Backstage at Brixton Academy, brothers Stephen and David Dewaele are in the midst of coordinating the final preparations for Soulwaxmas, their annual end of year extravaganza. Despite the frantic activity around them, the party’s suave puppet-masters are in their element. After all, in the decade since they released seminal sound-collage compilation As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 (under their 2manyDJs moniker) they’ve established a reputation as one of the world’s greatest party bands with a string of albums and remixes and a seemingly never-ending live tour. Their latest project, Radio Soulwax, is an online radio station stuffed with 24 hour-long video and audio mixes they’ve put together over the last couple of years. Here the Belgian brothers tell GQ.com their tips for 2012, why they hate Buddha Bar muzak and the reason they’re tired of the “mash up” tag.
What music do you love that would surprise people?
Stephen: It’s when we say that we don’t love something that people get surprised. “I thought you guys liked everything!” The stuff I don’t like is the lounge-y muzak in restaurants, elevators and hotels. It really gets me angry, because it’s supposed to be in the background. It’s not supposed to be something that people listen to. You’ll go into a fancy hotel and you’ll hear this track where someone has sampled 30 seconds of a really good song. Your ear picks it up and you get excited but then it goes into some monotone thing. The Buddha Bar stuff annoys me. I don’t need to be on a beach and hear this stuff through little speakers, but people think it creates a “cool vibe”.
Do you think music is too omnipresent now?
Stephen: Maybe something really exciting will come out of it. It’s a shame, but also for kids it’s so easy now for them to download it to their phone and listen to it everywhere. If you go to Lille Eurostar station there is music playing: Why? What’s the point? It’s like showing someone a movie on a small crappy screen. It should be sounding good! There’s a lot of noise pollution, in that sense.
What was the best record in your parents’ collection?
David: I guess the Beatles. Our Dad was a DJ and had thousands of records, so we grew up among a lot of music. As a kid the Beatles are a band you’re drawn to. I think Sgt. Pepper’s in particular.
What do people get wrong about you?
David: That we invented mash-ups. We get that all the time. It’s weird, because with everything we do, that becomes the anchor to hang it on. This year we’ve done a massive project, Radio Soulwax, with many different mixes and it’s been musically very varied, but even if it’s an hour of ballads the press will call it a “mash-up”. I just think, “Have you not listened to it?” It’s weird, but people need that label.
Stephen: It’s like the fact that people still call Blur a “Britpop” band. They’ve evolved into something completely different, but people need to put a label on it. We’ve been called many things, “electro-pioneers”, “punk funk band”, “electronic rock band”, so it’s nice to survive those names and keep doing music. I’ve seen Radiohead called a “post-grunge” band and you want to say, “That’s nothing to do with them!” It’s like a football player who is always linked to the team they played for first.
Can you recommend a good book?
Stephen: I just read Boomerang by Michael Lewis. I’d never read any of his stuff before but I really enjoyed it. I read it in a day.
David: I don’t know what to say!
Stephen: Just recommend one! It doesn’t have to be Kurt Vonnegut.
David: There’s a really good one I’m reading now by Jon Savage. It’s called Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture. It’s about the fact that teenage culture didn’t exist before the Second World War, and of course since then it has exploded and now music and youth culture are everywhere. It’s basically down to the baby boomers, because so many kids were born after the war.
What records are you looking forward to in 2012?
Stephen: I wouldn’t mind a Queens of the Stone Age record. They’re a good rock band.
David: Gesaffelstein is making a new record – that should be good. Also, Mickey Moonlight just made a record and it’s brilliant. It’s acid and psychedelic and then there are some weird ballads. I really think it’s great. It’s somewhere between Pink Floyd and Ron Hardy, the Chicago house DJ.
What advice would you give your younger self?
David: Get married. Early.
Stephen: Have kids. Early.
It’s just hours before they play to nearly 10,000 people over two sold-out shows at Brixton Academy, but suave siblings Stephen and David Dewaele look relaxed. Perhaps that’s because beside them, in their bright, bare dressing room deep in the venue’s bowels, is a wardrobe filled exclusively with tailor-made dinner suits in powder grey (to wear when performing as Soulwax) and white (as aptly named alter-egos 2ManyDJs). Here the most dapper Belgian exports since Poirot explain their particular spin on black tie, the advantages of bespoke and why you should steer clear of too much experimentation…
Black tie is timeless
Stephen: “We’ve been wearing tuxedos onstage for ten years. Now it feels like a second skin. When you look back at the footage of us performing, you can only tell the date by the lights. For us, we find we have to only redo the suits over the years because we ‘fluctuate’ – sometimes we get skinnier or bigger.”
David: “A bad tuxedo does not make a good outfit. Not everybody is the same, so that’s what makes tailoring important. Some people can get away with wearing a normal [off-the-peg] suit, but for a lot of people their legs are too long or their arms are too short, so tailoring covers the differences.”
Stephen: “Since 2006 we’ve had them made by this guy in Belgium at a place called Café Costume. His dad has a big factory where a lot of the Belgian designers like Dries van Noten get their suits made. I think sometimes for him we’re a bit too classical. He wants to do crazy things, but we like a really old-school cut. It’s been amazing to look at fabrics with him and see what works well onstage. Sometimes something feels really nice and good, but when you’re in it for an hour under the lights you’re just like, “Oh, God – this is too hot!”
Embrace the uniform aspect
Stephen: “I think that if you wore something else onstage you’d be self-conscious about it, but with this it’s easy. All four of the band are wearing tuxedos, so then it’s just about the music. We don’t have to worry if we’re wearing the right jeans or shirt.”
Don’t be too precious about your DJ
Stephen: “I’ve learned not to hold onto things for too long. You get those pieces that you think you really like but then you never wear them again. It’s better not to get too attached.”
Don’t mix and match
Stephen: “It has happened that we’ve lost the suit pants. So we’re all wearing tuxedos and then one person is wearing jeans because that’s all we had. That’s not good.”
Learn from the best
David: “When you look at a picture of Bryan Ferry now and a picture of him 30 years ago, it’s not hugely different. He still looks equally stylish. He’s aged well.”
Don’t just wear them onstage
Stephen: “It’s not just for the show. I think a lot of people don’t like wearing them because they don’t feel loose in it, but now I wear a tuxedo more and more.”
David: “We once did a gig dressed as women. That was a huge faux pas. Stephen doesn’t look good as a woman.”
Originally published by British GQ.