"I probably shouldn’t mention this to my son, but I started going out at a very young age."
Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs John Carril (Profile photo of Geoffroy)
Ever heard of a Mugwump? It may ring a bell. Mugwumps were a group of Republican activists who supported Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate in the United States presidential election of 1884. Like those Mugwumps, Geoffroy Dewandeler is fiercely independent and doesn’t like to be labelled. Same goes for is his music.
From a one-man DJ project, Mugwump has evolved into a fully-fledged band. With a solid batch of demos in the bag, the band is aiming at completing their second album come June. But Dewandeler’s musical journey started way earlier, at the age of seven. Join us for some time machine action and memory lane rediscoverings.
“My father had a pub next to Rue de Flandre called La Bagatelle. A typical Brussels stamcafe”, Dewandeler reminisces. “Every Friday, I would join my mom to buy records to feed the jukebox. It was the end of the seventies, I was seven years old. An old couple owned a record store in front of Restaurant Henri. They mostly sold 7-inchers with disco, pop, rock and crooners, so I grew up immersed in disco and started my own vinyl collection. As a teenager, I moved on to The Smiths, The Stranglers, Talk Talk, Can, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, D.A.F, the whole ZTT thing and Front 242. I probably shouldn’t mention this to my son, but I started going out at a very young age, going to clubs with older folks when I was about twelve or thirteen. I went there for the music, but of course, I never stayed late.”
“La Gaîté was where I learned about the Cramps, Liquid Liquid, The Stooges, early Human League or PIL, and other, more obscure stuff. I became obsessed by Eric B’s DJing. He was the resident there and I considered him a knight. We became friends and sometimes he would take me to Mirano with him, which was really difficult to get into. Like everybody else, I couldn’t escape New Beat. Then House took over. It was before the big boom and I was spending all my time at La Rocca, Boccaccio, 55, At The Villa... Then I started working at USA Import in Brussels, an infamous record shop, alongside cult house DJ Poltergeist. When the shop closed, I started working in the basement of USA Import Antwerp and at Wally’s Groove World, with Koen van Immerseel aka dj Koenie. That gave me a big push as a DJ and I started to play everywhere in the country. All of a sudden, I was snapped up as a resident by the mighty Food Club in Leuven. Later on, Koenie and I started Hi-Phen, a 12-inch label.”
“These shelves are full of white labels and obscure stuff.”
“In the meantime, I kept buying records. Before I started working at USA import, I had been a regular customer there. And if I wasn’t there, you could find me at Music Man, Doctor Vinyl, Music Mania and second hand stores, or out in London on one of my regular trips. I used almost all my money to buy records. It became even worse when I started to clean out vinyl warehouses with Koenie. He bought all the overstocks for his shop, mainly in Italy because some major distributors were located there. We sometimes bought 5000 records at once. Being DJs, we knew which were good and which weren’t, so we did great deals. Of course I needed at least a double or triple copy of those gems for my own collection. Besides classics from all music genres, these shelves are also full of white label records and obscure stuff. Sometimes people ask me why I don’t sell them, as I don’t play a lot of house anymore. But that ain't going to happen.”
“The scene got really big and I started having a hard times when Electroclash came on. People thought I was only playing house music. But I did so many different things. I mainly played the late shifts, at the end of a party, when crowds become more open to different styles, so I took advantage of that. Still, I was labelled a house DJ by a lot of promoters. When Food Club in Leuven closed in 2003, I focussed on producing music and started Mugwump.”
“In the early days of Mugwump, I worked with N.E.W.S, for whom I also A&R’d a 12-inch sub-label called Suicide Recordings. Then came Kolombo and I later on I produced records for Gigolo, Kompakt, Cocoon Recordings, R & S , Permanent Vacation, International Feel and Ewan Pearson’s Misericord imprint, who released the mighty Boutade. Because of the different kinds of music I was producing, I couldn’t work with the same labels all the time. I had to go and negotiate every 12-inch with the label, to see if there was a match. That’s why I published records on so many labels.”
“Before I knew it, I had made life more difficult than ever before.”
“If running a label wasn’t very costly and very demanding, Subfield would have happened sooner. On the other hand, signing for big labels put Mugwump on the map. Nevertheless, it felt like a relief to release my music on my own label. No more looking around to see who is would publish my music or when. I had a great vibe with Michael Mayer at Kompakt, who had asked Kolombo and me for a Mugwump album. But I kind of blew up the whole plan as I wanted to make a real album, with a storyline between the songs. I’m romantic about the format. Before I knew it, I had made life more difficult than ever before. I didn’t want to make an album with ten club tracks, which was probably what they were after. So I looked around, looked at the likes of Ghostly and even Warp, but in the end, it was !K7 who gave me total control and freedom in Subfield.”
“It took me several years to complete the Unspell album. It felt so good when it was nearly done, it was different from anything I had done, with songs by The Rapture’s Luke Jenner, Circlesquare, Von Spar, Samy from Minimal Compact. My publisher suggested to perform it live, since it didn’t make real sense to promote it with DJ sets. That would have made the LP disappear very quickly. I wasn’t keen on a solo laptop live-show, so again, I made things complicated by setting up a real live show. I got a crew up and running (bass, guitar, vocals, machines) and we rearranged everything to play the tracks as a band. That was a bumpy road, as I had focused on the studio recording prior to playing live, while live music obviously works the other way round. I am fully aware of that now. As a DJ, I couldn’t have cared less. But as a band, everything seemed different. I loved it. Big time. After twenty live shows, I saw the limits of the setup though. So I opted for even more live implementation, using less and less of Ableton and pre-recorded sequences. Mugwump had become a real live band.”
As we speak, the new record is being written with the whole crew. Along the road, the line-up has seen some changes. Today Dewandeler handles synths and vocals, Stephane Fedele hits the bass and sings as well, Thomas Stadnicki pulls the strings of his guitar and Lukas Melville is the “Animal” drummer of the band. Clearly, Mugwump is going places. Dewandeler: “It was a tad difficult to find a singer, so Stephan had a go and I tried it myself as well. I’ve already written lyrics for four new songs. We get along very well, the process is very organic.”
Of course, we needed to find out about Dewandeler’s favourite sleeves. Dewandeler: “The cover of Unspell is by a famous Brazilian painter, Olivier Mourão. I was living in Ibiza for several seasons in the early nineties, where we met and became friends. He was a regular guest at the legendary Paradise of Patrick Soks at Café d'Anvers. He’s in his seventies now but is still known to be a real party animal. I asked him if I could use this painting and he felt honoured. But there’s also the Metempsycho CD cover, which is inspired by a portrait of a Romanian Orthodox priest. The metempsychosis is the transmigration of the soul, like in a reincarnation. That priest was also a painter. We used four of his paintings were for the Mugwump maxi’s. I was inspired because with I feel the band was also a sort of renewal of the soul.”
The Metempsycho EP is now out on digi, with At The Front being released as a 7-inch before summer. The amazing video At The Front video features Lisbeth Gruwez’s contemporary dance company Voetvolk. A new album will hit the shelves before the end of the year, while Mugwump are about to announce French and German live dates imminently. If this is your first introduction to Mugwump, here’s the drill: listen to Unspell, then to Metempsycho. And while you’re at it, check out BODA BODA, which is a project in which Mugwumps’s guitarist Thomas Stadnicki and drummer Lukas Melville are involved. Dave Grohl called them "The best rock band with at least two BODAs in its name!". And if you don’t care for The Dave, you should at least give us the benefit of the doubt, right?