Renaat Vandepapeliere is the co-founder of the hugely influential R&S Records alongside his partner Sabine Maes — their initials giving the label its name. Launching in 1984, the label pushed the emergent sound of Belgian new beat, electronic disco and electro-related sounds before becoming a home for cutting-edge techno in the ‘90s. Classic records like Joey Beltram’s “Energy Flash” and Outlander’s “The Vamp” found a platform through the Ghent-based label, as did Aphex Twin’s seminal ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’.
Winding down operations in 2000, R&S was relaunched in 2006 alongside Andy Whittaker, and quickly set about on an agenda of positioning itself once again as one of the pioneering imprints for the most exciting electronic music around. James Blake, Space Dimension Controller, Blawan, Untold and Pariah have sat alongside the likes of Model 500 and Radioslave in the label’s second era, with a huge legion of new fans coming on board as a result.
Speaking to Native Instruments, Renaat discusses his resurgent DJ career built around the use of the TRAKTOR KONTROL S8, and how its versatility has allowed him to become as flexible and open as possible. His extended eclectic sets have seen him play everywhere from Tomorrowland to Ibiza Underground, and Into The Valley, garnering him a reputation as a seasoned tastemaker.
Tell us about your early days of DJing and how they led on to R&S.
I started at 14 and I always had a lot of fun. But when I started R&S, I stopped DJing because for me it was important to support the artist and not build a label for my interests and to push myself as a DJ. We started the label when I was working in a record shop at that time and really good American records were imported, and when a record was doing quite well in the club, [people] were making a cheap cover [version]. I thought — oh my god, this is ridiculous!
How did you get back into DJing after over thirty years off?
It started as a joke. Some students called me. You know, do I want to play bla bla bla. I had those requests too during the whole period of R&S but…I said yes — by surprise — and I said “you cannot use my name, you can’t tell me what to play; if I want to play classical music or jazz or whatever, I’ll play it.” And I had so much fun. One thing started another and the ball was rolling.
I always loved DJing really. I adored it. I went back in because if you see the complete scene now, it’s so boring; it’s always the same fucking shit they’re playing. I could see in the youngsters that they were ready for some eclectic music. I was playing Klaus Schulze [at my comeback gig] which is 40 years old and the guys we were looking at my computer like — what the fuck is this?!
Now the last two years I’m taking it very serious. I only do very long sets. I don’t do two-hours sets because I think that’s fucking ridiculous. It’s stupid. And for me it’s not a career move, because of course I have R&S to run. I try to get that DJ culture back to where a DJ has to work — you know, open the club and finish the club so he can go to his collection, take you on a journey.
every club is a different situation, you have different people… so, come in, feel it, and go.
How did you find the process of getting back into DJing in technical terms?
I had no idea what a CDJ looked like! When the TRAKTOR S4 came out, I bought it and I worked that thing for a year, and it was magical. Yeah, you can learn to beatmix, but TRAKTOR brought it all to another level. And then came the S8, which is — wow! It’s my biggest love, after Sabine. I cannot live without that thing. I still wonder why it’s not a standard in each club in the world. I have no idea. It’s like an instrument. I make love with that machine!
Do you make use of loops and effects?
I do, but I travel with 80,000 tunes. I’m an old guy. I bought everything digitally that I could find, with new and old demos. So it’s a lot of music. I never prepare a set. I come in, and I start. Then I go from hip hop to drum and bass to techno… whatever the moment can give you. And S8 gives you all freedom and the possibility to make love with music.
Nothing is prepared. In the beginning I was making cue points, but then I was like — what am I doing? It’s a waste of time because every club is a different situation, you have different people… so, come in, feel it, and go.
Now I would say I’m using the basics and it would be helpful to have someone go a little bit deeper into the machine. But for me it’s a studio — I have a studio right in front of me, and I can do what I want, when I want. I adore it. But yeah, you have to be a creative DJ. You have to have the knowledge to recreate and to feel the machine.
How do you organize your music?
I don’t organize. I’m totally chaotic. I don’t even know where my car keys are! I have a file with jazz, I have a file with hip hop, I have a file with techno of course and that’s basically it. And then some old rock… but then again, I put everything everywhere. Even if I go to my files, sometimes I’ve played tracks and I don’t find them anymore. I have no idea where they are!
It’s like the same mystery of where that one sock goes when you put your clothes in the washing machine. It’s the same place.
It’s exactly the same. And then again, I like it because it challenges me. I really have to scroll, I really have to go through my whole collection. Sometimes I take a letter and see what comes with a ‘D’, for example!
I let it come over me. I’m not afraid of mistakes. If I make a mistake, then I use it very creatively. I’m not afraid of it. I don’t give a shit about mistakes. For me it has to be as in the old days: a live jam.
How did you find adjusting to the industry again when you came back to it after R&S’ hiatus?
It was boring. The music was all the same. And DJs acting like U2! For me the DJ is still the one in the corner. Not with lights on. I mean, this is a service. These [DJs acting like U2] are pop stars. And OK, if people like it — fine. But I think DJ culture has to come back. It has to come back for various reasons. First: technology gives you much more possibilities. You can really voyage with your technology. So all this nonsense that ‘a vinyl DJ is better’ — no, it’s different. It’s totally different.
And I’m 60 so I should be scared of technology! And I adore it. I embrace it. So here is the old man fighting for technology! Come on: show me what you’ve got! Use it, to squeeze technology. You will see, you will enter a completely new dimension.