All you 22tracks fans might know these guys from the Brussels’ house section, but they are also the founders of ensemble. That’s why I asked them some (read: a lot of) questions. I met them a couple of months ago at the first release of ensemble. A short evening at a OYE record store in Berlin, where great DJ’s filled the room with beats that made me want to dance all night. I can’t wait for their next release, I am sure it is going to be even better. But now, the Q&A.
WNM: Tell me a little about yourself, who are you guys?
We are Kong and Gratts, two Belgian friends, house djs and record collectors. We curate the house music section on the Brussels 22tracks website and run the ensemble club nights and label together. Other than that Kong works for Belgian national radio Studio Brussels during the daytime, where he hosts a weekly show centered around house music, every Saturday night live on air from 11pm until midnight. Gratts has just relocated to Berlin where he is currently running club nights and enjoying early spring. He travels around with his records every week to put them on turntables in clubs of mostly Western European countries.
WNM: When did your love for house music start?
Kong: I first discovered house music through my little alarm clock radio at an early age. After listening to live coverage of Saturday night football, I switched channel to Studio Brussel or other stations broadcasting live from clubs. Later on I started dj’ing at Nijdrop, a youth house & music centre in Opwijk. I was into a broad range of genres, inspired by other local djs and the national guys who came to play. We started to organise our own parties and concerts featuring international guests such as Jimmy Edgar or Justus Könhcke. Around 2007 I started my own radioshow on FM Brussel (in the beginning alongside Cortez), the perfect place to experiment and sharpen my taste for house music.
Gratts: My love for house music started in the early noughties. Before that, when I was around 15 years old, I started collecting and mixing mostly drum’n’bass records. A school friend’s older brother was always into interesting music. Early Orbital, Ninja Tune stuff, Dave Clarke, etc. So that’s how I eventually ventured into breakbeats, techno, house (mostly early French house at that point). My home town Leuven was definitely an influence when it comes to house and techno. I remember sneaking out through the window aged 16 to go to Silo club where the infamous Food parties took place, to find DJ Sneak playing to a packed crowd at 6 in the morning. Those early memories were really important: when everything’s still fresh and surprising you know, when you’ve got no idea what you are hearing and how’s it’s being presented to you. I think anyone’s music taste starts developing around that age, 15 to 16. Very exciting times. Also a certain Belgian magazine by the name of Plastiks, I’d read religiously every week and I learnt a lot from that, as well as all the mags from the UK that I could get my hands on: Muzik mag, Mixmag, etc etc.
Seriously though, we don’t see it as work (although sometimes it is, isn’t it?) because we do love it.
WNM: Could you explain ensemble a bit more? You say it’s not a label so what would you call it?
We started calling ensemble a “label (not a label)” because it was first and foremost our nights and we didn’t want to turn it into this label thing where we would feel forced to release one record after the other. Also there seems to be a ring to it, since everybody’s always asking why we don’t want to call it a label haha. But yeah, it’s more a platform we like to use to send music into the world, at our own pace, when we feel the need to. That said, the ensemble002 EP featuring a lot of friends is heavily in the works!
WNM: Why did you decide to found ensemble? Did it start as a crazy plan or do you really have a 3 year plan
Definitely the first. We both felt like presenting our own take on a good night out to a Brussels crowd and that’s what we did. Since the start we’ve worked with a few venues, booked a lot of artists we liked, and most of all never forced anyone of them into anything: we love giving our musical guests the space and time to present what they are about.
WNM: You are both very busy bees, how do you combine this with Ensemble?
This is why we only release three records a year and do as many nights, haha. Seriously though, we don’t see it as work (although sometimes it is, isn’t it?) because we do love it.
WNM: Ensemble had his first release last year, how was this experience?
It was interesting in a lot of ways. As it was the first time, we had no clue about timings, release date, which master engineer to use, where to press the records etc, etc. As anything in life, it’s been a good learning curve. It’s going much smoother now with our second release. Obviously we were lucky to get a lot of advice from people like our friends at We Play House Recordings. We’re also very happy to be working with Rush Hour for our distribution, we’ve always been big fans of the label, the people and the way they deal with things.
WNM: Are there already new names you are working with for a second release?
Our “third resident” Eklektiker from Antwerp has been cooking up raw electronic music for who knows how long, a track of his by the name of ‘Intiem’ will feature on the release. His production alias is ‘Raw Sketches’ and sums his output up well, it’s exactly what you get! Then our London friends Sisterhood, who had recently launched the Tief label, remixed the track. You can actually already stream / preview it on the Fabric blog. Then there will be a tune called ‘Gebakken Lucht’ by the mysterious Belgian duo ‘De Ambassade’, as well as a remix of it by our favourite Aussie (although there are many!) Ben Sun. And even more music to get excited about is coming soon!
WNM: Tristan, you are currently living in Berlin, what would you like to bring back from this great night life to Belgium? Do you think this kind of night life would work in our small country?
Berlin is special and much different than Belgium, but anywhere you go will always be different, that’s why changing places is good I think. What I like about the city is the slow pace and the way people are given time to get their musical point across, something we’ve always wanted to do with our nights too.
WNM: Congrats Koen with your airtime at StuBru! How is that working out? Would you say that the music you select there is in line with Ensemble?
It’s going great. What I liked most when they asked me to do a weekly slot on air is that it had to be live, to contrast with internet podcasting. Everything I do between 11 – 12PM is done live, so when the needle crashes … it crashes. The music I select for my radioshow is eventually just what I like and since Gratts & I share taste for proper house music, it is very much in line with ensemble. I do tend to play kinda uptempo on Studio Brussel, since it’s a Saturday night 11pm slot. My love for slower and deeper house music has other output, such as podcasts or live dj-sets.
WNM: What are the plans with Dimensions Festival? Is it really as great as it seems?
Yes, it is. Gratts went last year too and had the best of fun. This year we will be hosting a festival stage as well as a boat party. The festival has got everything for a great summer holiday: fantastic lineups, good crowds and of course sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. We hope to see some Belgian people in Croatia again this year too.
WNM: This week you are hosting the Dimensions Festival launch party at Fuse, what can we expect?
You could say Belgium has a history of Sunday daytime clubbing and we are aiming for that vibe this time: people having a good time dancing before the work week starts! Our matinee kicks off at 4pm and ends at midnight. As always we’ve invited a couple of artists we love. First up is Chicago house legend Boo Williams, who’s been around forever and has been responsible for some of the most beautiful and sought after house music. As a dj, he goes from house to techno and from disco to r&b, perfect Sunday afternoon material. Secondly we’re quite proud to present the first live show of the LA-based producer/singer/poet/songwriter Samuel “Seven” Davis Jr’. His music has been described as “sticky, purpleveined bedroom funk that connects the dots between D’Angelo, DamFunk and producers like Recloose or Andres” and we can only agree. He can count big names like Gilles Peterson amongst his fans, will release a new EP on Apron Records (whose label boss Funkineven compares him to a modern time Prince) and just played his first Boiler Room set. We’re quite sure big things await him. He will also be performing at Dimensions in Croatia. But have a listen yourself ! Other than that our friends Just Nathan from Ghent and Holger daddy Sixsixsixties will open the dance, while Kong and Gratts will finish the night. You can bring your parents by the way!
WNM: You shared with us a playlist, why these specific tracks?
- Keep Holdin (Up Mix) – Tuff Jam ‘s Klubb Conektion Feat Tempo O’Neil
Kong: Been digging a lot of US garage house lately and this one struck me. So many times duplicated lately, but the original sound still sounds best.
- Deodato – Keepit in the family
Kong: Grooving disco classic, anytime.
- Wamdue Kids – Whirlwind
Kong: Personal favourite, the emotion in this track is amazing. Love it how those analog oldschool tracks where made with just a basic setup, but imply a lot more feelings than anything made today with computers.
- East 17 Division – Textures
Gratts: I heard Mr. Floating Points play this one at Stattbad a couple of weekends ago. A functional yet deep, pure and beautiful piece of music that illustrates the essence of house music. I have been looking for this ever since.
- Mr. Fingers – Beyond The Clouds
Gratts: Classic early Larry Heard. Such a beautiful tune and an alltime favourite. To me it’s very visual and I actually named my new club night after this one, as a sort of tribute.
- Boo Williams – Chicago Style Techno
Gratts: Boo Williams has been one of my favourite house producers for years and I can’t wait to hear him dj on Sunday. There’s probably literally hundreds of tracks of his to choose from, but today I’m going with this one.
- Seven Davis Jr – One
Gratts: “What’s up with you and me? Can it be, I’m thinking maybe you’re the one.” This is a roller-disco-friendly vocal house jam featuring Seven Davis Jr’s beautiful vocals on top of soulful but rough up- tempo beats. From his debut EP on Must Have, already sold- out but a repress is dropping soon.
- BONUS: Mannen van de radio Opticiens
Gratts: ‘Mannen van de radio’ is a bit of a cult radio show by Dutch comedians Hans Teeuwen, Theo Maassen and Pieter Bouwman. It’s all in Dutch, this is one of my favourite episodes. “Ruud, jij hebt een opticien gebeten, en dat was niet de eerste keer?”
WNM: One last question, what do you generally do on a Monday? Which track makes those Monday blues go away?
Kong: I work for Studio Brussel on Mondays, I’m playlisting the Select radioshow from 8 till 10pm. It is the most leftfield, alternative radioshow of the station, anything goes. I really enjoy this feeling, so anything we play there takes my Monday blues away. Recently: Sohn with a beautiful slow burner called ‘Artifice’!
Gratts: Mostly recovering from the weekend, trying to have a jog or go to the swimming pool, have a stroll around town and eat some healthy food. Tune wise, I’ve found myself going back to this DJ Shadow track ‘Scale It Back’ featuring Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano on the vocals. She has a gorgeous voice. I saw Little Dragon at Trouw Amsterdam last week and it was a treat. The video that goes with this one is great as well.
Enjoy the tracks they’ve selected and all you Belgians go to Fuse this weekend because I am sure it is going to be a great matinee! Maybe see you at Dimensions Festival?