Whether you've heard of Frank De Wulf or not, his formative experiments in electronic music helped to shape the European and US landscape in the late '80s and early '90s.
A contemporary of the likes of Derrick May, Joey Beltram and Sven Väth, he emerged from the Belgium new beat and techno scenes – most notably via his 'The B-Sides' series – to tour the world, remixing other game-changing acts including The Shamen, Erasure, The Orb, Jam & Spoon and Orbital along the way.
Taking a backseat from music when his post-production company took off, he sold this business in 2010 and has begun to venture into DJing and production again – much to DJ Mag's excitement. Read out full interview with Frank below.
1. Subliminal Pulse – Bruno Sanfilippo
2. Jaana (Carlo Lio Remix) - Kaiserdisco
3. Miike Snow - The Wave Vanilla Bootleg
4. Ben Klock - Subzero
5. Cisco Arias - Switch
6. Filterheadz - The Game
7. Function - Disaffected
8. Gabriel D'Or - Bordoy Spremuta
9. Kaito - Inside River
10. UMEK & Siwell - You Get Used To All The Madness
11. Steffi - Yours feat. Virginia
12. Phunk Investigation - Blade Scanner (Tomy DeClerque remix)
13. Ben Klock - Goodly Sin
14. Shifted - Control
15. Nick Hoppner - Ipso Facto
16. Ken Ishii - Pounding Out
17. Human Tech - Animal Instinct
18. Substance & Vanqueur - Resonance
19. Efdemin - Night Train
20. Steve Mac - Mousique
21. Kaito - Color of Feels
22. The Chain - Maje
23. Hertz - Manic
24. TomHades - Necisito
25. Ray Kajioka - Spark
26. Spektre - Mercury (Cristian Varela remix)
27. Caytas Patz - Are You Afraid (Joel Mull dub edit)
28. Gregor Tresher - About a Good Place
29. Ray Kajioka - Thrill
You've been under the radar for a few years. What have you been up to, and what have you got coming up?
“After about eight years in the music dance-scene, I started a post production company for film as this is my 'other' big love in life, movies!
“It went from a ten meter square studio in the back of my vinyl storage room, to a 50+ artists studio where we did a crazy amount of work for the TV and movie industry. I sold the company in 2010 to get back to my own creativity instead of 90% 'managing' the company. The business became too important instead of what I really love to do, create things. Due to that choice, I then had more time to check out new software on both image and sound and fell in love with Propellerheads' Reason for its simplicity and focus on creation, instead of tech. knowledge. In these past years I have been directing and creative directing projects, but also music has been back in my life, making remixes and new tracks. So that is what I will focus on, more and more in the years to come. Creating and, if possible, DJing, which I love to do. Check more mixes on my Soundcloud.”
You are considered one of the forefathers of techno in Belgium and came to prominence in the New Beat/EBM era. What was it that first attracted you to dance music? What made you want to make it?
“My influences where the disco/new wave/electronic music from those days, like Art Of Noise, Kraftwerk and funky rhythm tracks (Hamilton Bohannon's 'Let's Start To Dance', for example, that's proto techno for me).
“A combination of funky rhythms, but with an electronic touch, is what drives me. And still today, I love a good techno track but with a musical/melodic or rhythmic feel in it. Turning some 303 knobs in 'random' mode and putting a basic beat/loop under is straightforward and doesn't make me go wow. It's when that simple acid line has a musical phrase to it, combined with that exact rhythm that makes it work, when I'm wowed. For example, 'Prisoners of Ecstasy' or Hardfloor's brilliant 'Acperience'.
“For me that is 'soul-music', but in it's most modern and broad representation, because it just touches you and evokes emotional response. It doesn't matter if it's house or techno. I love good music based on a melody that just works and makes me feel good. And curiosity, combined with that drive for music and what it does to people, plus probably some talent, made me go, 'I wanna try/do this too'. And off we went!”
Many of your productions have a raw, tough edge to them – what was your motivation in creating darker sounds? What is it about darker sounds that you find so appealing?
“If you would listen quickly through my discography, I think most of the tracks would surprise you as being pretty soft to medium. The sound though has mostly a 'darker' theme to it, as that evokes the right emotion for me Now that can be done through a simple change in the chords, and it doesn't need to be done by screaming out 'bad words' or a screaming synths all the time. 'Acid Rock' might be the exception, but at the time that was just something that worked. It was my first track and sort of a melting pot of different things. By luck, it just went through the roof. But personally it's not the track that 'moves' me emotionally, it's just a great reminder of that time and gave me a shot in the music industry.
“I have a few harder tracks that had a lot of attention, but they certainly weren't hardcore or anything which I never thought was 'my thing'. Uptempo techno tracks, sure, but never hardcore as it was 'named' then.. When you say darker it's more about the melody, which in a 'minor' scale gives more drama or even melancholy to it. If you take, for instance, Dave Clarke's 'Red 1'/'Red 2', it's upbeat techno, but the melody, although being really straightforward, has a non happy feel to it but it's not really negative or aggressive. It's pumping and kinda up-lifting to get your legs moving. It's difficult to explain I guess, but those are the things that I think make for a good track. My 'hits' at the time were basically melodic and had mostly a softer 'sampled sound', but the beats made it all more thriving and pushing which is always a good combination. Use high pitched sounds, deeper bass and an overall good funky rhythm section and you're off to a good start. It's all about frequencies, you know.
“You can watch a straightforward movie, or you can have a movie that makes you think about it. 'Is the good guy so good and is the bad guy so bad?' It's not black nor white and that moves me, which counts also for music; it's not negative and it's not all that positive. It's in the middle and the combined sounds make it all happen. Somehow that makes up a 'good track' as much as it does a good story.”
Why do you think the mechanical rough rhythms of New Beat/EBM were born in Belgium? What social conditions gave rise to that sound?
“I'm not sure, but it might be the combination of our influence of both the US/British and German sound? I think it's also a cultural thing, but I would have to do some research to getting the exact reason for this. There's a Brilliant documentary film out (not on DVD yet) which is called 'The Sound of Belgium', you definitely have to check that one out!”
Your earlier productions used breakbeats and certain sounds that saw them embraced by the hardcore scene in the UK in the early 1990s. At the time, hardcore was derided but it's had a huge renaissance in recent times. Do you feel you contributed to that scene? Were you part of it? Why do you think people are reevaluating it now?
“I guess I contributed, as many other artists did, to that scene. I don't feel 'part' of any specific scene, or even more a 'genre' within dance to be honest, I have so many different 'loves' that it doesn't work for me to choose for one. It's like saying I only like sci-fi movies or westerns. If we are talking hardcore music, as in Dutch and Belgium hardcore, as in 'banging' etc., I don't feel any relation to that, with all due respect, as I don't think I made tracks in that genre. Although some of my tracks were hard, they never went ballistic. Instead, I tried to get the right musical hook in there. I'm not sure if I succeeded always though!”
You're probably best known for the 'B-Sides' series. What was the inspiration behind those EPs?
“The sample vinyl albums coming from the states were records with loads of one minute loops or short ideas that I was using to make new mish-mashes at the time. I love mixing different tracks and new loops into a new musical 'thing' and I made a lot of mixes. At the time, Belgian army service was obligatory so I didn't have time to really work on full tracks due to my intensive service to my country. Instead of making full tracks, I made a lot of ideas and had some good half finished tracks laying around, all good for on the B-side of what was to come later on, when I would have time to make more complete tracks. Inspired by those 'sample' records, I decided to put a few ideas on a record and call them the 'B-sides' and off it went. Due to the success of the first, the tracks become more finished on volumes after that. But it was basically just intended to be used by DJs as tools. That's also the reason why a lot of samples were used in it.”
You've defined yourself as predominantly a techno artist. When the dance scene fractured into all the different genres in the early 90s, did you see that as a positive or negative thing?
“Today the overall mixture of genres and influences is certainly a good thing for music itself. I really enjoy good music and it doesn't matter if that is in a nice housey DJ set or a more techno inspired evening. If the DJ puts on good music with a good ear for quality, musicality and build-up and climax, I'm all for it. I do get bored if a DJ stays on the same level of sound and tracks though. I need a good variation and build up to enjoy myself.
“I therefore never felt really 'part of' a certain specific genre within the dance scene, but I do have my personnel preference and progressive tech-house comes close I guess. But because there is a lot of misunderstanding about names and genres, let me give you some my favs: The Joel Mull remix of Caytas and Patz' 'Are you Afraid' is brilliant, emotional, very uplifting and a moody piece of work. My Fellow Belgian musicians, Marco Bailey and Tom Hades, made some very inspiring tracks and Gregor Tresher's 'About a Good Place' is just so positive and uplifting, it makes me happy with a healthy dose of jealousy on top!”
In 2012 you put out an old track, 'People in Motion', on Silicone Soul's label Darkroom Dubs. How did you hook up with them? What inspired the musical direction?
“They just mailed me to have the track released as they were fans of it. I just gave them a go, it's that simple really. It did make me more aware of that track though, as I'd kinda forgotten about tit and to hear it again today, I really like it.”
What do you think of the dance scene now? Who do you rate DJ and producer-wise?
“I think there's really incredible music out there and I'm having more stress free enjoyment in music these days then I had back in the days, which gives me inspiration and certainly the 'desire and joy' to produce again and get out there and bring music to the people. DJing is very important for me and nowadays I have a certain approach to that; I don't want to only bring a two hour set , exchanging one record for the other. I personally love the combination of using many tracks and my own loops and samples in a two hour build up, using both old and new 'sounds'. And I'm having fun playing either a retro old school set, or music from today, or a mixture of both. It's moving towards a sort of live set using existing music and parts, for which Ableton gives me the possibility to create a pretty fresh approach. I have a personal setup that enable me to easily bring that kind of mish-mash of ideas. The one hour 'Session 1' gives a first example of that, certainly the last 15 minutes or so! That's the way I wanna go in both old school and newer sets. The old school sets on my Soundcloud page also give a good impression of that. Rating myself is kinda difficult, but in an honest comparison towards the 'big names' in the industry I don't feel ashamed to go head to head. I can in all modesty say that I can stand next to them and make the dancefloor move.
“Music wise, I just finished some remixes and I'm working on new material. Also, I'm releasing in the coming weeks my 4th volume of 'Straight from the Vault', a compilation series of all my earlier work and remixes. Music is an enjoyment for me again, so we'll see what happens next!”
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