R&S RECORDS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWJanuary 9, 2019
R&S Records are arguably one of the most successful and iconic labels in dance music history, spanning across 4 decades and launching so many artists who became super stars.
Label boss Renaat Vandepapeliere still has a keen ear for an uncompromising track, and we asked him recently about his life, career and thoughts on how social media had impacted today’s scene..
Mike Mannix: This is one interview we have been waiting for to finally to get the opportunity to speak to one of the true icons in the scene ……
Renaat Vandepapeliere: Hey Mike thank you. I was born in 1957 in Ghant, a very small town in Belgium. I’ve always been interested in music.
I wanted to be a drummer when I was young
but I was making way too much noise and there were 9 kids in the house at the time so that was a no from my father which I could understand of course haha.
Anyway, I was always listening to free radio and
the underground was the only thing I was really focusing
on until I seen Jimi Hendrix live, he blew my mind and I wanted to be part of that to be connected to the artists and the music scene, it was a game changer for me.
MM: What was it about him that attracted you?
RV: It was everything his free spirit his innovation and wow what a musician.
MM: So basically the mirror image of what you set up with R&S records then?
RV: Simple answer absolutely yes full stop yes haha we did have other major influences like James Brown and Marvin Gaye all those unique and irreplaceable soul guy’s.
MM: So this leads you then to pursue your own interest in music?
RV: Yes, I remember, I never wanted to be a fireman or a doctor or do any other type of job,
I just always wanted to be around creative musicians and that was super clear to me at the time.
From a very young age, I was hanging around in student bars when I didn’t go to school which were always packed with other kids that didn’t want to go to school either who were listening to music, it was a big big part of my life.
MM: So when did you take the first steps toward the label when was the idea born?
RV: Once I really got into DJ-ing I played long sets
every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, for years in the same club from 9 till 6 a.m.
I sometimes ask myself how did I do it as there was much less music than there is today, we spent a lot of time in record shops digging as we had to be innovative and buy a lot of music, even then I was experimenting with jazz and Jazz fusion.
At the time I was working in a record shop and getting to listen to a lot of American imports. One of biggest inspirations for me was how Chris Blackwell at Island records ran his business, it blew me away completely.
You could feel the freedom the artists had! It was something different, and I was very inspired by that, so I thought if they can do it with the Americans and the English can do it why not Belgium?
Back then we didn’t have any independent label it didn’t exist in the 1980s.
And then I had a chance meeting with somebody in the record shop one day who was from Yugoslavia, studying here in Belgium and his cousin had a studio in Germany. Eventually,
I gave up my job and went to the studio in Germany very simple
but I’d also never been in a studio in my life haha.
It was very difficult at the start, my parents thought I was crazy because everything was dominated by the major’s labels, but I remember saying at the time, ‘well let’s see and at least try’ and here we are 36 years later.
MM: So you must have got quite a shock when you opened the door to the studio for the first time?
RV: Oh man yes, it was like opening the door to the Concorde and I was like ‘let this shit fly’! I started to learn from other people the Engineers and the Producers I’d watch their techniques for hours and the musicians and really I just went from there.
MM: Tell us a little bit then about the meaning behind the logo for R&S Records?
RV: The R is my initial for Renaat and the S is my wife Sabine. I have always had a passion for the prancing horse because I wanted to horse ride when I was a kid.
The colour green is the colour of hope the triangle is the symbol of protection. The colour ‘black’ on the label is representing the night and the ‘Blue’ is romance.
MM: So when you started the label did you just go right after the innovators?
RV: I remember we we ’re working in the studio on some of the old tracks with David Bowie as an engineer around 1984 when New Beat started in Belgium in ’……….. ‘
the first biggest electronic Club on the planet this is where Techno and everything broke and got bigger and bigger.
We had a lot of people coming from all over the world to this club along with the white labels of Trax Records, & New Groove from America. I remember hearing a track ‘It is what it is’, by Derrick May and that changed everything for me as I’m into that soulful electronic music and yeah I think I just saw the light. Eventually, this was how we discovered Joey Beltram, Carl Craig, and all those guys.
When I got the first white label from Joey Beltram I flew him over to the studio and what emerged from that was ‘Energy Flash & Mentasm’ and as they say, the rest is history if I have that feeling I’ll release it, trends don’t matter.
It was the same when we released tracks from Aphex Twin, everybody thought I was crazy and I said to everyone ‘look we’ll see’ and there you go the rest is history. I was always trying to find things outside of the comfort zone, music that was uncompromised.
MM: I remember hearing Joey Beltram’s Energy Flash in 1990 for the first time and I was fucking blown away I completely turned to the darker sounds in dance music from that point.
RV: Haha yeah man, it wasn’t just you,
it changed the world it changed everything
I loved it when I first heard it as it was so different it was like taking a healthy dose of vitamin C simple as that. And today we still do the same,
every 10 years you’ve got game-changers the last was Burial these guys influence generations.
MM: Do the artists come to you or are you always looking as well?
RV: Both, but I do look on average around 10 hours a day trawling like a freak you nearly have to be like a gravedigger get the gold especially today you have to put in so much time and effort to find something interesting if I find something that I like I stop it’s a simple as that.
MM: If someone was looking to sign to R&S or any label what advice would you give them to try to be original in a very saturated market?
Be uncompromising be honest at what you do, there are no shortcuts in this business but people do hear honesty
Try to be original but yeah music does mutate and people take it in different directions like Pink Floyd, like Bob Marley and James Blake.
When we sign artists we give them complete freedom, as I hate all that A&R shite telling an artist what they should do or can’t do, I tell them to
get out of your comfort zone and don’t try to please the market
because that becomes another job.
MM: So you’d never rush to sign anybody your quite happy to wait until you get that feeling about a track?
RV: Absolutely 100-percent and even at the moment we have guys that have been sending tracks in for 3 or 4 years and I keep telling them no go back and work on it, it’s not ready. So yea
I’ll never rush to sign anything I’ve no problem saying no and the older I get the easier it gets to say it
MM: Would you say then there’s a lot of distractions today for artists with the Spectre of social media?
RV: Yes! Because so many want to be pop stars and at the same time they’re all photographers, they’re all filmmakers, they’re all musicians’ chasing likes etc it’s fucking shit. I’m not attacking anybody that’s just my opinion so really
I don’t give a fucking shit about stats on social media, I would sooner give a record deal to someone with one follower or no followers if their music’s good than someone with a huge amount of followers and zero talent
I would rather sign a track I like that only sells half a track or that I have to give it away to get rid of it than sign something because other labels are or it’s the fashion or it’s the in sound.
I have in the past refused big money makers purely based on that principle.
I’m only really interested in records that make an impact and that will last, and that’s it for me and if crosses over into more money or getting more people interested in the label then that’s all good.
When I’m listening to new artists I don’t look at their social profiles I do it the old-fashioned way, I listen to the music and I think do I believe them, are they authentic or are they just another Xerox machine?
(Copy) At the end of the day, I have to still look in the mirror and be proud about my choices, it’s about integrity.
MM: What’s your method of choosing a track?
RV: It has to grab me straight away within the first couple of seconds as simple as that. Obviously I’m not going to get to listen to all of the tracks that are out there unfortunately due to the sheer amount being released.
Yea there’ll be amazing tracks I’ll miss, so sometimes I wish I had a chip in my head where I could listen to all of the tracks instantaneously, even when an artist is thinking about making a track haha.
MM: What’s your motivation?
RV: I’m a free spirit like Hendrix but I can’t play like him hahaha.
I’m 61 and still have the same drive I did when I was a kid. I’m back out DJing again trying to be as eclectic and as unformatted as possible.
Everything today is formatted the music is all formatted genres the labels the DJs it’s just something that I hate, so that’s why I’m free because I don’t follow that. As well,
because I’m older I’m here to help the other free spirits that are out there that are coming up
MM: Is music a spiritual component in your life?
RV: Hell yeah,
music is a directing emotion that’s why it’s so powerful. Look at when you go to a massive stadium gig aor even a rock concert the band they connect with the crowd they are part of the crowd the crowd is part of them and the link is the music, they become one big entity, so yeah it’s fucking spiritual
But, there needs to be some change in the dance scene because I tell my kids you’re dancing to Grandad’s music because it’s still the same format, the same process. I still love dance music but it’s like wow been there done that for 30 years.
MM: The Golden era then?
RV: Yes! It was kind of like a big accident wasn’t it haha? A lot of people back then were so bored of being in a nightclub listening to John Travolta and others such stuff?
A seed had been planted as in every other great movement before it’s really started, whether it was Punk or whether it’s Techno they were born from the frustration of the Status quo, it had something behind it had something to say
We were at the forefront of a change you couldn’t really explain or plan for, but you knew when you felt it. It had a certain form of energy and you knew the people around you we’re feeling it as well which is hard to explain as it removed you from the normal world into one of expectation and anticipation.
MM: Any great moments?
RV: In 1993 we were trying to get the Belgium radio stations to play even a couple of hours of techno but we were getting laughed at, at the time because they all said the kids only wanted rock. That pissed me off so much,
I rented a satellite and broadcast our own party 24 hours a day for 10 days that we called the Republic of R&S Records
as we were on a little island. We rented a hotel flew loads of people over like the Orb and all the big names who ware pushing the scene at that time. It was really really interesting party!
MM: Niceee one I say that was some party alright! What are your aspirations today what would you like to do now?
RV: I’d like to do a college tour of America actually just for the students keep it intimate, because they’re up for fresh ideas and they’re not stuck in their ways yet.
MM: Capture the mind while it’s still in Flux.
RV: Exactly correct.
MM: Any last words
RV: I’d like the DJs to play long sets again because playing for an hour or 2 hours is a pop act and too quick. You can only get into something really interesting and magical and creative when a DJ is playing for like 6 hours or more the way it used to be.
For me I’m always looking for moments, that’s also my thinking with R&S releases, that we’re giving people good tracks, good moments, and
if I can continue to live my life the way I am at the moment I‘ll die very happy man
MM: Love it thanks Renaat
RV: Anytime Mike!