sepultura.
The album ‘From Deewee’ is an epic voyage with a beautiful arc taking you on the most satisfying and mesmeric journey through a world of plush analogue synths and pounding beats, guided by the velvet vocals of Stephen Dewaele who draws you in and brings a human touch to this machine world. This is not cold electronic music. It is warm and emotional and wraps around you like a disco duvet. This is primarily because it is performed by people on instruments together in a room not on a computer with the flick of a mouse. In some ways it has a retro feel because of the instruments used and the way it was recorded but it has a very modern sound and sensibility and makes every system it plays on sound better than it should.
The album was in fact recorded in a single take in their Deewee studio in Gent and you can feel and hear the combined energy captured on the record. We live in a world of presets where we are essentially listening to the same drum beats over and over again and when we hear, as in this instant, something different, something real and organic and original and live, your ears naturally prick up. To hear non-computer generated electronic dance music is a rare and unusual beast in this day and age and Soulwax deliver this unique experience with extreme skill and also love. It is truly joyful. Musicians and instruments in a room together – who’d have thought it? (to get a glimpse into the making of the album check out this great trailer shot by Kurt Augustyns here )
For the live show they pretty much took the whole set-up from their studio and re-created it in entirety on tour. The amount of equipment on stage is quite staggering and not only looks highly impressive (resembling more a set from a 50s sci-fi b movie than a gig set-up) it creates a depth and quality of sound far superior to anything you would normally hear at a music show. As a live sonic experience it is breathtaking and you are utterly transported from start to finish. The crowd at all the gigs I attended veered from mesmerised to joyous to bat shit crazy and back again. Older tunes such as Miserable Girl, E talking and NY excuse got ’em going wild yet delivered due to the slow pulsating build up of the new tracks. In fact, its the seamless blend of the old and new that works quite so well as they enhance each other so well rather than clash, no mean feat considering the time gap between them. Yet for me, it is really the incendary performance of the new songs that lift you up and into the stratosphere. They just blow you away and have an even greater impact than on the record.
The new Soulwax feel like they are very much just getting started and it looks like there is a lot more to come. It will also be fascinating to see where they take this and it will definitely be a journey worth going on. Electronic music always needs a kick up the arse every now and again to stop it drifting into repetitive behaviour and somehow the Dewaele brothers are always there to do the kicking.
These photographs were taken in Paris, Brixton and Brussels and each time I saw them perform they got better and better. By the last gig of the tour on their home turf in Belgium they took the proverbial roof off. All the human members had synched up to become a machine in their own right, locked in to each other and meticulously jamming the shit out of every number. It is deeply satisfying to watch the 3 drummers in action as you seem them work seamlessly together yet with their own inimitable style and delivery. Going back to seeing bands with one drummer will probably now seem a bit lame by comparison and in fact gigs as a whole are going to seem a tad dull in contrast to this captivating creation.
You can listen to ‘From Deewee’ here on Spotify and Soulwax have just announced they are performing at Meltdown on June 10th in London. If you can get a ticket, get one.