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Connecting through culture: A chat with 2ManyDJs on their journey to make the world dance

28 November 2017 | 10:50 am | Rosie Rae

With a career in music spanning over two decades, it’s safe to say that David and Stephen Dewaele, also known as 2MANYDJs, are certainly no strangers to a dance floor. Over the course of their career, the duo have seen many cultural shifts, and can definitely be credited -at least in part- of breaking out of dance monoculture. Their passion for dance culture permeates through every aspect of what they do. From building a sound system with JAMES MURPHY (LCD SOUNDSYSTEM) to pulling together a 24-hour radio show, everything these two brothers touches turns to gold. Having also created under the moniker SOULWAX, each project works together to show their overall point of view as artists, and have all been executed with passion and a meticulous attention to detail.

2ManyDJs has, in many ways, been an important instrument for the duo to act as cultural influencers and bring subversive ideas to the mainstream. Their somewhat unconventional ideas have always inspired the duo to think outside the box, helping to harness as well as challenge their creativity. As 2ManyDJs, the audience's journey has always been as important as the music itself.

With 2ManyDJs set to make their long awaited return to Australia this summer, we caught up with David to chat about what he misses about popular culture, and why the duo are so intrigued by the new generation of fans.

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You grew up around music, were any particular styles or genres music that really stuck with you as a kid, and that influenced you as an adult?

If anything it’s kind of the reverse, we subconsciously grew up with this idea of -because my parents were big music fans- not just one genre. They distilled this notion that there’s only two kinds of music; music with or without balls. When we were kids, we were listening to whatever our parents were listening to. There was a wide range of stuff, from TALKING HEADS to FLASH IN THE PAN and BLONDIE. Whatever songs were in the charts at the time were what we were listening to.

To us it wasn’t like you needed to be part of one gang, and not like the other gangs. That ultimately influenced 2ManyDJs and everything we make. It seems so obvious to us. When we did 2ManyDJs, the world wasn’t like that. I think the world has caught up very much. Every young person now will have a bit of TAME IMPALA, and maybe a weird record from 1978 that they’ve just discovered. They would have something to the equivalent of metal that they’ve once or twice listened to, and then there’ll be some sort of deep house record and there’ll be some techno- it’s all completely normal now.

Because of how technology has evolved, we do live in our own bubbles a little bit. There are some of my friends who are cosmic disco beards and some that are heavy techno heads, those worlds were always quite separate. Ironically, it seems like we’re going back to that time like the late 90s with tunnel vision.

You mentioned in a previous interview that I read ,“By limiting yourself, ironically, you just get a lot more creative.” How has that worked for you working across so many aliases and projects?

It’s almost like acting, kind of playing a role. It’s not super defined but it’s definitely different for us working under each project. You have to adopt a character a little bit, and that helps us, but at the end of the day it’s from the same part of our brains. For us, it happened to be one of the things that really got our creative juices flowing.

Can you tell me a bit about the 2ManyDJs character?

I’d say this is the character that’s with us the whole time. In essence what 2ManyDjs is about us finding these records that we’re excited about, and getting them to work on a dancefloor. When 2ManyDJs came out, it definitely involved us playing with the boundaries a little bit. To our surprise when we started the project, what we thought was normal wasn’t normal around the world.

A lot of these kinds of blurred genre sets have been normalised now. We’ve evolved too. We don’t listen to a lot of the records that we used to 15 years ago anymore. At the end of the day we’re just music fans too. 2ManyDJs is our outlet to share the music that does excites us. Quite often what that means in 2017 is finding the records and remixing or editing them in a such a way that they work in the club environment or at a festival.

You’ve always been massively into vinyl/crate digging- can you tell me a bit about your process for discovering music?

It’s a super cliche, but it’s true that it’s become a bit of an addiction. If you’re a junkie like us, you’ll just take it anywhere you can find it. We travel all the time and we have stores that we like to visit in different cities. If we’re in Barcelona for example, we have two or three record stores that we would go to every time. They help us complete the puzzle in a sense, what we find in record stores will complete the parts of music that we were looking for that we couldn’t find online, or hadn’t been sent to us.

Record stores are still a massive part of our musical discovery process. In 2017, there’s a lot of stuff coming out that’s only on released on Vinyl, and some of those kind of weird, esoteric tracks that are important to us. At the same time a lot of the stuff that we end up playing out is stuff that we’ve found online. Part of our existence is being ‘on’ all the time- it’s basic instinct now, like how we all find food to eat each day.

As electronic music and production evolves, what are your thoughts the distinction between band versus DJs and ‘real instruments’?

When we started to make music we were an indie band, so that ethos has always stayed with us. We’ve never cared about how our music was conceived, it’s the end result that counts. We like to add elements as a sort of flavouring: if we think a track needs acoustic drums, we’re quite diligent about how that must sound, and how we will record it. If it’s made with a drum machine or software, it doesn’t make the song any less valid. They’re all different tools to paint a picture, it’s all part of the palette. We don’t care if it’s from a $20 synth or $100,000 synth - as long as it sounds good.

You guys influenced quite a change in club culture bringing indie band music to a dancefloor. What other sort of changes have you noticed around the world?

There have been so many changes. I think the fact that the internet blew up and changed the world. It changed the way we perceive each other and, inevitably, that’s heavily influenced club culture in such a way that club culture is now by no means an underground thing anymore. Big festivals like the BIG DAY OUT would feature huge bands like NIRVANA, and nowadays every big festival will have a DJ as the headliner. It has become completely normal to go to an event and watch the DJ perform on a stage, that would have been very odd 15 years ago. To take the act of DJing and turn it into an entertainment spectacle is very new. Like the case with EDM, their shows all have massive production around it; lasers, screens, smoke machine and mirrors. That to me is a really extreme phenomenon.

For a long time, the notion of going clubbing wasn’t really a mainstream event. Now there’s a whole generation of kids that see no distinction between going to see M.I.A or going to see SKRILLEX. Like with anything, there’s have been lots of touring artists that are pretty shitty, but there were always a few that were interesting, and that we thought were doing cool things. The ones that push the envelope and take the paradigm a little bit further. In the world of dance music there’s a lot of crap and a few really good things. I guess it’s the same with all creative industries, really.

In response to club culture going mainstream, there’s been a lot of regulation around nightlife and night culture, what’s been your take on that?

It’s changed a lot, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. One of the things I miss as an old man is popular culture. I do feel as though in the 2000s we saw the end of a monoculture in a sense, which I really like. I think it’s great when people can connect over things, especially when they’re connecting together over subversive ideas. At it’s core, that’s what made 2ManyDjs work. We’d play for large crowds, and we’d feed them a few things that they know every 10 or 15 minutes, but you slip in all these subversive, weird records that they haven’t heard yet, and if you do it in the right way, you can keep the energy level to a point where it kind of works all together. I miss that about popular culture, seeing someone like DAVID BOWIE, or bands such as THE PIXIES, RADIOHEAD broadcast unconventional ideas to mass audiences. The stuff that’s mainstream right now has very little going for it in terms of excitement, it’s very formulaic. I miss those people who brought out these weird songs that really shouldn’t have been hit records, but just grew organically.

Your new SOULWAX album was put together extremely quickly (in one take) yet it’s meticulously put together, what motivated you to make the album in this way?

The one take was an after thought. In hindsight, it gathered more attention than it needed to. For us, we felt it shouldn’t really matter to people when they listen. The truth is that we are nerds, we’re aware that it doesn’t make for a good song or make the record more valid, it was just something that excited us. It’s rare to have a setup where you can have everyone in the same room for two weeks, and everyone is so tuned in that you could play a piece of music that’s 50 minutes long and everyone just knows the changes and the transitions.

You guys were kind of at the forefront of the remix revolution. What inspired you guys to rework songs and build onto other artists ideas?

It wasn’t something that was ever conscious for us, we just got asked to do remixes. The majority of remixes we’d heard we felt weren’t very good, and that they didn’t really improve on the original. We tend to turn down most remix requests, unless we find a song, or contact a band to ask if we can rework it so that it can be played in the club. The true essence of a dance remix to me, is when you take the elements and you translate that into something, from something that maybe works on radio into something that can work on a dancefloor. Most basic ideas of remixing (and we apply it to our values) are only remixing songs that we think have development potential. We get requests to remix songs and it might be something that we really love, but if it’s a song that’s, say 80bpm, the melody's great, the vocal's great, but we know we can’t do anything with it to improve it for a dancefloor, then we turn it down. Quite often, especially in the last 4-5 years, we get asked to remix the classics, big records, and majority of them we turn down because they’re already perfect- we would only make it worse. It’s annoying to us that heroes of ours that are asking us to work with on their music, and we feel frustrated because part of us wants them to send us the parts so we can figure out how they made the tracks, but at the same time, there’s no way that we can make the song any better.

Every now and then there’s a song that comes around that we love but it doesn’t quite work in our sets so we get in contact with the band. Like, THE GOSSIP, their song we had been played in our DJ sets but it just didn’t have that oomph that we needed for it to work say, next to a techno record, so we asked if we could have the parts, and make a version that we think works. We don’t do too many remixes anymore, but we just did one for CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG because she’s someone that we’re fans of, and we heard the track and knew that it was a track that we could do something with. The remix side of our personality is something that we don’t develop at all, it’s just something that happens, someone asks us, or we hear a song. Like TAME IMPALA, we heard their song, and thought this is a track we want to play in our DJ sets, and when we do play it, we can tell people were excited about it for a minute, but it didn’t really work on the dancefloor, so we made our own version that works for us. That happens more often now than us accepting remix requests.

How does working on your remixes compare to other projects you’ve done, such as your 24 hour SOULWAX radio show or an AV Show?

I think they’re all facets of the same things. I’m not sure if this is a good analogy, but I imagine it to be like being a chef; the way you slice your carrots is one thing, but then thinking of the dish and what the dish actually is, it is probably a mix of spontaneity; something cerebral, an element of passion. I think making remixes, or compiling DJ sets of the visuals are all part of the same thing. It’s like a dish and we’re quite finicky about all the little details. All these little things, like how you make the compression of the kick drum work with the synths. All these little things influence the bigger entity, which is how we come across to our audiences. All little facets that are as important to us influence the finished product. I’m assuming it’s the same in other jobs where you learn all these tools over time that help achieve results.

What was it like working with JAMES MURPHY on your Despacio sound system, and how did that idea come to fruition?

As artists, we kind of came up around the same time as LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, quite early when they did their first shows we’d often be booked at the same events or parties. We quickly became good friends, so we’d often try and coincide our shows: if they did a tour of Japan we’d try and go at the same time and vice versa. We feel a lot like family now, and when it comes to DJing, we’ve always had a strong connection.

During the LCD hiatus, we actually got to spend time together. One of the places we spent time together was in Ibiza, all of us have quite a connection to that island so we usually spend quite a bit of time there. During that time we developed a few ideas. We got the idea to do a tour together, where we would play 9-hour, all vinyl sets. We developed a bit on the idea and talked about bits and pieces of equipment we wanted to use, and then we got the idea to build a sound system. From there I was like, "I know I a guy," and that kind of started the process and got us ticking over. We wanted to do a monthly residency, open-air parties where we only played slowed down records, like the true Balearic vibes. That fell through because our contact had licensing issues, so we took a new direction and contacted a guy who built the amps, the rest was history.

All of a sudden it was a reality: we had this 60,000 watt amp and limited free time. James was working on reuniting LCD Soundsystem and we got back into Soulwax world in the studio, so they’ve been sitting dormant for a while. We were actually talking very recently about how we can get this sound system in action again in 2018. It was one of the most exciting projects for all of us, but it’s a nightmare on every other level; it’s such an expensive piece of equipment, and heavy. It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t exist, because it doesn’t make sense on a financial level. You spend so much time and energy on something that can only be enjoyed by a 1000 people max at a time. It’s very decadent, but when it does happen, it’s incredibly special. It’ll be a career highlight for us when we do make it happen. We’d make all these edits and remixes especially for it, that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else.

Music can be very insular (particularly production) - how important has it been for you to keep your space social, for example your interesting and unique recording of your album?

Other than Soulwax stuff, remixes and the occasional piece of movie music, we spend majority of our time making music with friends. The studio is also a label, and everything that comes out on the label has to be viewed by Steph and me, but it can also be made in collaboration with friends of ours. Whether that’s a TIGA record, or a 20 year old kid from Ghent who’s music is something we love. Right now, and I’m not sure if this will change, we’re not that comfortable with working with people that we don’t really know or where we have to constantly send things back and forth the whole time, that’s not part of our life now.

Life’s short, and you want to spend you time with people you’re friends with. You want to spend your time doing things you want to do.

You guys have invested a lot of time into various platforms, are there any platforms of mediums you’d be keen to explore that you haven’t already?

I think printing. We’ve done a few things with the label, but I think we want to do a few more books. We’re quite good with vinyl and digital, there’s something about printing we’d like to get into. We’re big collectors of music paraphernalia. We’re also collectors of books and photography and we’d like to do something with that.

What can we expect from the 2ManyDJs shows in Sydney?

Ever since the first time we came to Australia, which was around 2003, every time we came over there were like six or seven shows spread out over 2-3 weeks, so we got to hang out and befriend quite a lot of people. This odd thing has happened, so many of our friends moved to Europe and we’re doing a trip over a 5-day period. For us coming to Australia was always traditionally associated with sort of down time, visiting record stores in Melbourne and bookstores, and go to Byron Bay.

We’re excited to come back to Australia, but it is strange for us to not experience Australia in the same way. We’re so used to having time, but we do get to go to Japan which would be fun.

What do you think about Aussie clubs?

You do have this interesting insular thing. You’ll have these gigantic acts that aren’t famous anywhere else. It produces acts that I think are quite unique, they are typically Australian. My favourite two are quite different, but to me when I think of Australia I think Flash In The Pan and I think Tame Impala. They’re like the two best versions of what they make.

It’s undeniable in an idiom that is filled with ridiculous music and musicians. There are artists such as Bon Scott, who have made music that has influenced the world. AC/DC certainly influenced my world, as much so as THE BEATLES or Coca Cola. To us they didn’t have any of the connotations that Australian’s would have had, but it’s maybe the purest, rawest version of hard rock. How someone in Australia sees AC/DC will be contextually different than how say I would see it having grown up in Belgium, but they’re easily one of the best bands of all time.

Obviously good music transcends, what’s it like seeing new generations of young people who discover your music?

It’s bit more fun for us to meet the new fans. I’m fascinated by the ways in which the new generation experience music. It’s the same thing for us at our studio in Ghent, we tend to work with 20-25 year olds because it’s fascinating. Seeing their broad knowledge of a weird psychedelic track from Sweden in the 70s that they’ll be aware of, which to us we would have taken us 7 years to find and to learn about. Having the knowledge of weird esoteric records, but having no knowledge of London Underground.

The one negative I’ve seen out of all of this, I see kids are very afraid to make a wrong move. We just did it, we’d play the guitar and play around with chords. They want everything to be perfect from the very beginning, and they’re scared.

Do you think this has evolved as a result of the rising DJ sets over live band sets, because those tend to be very polished and lack a raw elements?

That and the fact that 50% of their social life is spent in a virtual life. And it’s not just with 25 year olds  but also with 12 year olds. We definitely had the luxury of fearlessness before.

Do you carry that fearlessness through your 2ManyDjs project?

Yes we do, for sure.

Catch 2ManyDJs across Australia over New Years Eve:

Thursday, 28th Dec - Beyond The Valley, VIC - TIX

Sunday, 31st Dec - NYE In The Park, NSW - TIX

Words by Rosie Rae