Solid Gold: How 2manydjs' 'As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2' turned rock kids onto the art of DJing
A vital document of music in 2002, ‘As Heard...’s headline-grabbing mixes of well-known tracks helped sneak a handful of underground dance classics into more than half a million homes, while shepherding in a sea change in attitude towards pop artists over the next two decades. Ben Cardew remembers an iconic mix album that revitalised a dance music scene then very much on its uppers
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.
Who would have known, for example, that The Stooges’ proto-punk classic ‘No Fun’ would work so effortlessly with the vocal from Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’? Who could have predicted that Peaches’ art-naif rap anthem ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ would sit so well over The Velvet Underground’s ‘I'm Waiting For The Man’? And yet, once heard, these combinations were impossible to un-hear, perfectly weighted demonstrations of the DJ’s art of reinvention and a brilliant argument in favour of DJing as a genuinely creative skill, right when DJs were at their lowest ebb. Two of these mash ups (sorry...) were released as promo singles in their own right — Destiny’s Child and 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Women’ and The Stooges / Salt-N-Pepa mix — but, in reality, many of the album’s audaciously mixed segments could have enjoyed the same fate, so well did the Dewaeles nail their mixes.
Countless words were spilled in intellectualising the mash up style of ‘As Heard...’ (which came out in the UK in February 2003). Mash ups were, according to the press, the new digital phenomenon, pushing at the edge of fuddy-duddy copyright law; an example of a generational shift in creativity that favoured re-purposing existing content (much like Damien Hirst and his sharks) over trying to create something brand new. For some, mash ups showed the impossibility of original thought in the age of endless digital availability; for others, they represented a bold strike for the future. Soon record labels would be commissioning their own mash ups, with Paul McCartney asking the Freelance Hellraiser to remix some of his lesser-known tracks as pre-show entertainment for his 2004 tour.
What this intellectualising missed, however, was how downright enjoyable ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’ was to listen to, once the novelty wore off. Who could hear Dolly Parton’s working-girl anthem ‘9 to 5’ collide into Röyksopp’s chill staple ‘Eple’ without a vast grin breaking out across their face, not to mention enjoying a new-found respect for both songs? This recurring joy was not, sadly, something that could be said for many of the big dance records of 2002/3. The Dewaeles’ selections breathed new life into their source material by the simple act of re-contextualisation, transforming battle-hardened radio staples like 10CC’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ into fresh shoots of delight that reminded the listener how it must have been to hear these songs the very first time, before they were worn smooth by time.
‘As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’’s role as an icon of mash-up culture is relatively well known. What is more rarely discussed is how well the album’s track list reflected what was bubbling under in electronic music in the early 2000s, as the energy that The Strokes, the White Stripes et al. had brought to rock music slowly filtered into the dance scene.
Peaches’ ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ and Felix Da Housecat’s ‘Silverscreen Shower Scene’ — which both feature on ‘As Heard...’ — were pivotal to the electroclash scene, which was starting to peak in 2002; ADULT. and Vitalic (represented by ‘Hand To Phone’ and the monumental ‘La Rock 01’, respectively) were bringing a hard-edged electro sound to the clubs that would outlive electroclash; while Zongamin’s ‘Serious Trouble’ was representative of the post-punk/disco sound that LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture would soon take to global acclaim. Even without the mash ups, ‘As Heard...’ would be a vital document of music in 2002, its headline-grabbing mixes of well-known tracks helping to sneak a handful of underground classics into more than half a million homes.
Given the intense administrative headaches involved in putting together ‘As Heard...’ — it took half a year, over 860 emails, 160 faxes and uncountable phone calls, according to the 2manybootlegs website — it was perhaps no surprise that 2 Many DJ’s would never put together another official DJ mix, although various bootlegs circulated of their radio shows. Maybe they didn’t want to. Maybe they simply didn’t need to: the success of ‘As Heard...’ propelled 2 Many DJ’s to the very top of the DJ tree, earning them (as Soulwax) a very nice sideline as remixers to the stars. (Soulwax have remixed everyone from Daft Punk to Robbie Williams, with many of the most notable works being collected on the 2007 compilation ‘Most of the Remixes’.)
By the late 2000s, people had pretty much stopped talking about mash ups, as the rise of EDM sent the pendulum swinging back towards electronic music and the art of the DJ. But ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2’ remains a key work in the the DJ cannon, a mix album that rivals Coldcut’s ‘Journeys By DJ’ for influence and jaw-dropping power, revitalising a dance music scene then very much on its uppers and helping to prove that pop music could be both cool and fun, thus shepherding in a sea change in attitude towards pop artists over the next two decades.
Dropping the 2 Many DJ’s name won’t earn you any trainspotter points in 2021. But the next time you’re watching an anonymous DJ play un-Shazamable teflon tech-house to a joy-averse fashion crowd, ask yourself: wouldn’t you really rather be losing your shit to The Stooges getting mashed into Salt-N-Pepa? I know where I stand...