Simon Halsberghe is a man of many talents. Born in Ghent, Belgium - and now living in Brussels - Simon has done many things that any accomplished artist would love to do, his work spanning much further than just music releases. His touch has been felt in fashion, film and theatre, all alongside having a DJ career and a running the label BXL Recordings. His most recent release on BXL is his own production 2. It's a mixture of groove pulsating bass, hypnotic sirens, resonating drones and crisp hi-hats - a record of truly beautiful techno.
You’re a producer, DJ, label boss and a music consultant, whilst also having composed music for theatre and a short film - the latter winning you an award. Where does this vast musical talent stem from?
You know that personality test based on Jung you can do online? It turns out I’m somebody who’s got multiple vocations. There isn’t one thing that spikes my interest much more than other stuff. This can be a blessing as well as a curse. Your list only focusses on the musical things I’ve done, but I also showed an experimental short film at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, I did workshops with kids about field recording, etc… I wouldn’t say I am particularly talented in any field, I’m just somebody who can engage quite deeply with a creative context for a period of time as long as it is interesting to me. So in the traditional sense of learning how to read and write sheet music, how to play and master a particular instrument, all that stuff is not that interesting to me. But how harmony comes out of overtone series, how sound works on a physical and emotional level, what the physical impact and almost material quality of amplified music can be, and so on can captivate my interest for long periods during which I obsess about these things and absorb as much as I can.
How does your approach to creating a specific sound differ for all these jobs?
I try to find aspects or challenges that keep me interested in anything, whether it’s an applied creative job or my own productions. If no such challenge exists I either create one or move on.
If it is applied sound design like for a fashion show or for an animated short the raison d’etre of the production doesn’t really depend on me. It’s the fashion company or the film director who decide this or that thing should be done. It gives me the opportunity to learn about the motivations and creative procedures of the people I work with. I learned so much about music from working for Christopher Kane and Donatella Versace because they listen in their idiosyncratic way and that bounces back of how I interpret their desires and how I translate those into playlists or compositions. I am really grateful for these interactions as they are teach me so much about music which I wouldn't learn just by my self.
When I make music without such an external reason I tend to make what I ‘need’. I have folder on my desktop called Recent Renders where I render out bits and bobs of things I make. Based on interest in a certain technique, rhythm, harmonic structure, synthesis technique or way of listening I ‘meander’ in the studio until I have an amount of files in the folder that might become something in their own right. For my personal music I think it is very important that the pieces have their own internal coherence, that they sort of can fend for themselves. It’s a bit like having a vegetable garden or something if that makes sense?
What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered within these lines of work?
Honestly the biggest challenges aren’t creative. They have more to do with the business side of things. Getting a foot in with a company one hasn’t worked with is the hardest I’d say. It’s a business that runs, at least on the creative side on trust and discretion so there is no point in being a hired help, you need to connect on a deeper level
Concentrating on your music consultancy role, this is specifically with fashion brands. How did this come about and what projects have you worked on?
Previously I made music with a friend which was released on a Scottish label called Love Triangle. One of the people behind that, David Bailey Ross started working for Christopher Kane and asked if I’d be interested in helping him out with the show music. So I work for Kane for ten years now. Donatella picked up on what I did for Kane and hired me based on that.
Is fashion something you care about in your personal life?
In a general sense yes, how presentation of identity changes over time and the vestimentary details of periods or styles do interest me. I consider fashion designers to be a particular subset of futurists. They try to give direction and shape to a particular aspect of the near future and put their business on the line to make it happen as well. I am really inspired by this perspective. It’s like we’re all extra’s in a William Gibson book or something…
I don’t spend a lot of time mulling over my own wardrobe though. It’s mostly staple items with a few Kane or Versace pieces I bought which I liked.
With your label BXL, why have you focused on techno?
The first three releases are techno because such was the harvest from the Recent Render folder. It won’t necessarily stay like techno. I grew up in Ghent which is a city known for it’s diverse music culture and Belgium is well placed to remain tuned in to the vibes and scenes of all the surrounding countries and beyond. This creates a situation where being locked in to a just one local scene is almost impossible. It would strike most Belgians as odd and backwards to not give ‘other’ sounds outside of your style of choice a chance. This is reflected in the line-up of Meaksuma Festival for example. I will strive to make it as interesting and self-motivated as that for each BXL release.
BXL002 is a dark, hypnotic and pulsating EP. Is there a message you hope to get across with this release?
Not so much as message as a bundle of material. I really love it when music or sound takes on a physical, almost material presence. The track Black Tape Mass for example lives somewhere between Hi-NRG synth disco, The Hague inspired Electro, Techno, and perhaps some Belgian EBM. Music that talks to the body directly rather than through messages. I’m not the most extrovert person, but I thoroughly enjoy the ‘stage’ this kind of music provides for people on the dance floor. I guess in that sense it’s a small tribute to the whole idea of amplified music for dancing to, whether that’s between hordes of bare dressed people in a German club or dancing away your Sunday afternoon on the deeper and hypnotic sounds of the B-side.
What future plans are in the pipeline?
BXL003 is ready and coming soon, early 2018. BXL004 will be a release by a friend who has the best ear ever but no date confirmed for that one yet.
Why have you dropped the monikers and decided to now release music under your own name?
Starting my own label I had the chance to reset some things in a way. I also wanted to put a personal barrier in front of myself. When you work for somebody else, to help them get their production done you don’t need to worry so much about the fact if this is ‘me’ or not. But if there’s only me, writing, recording and releasing the music, I thought I needed a last check. If I put this out, could I live with this being part of just my regular self? Everything on BXL has gotten a ‘yes’ to that question. I won’t be releasing music by other people unless I feel really really strongly about it, like with Wiet Lengeler’s music for BXL004.
How has living in an iconic musical city like Brussels influenced you?
There is a practical open-mindedness you need to navigate Brussels. That helps with putting things in perspective. A smaller city like Ghent can feel too much like a bubble at times, especially when you were born and raised there. In Brussels there is less opportunity to become complacent and to get caught up in the micro-dramas of the local music scene. And living amongst more than 170 nationalities is bound to have it’s cultural influences on anybody willing to engage with them. 170 might be a good starting point for more musical exploration come to think of it…
Finally, what was the last piece of music you bought, saw and what artist do you recommend we keep an eye out for?
Why The Eye ? by Why The Eye ? on Ångstrom Records is amazing. It’s a group of people who make their own electro-acoustic instruments and play music that kind of sounds like wax roll field recordings from the Belgian colonial period. So it’s kind of like Congolese inspired polyrhythmic music which sounds like it is sequenced and programmed, but is in fact entirely performed live. Great for partying and a must see live! The record is released on the label run by Frédéric Alstadt who also takes care of the mastering for BXL.
Here’s a list of some more things I recommend people to look up: Sendai, Sagat, Equiknoxx, Samurai Music Group, Meakusma Festival, Les Ateliers Claus, VLEK, Ernstalbrecht Stiebler, Jaap Vink.
2 was released on 15th November on BXL Recordings.
Words: Tai Kolade