In 2002, when 2 Many DJ’s’ ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’ hit the shelves in Europe, dance music was in the middle of one of its periodic lows, as the post Millennium, super-super club hangover dragged on into the early Noughties. The Strokes were cool, Converse were hip, turntables were out and guitars were in — a combination of circumstance that you might think would make a mix album like ‘As Heard...’ sink like a stone.
And yet ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’ (there’s no official Part 1) was, in many ways, the perfect album for the early 2000s. A genuinely iconic release that turned rock kids onto the art of the DJ and dance kids onto the power of rock, while turbo powering the trend for mash ups into the stratosphere. ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’ sold more than half a million copies worldwide, a jaw-dropping number that makes it one of the biggest-selling mix albums ever. And it was inescapable in the early part of the new millennium, the one release that everyone seemed to agree on to get the party started, a mix that both reflected and drove forward contemporary popular culture.
To talk about ‘As Heard...’ we have to talk about mash ups, a term that has rocketed out of fashion but which was, for a few brief years in the early 2000s, the height of musical gossip. Mash ups involve combining parts of several different songs (typically the vocal and instrumental) to create something new. ‘A Stroke of Genius’, the 2001 track by Freelance Hellraiser, is still probably the best-known example, layering the vocal from Christina Aguilera's ‘Genie in a Bottle’ over the guitar chug of The Strokes' ‘Hard To Explain’. And if you’re thinking, ‘Isn’t that what good DJs have always done?’ Then you’re basically right.
But combining two tracks live in a vinyl mix requires a considerable amount of skill, while technological changes in the early 2000s — notably the rise of software like Pro Tools and Ableton Live — made the practice a great deal easier for a new generation of musical tinkerers. (2 Many DJ’s — aka brothers David and Stephen Dewaele — have never said what DJing equipment they used on ‘As Heard...’ But it is clear they weren’t just playing records: on the 2manybootlegs site, one of the brothers talks about re-editing Adult.’s ‘Hand To Phone’ to resemble the Carl Craig mix of the song, after Craig denied them permission to use his remix on ‘As Heard…’.)
The roots of ‘As Heard...’ lie in Soulwax, an electronic band centred around the Dewaele brothers. While touring their 1998 album ‘Much Against Everyone's Advice’, the Dewaeles started performing as DJs at their own afterparties. This led to a radio show on Flemish alternative station Studio Brussels, in which the brothers started experimenting seriously with moulding together music from the worlds of pop, rock and electronics in ambitious combinations. Kenny Gates, head of Soulwax’s label PIAS, was apparently such a fan that he badgered the Dewaeles into making an album that reflected the sound of their DJ sets. The brothers eventually agreed, handing over a list of 187 tracks that they wanted cleared; PIAS cleared 114 of them and 2 Many DJ’s (a reference to the Soulwax track ‘Too Many DJs’) were thrust into the spotlight.
The album officially includes 45 tracks, plus a Soulwax Elektronic Remix of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can't Get You Out Of My Head’ that could be found by rewinding the CD release beyond the official start of the album. Laid out on paper, the mix looks like an almighty mess, with Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s ‘Peter Gunn (Live)’ nuzzling up to Basement Jaxx’s ‘Where's Your Head At?’ and Nena’s teutonic ‘80s pop classic ‘99 Luftballons’ taking its place next to Destiny’s Child’s ‘Independent Women Part 1’. But the Dewaeles showed an almost psychic skill for combining very different types of music in ways that showed them in an entirely new light.