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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Kris & Marie-Julie

I first got into techno in Berlin, over ten years ago.

Interview Koen Galle
Photographs Thomas Sweertvaegher

"I first got into techno in Berlin, over ten years ago. Back in Belgium, Kris quickly became one of my favourite DJ’s. Yes, we met each other in the nightlife. But our love has nothing to do with techno. At home we don't even listen that much to it in fact." Marie-Julie looks at her better half Kris, slightly blushing. He nods, adding: “You and your friends were organizing the first TRP party in Ghent where you booked me as the closing DJ. As the party was such a great success, I really felt part of that success and after that our friendship slowly developed."

That's how Kris and Marie-Julie got acquainted, through their shared love of music: often electronic and quite up tempo, but just as often downbeat and enjoyed on a Sunday evening on the sofa together. Kris is one of Belgium's top techno DJs, often traveling around the world for gigs. He's also the man behind the internationally renowned techno label Token Records. Marie-Julie is a no less busy techno DJ with a strong reputation and an impressive résumé. For three years now, they've shared love and sorrow, and the last two years a cozy well-situated flat in the center of Ghent. 

Kindred spirits think alike, and it's no different for Kris and Marie-Julie. It might happen that they'll both buy the same record. Or that one buys a record as a surprise for the other, both of them well attuned to each other's taste. But still, they do have different tastes and each has their own collection, says Kris: "we never use each other's records, even though we're a couple, because a collection is still something very personal." He's also a bit worried she might not return the records, he jokes. Marie-Julie further reveals their differences: "Kris' taste is much warmer in general. He owns a lot of jazz, funk and soul for example. Whereas I'll lean more to a chilly 80s sound. OMD's Architecture & Morality is one those albums that I really love. Especially the lesser known songs, that never made it into the charts, are fantastic I think." Kris and Marie-Julie describe themselves as black and white: opposites do indeed attract, as if more proof was needed.

Another important difference between Kris and Marie-Julie is their DJ equipment of choice. While Marie-Julie has sworn by turntables since many years, Kris has gotten into digital lately. This because of a few disappointing turntable setups at clubs and also traveling comfort. Although it still happens that he'll bring vinyl every now and then: "at clubs where I know the setup is perfect for it, I might bring a small case of vinyl. At Berghain or Tresor in Berlin, for example, Concrete in Paris, or Milan's Dude Club. But even if I have some with me, it happens that I just forget about it. I'm very focused on one single carrier while playing and I find it hard to switch. It wasn't any different with vinyl cases, by the way. Today the choice of equipment doesn't matter at all to me, as long as the result sounds good. And at home there's no debate: nothing beats vinyl of course." Consequently Kris and Marie-Julie each have their own ritual to prepare for a set. While Kris is in hotel rooms listening to music on his laptop to get into a party vibe , Marie-Julie does an actual two-hour long warm-up at her turntables. 

Kris and Marie-Julie are only a year apart and came of age in the 90s musically. A Felix The Housecat is her oldest memory of buying a vinyl record: "I used to crawl into the basement at Crisca, the only music store in Eeklo, where I grew up. With my limited budget, I was always embarrassed to spend that much time browsing through the records. The store is closed now, but recently we paid the owner a visit at his home, he's still unloading his old stock. He recognized me, which isn't that much of a surprise as I was ever the only girl in the basement."

Kris recounts similar episodes from his youth: "there was a small shop at a mall in my hometown where a lot of people used to hang around. I was a bit reluctant to go in, but also attracted. Before long I spent hours there listening to what people bought, without buying much myself. What fascinated me most was the DJ who played records for customers. The way he would mix tracks together, that's what I wanted to do." Kris' first musical influences may have come from local clubs like Cherry Moon and even the local library, but he only got truly hooked on techno by a Steve Rachmad DJ set in the Kozzmozz tent at Axion Beach Rock. And it really clicked when he first saw Dave Clarke going at it like a madman behind the turntables: "I was obsessed with the technical aspect of DJing. I went looking for the same equipment Dave Clarke used and I tried to imitate him. With friends I would hold contests to sync tracks the fastest. My technique soon became my selling proposition. There were many DJ contests back then and I often won because I could perform something unique with the turntables. Thanks to those contests I played at Kozzmozz and I Love Techno and that's when the bookings started coming in. 

Kris owes his busy DJ schedule at home and abroad partly to his job at Belgian N.E.W.S. Records. He's been there for over ten years now and has known owner Stefaan Vandenberghe for a long time, both used to be resident DJs at Ghent's Kozzmozz techno parties. Kris remembers: "I worked there for some two years when Stefaan launched the idea of me starting my own label. Token Records was born soon after. The first release, Inigo Kennedy's Identify Yourself, was well received immediately and it was also quite a statement. I think identity is really important, both as a DJ and for the label. Stay true to yourself, that's really my motto."

Token Records has put out 70 releases so far and next year is its tenth birthday. It hosts regular label nights at Berlin's techno mecca Berghain. Marie-Julie invariably comes along for those, and together they'll fully enjoy the riches of the German capital. Marie-Julie will always cherish Berlin, especially after she lived there for a year as an Erasmus exchange student in Political Sciences, ten years ago: "if I could repeat one year of my life, it would be that one. I got enthralled by techno music and I didn't have to attend class that often so I was able to spend a lot of time playing records at my place or going to record stores. The first time at Berghain was a revelation. I had no idea of the club’s reputation. It was so intense, I left after two hours,” she laughs, “only to return many times after." 

Marie-Julie and Kris visibly warm up talking about Berlin, their second home. But they're quite sober and relaxed about the ephemeral and hedonistic side of nightlife and DJing: "you can easily lose yourself in it, but that's not really in our nature", they say, almost in sync. They're not the sort to get caught up in a quick high, it just doesn't fit these calm and reasoned Flemish people. They have better things to do and it suits them well.

If they've played together? "Yes, once at Fuse in Brussels and once at Ghent's Decadance", says Marie-Julie. Kris adds: "that has to be the best there is as a couple, doing what you both love, together, and getting paid for it to boot." Marie-Julie picks up the thread: "and it went very well, we hadn't even rehearsed and it was still effortless." It must have something to do with black and white and opposites attracting.