In the past few months alone, Eskimo Recordings has popped up on THUMP radars on multiple occasions – First with Alexander Skancke's tropi-melancholic indie-house tune "Found My Place," then with the release of their Green Collection, from which we premiered Trulz & Robin's dark tech/house shuffler "Me To You." Very recently, we declared Blende's "Running," ft. Gustaph of Hercules & Love Affair "the funkiest thing we'd heard all year." It's an impressive array, for sure, but labels from Ghent hold themselves to lofty standards that go a ways back.
In the late 1980s, Belgium was swept up in New Beat, a homespun cultural movement that merged the industrial, techno stylings of nearby Germany (under the guise of 'Electronic Body Music') with Chicago house and acid vibes emanating from the UK and beyond. The phenomenon played a pivotal role in the explosion of rave culture that followed in The Netherlands, a wave the current generation is still riding twenty years later. At the center of it all was Belgium's second most populous city and unofficial capital of culture – Ghent. The medieval town of 250,000 has been the launching pad for everyone from R&S Records to Soulwax and has, in turn, quietly influenced dance culture worldwide.
The modern label tradition in Ghent begins in the late 1980s with Renaat Vandepapaliere, a wiry provocateur with a bone to pick with the dance world. His R&S records has spent the past three decades uncovering everyone from Joey Beltram to Aphex Twin to Lone, weaving in and out of electronic genres in the process and perpetually reinventing themselves.
This effortless confluence of the electronic and the organic is a running theme in Belgian music and is found once again in one of the city's most successful exports. David and Steven Dewaele, better known under the monikers of Soulwax and 2ManyDJs, first came to prominence as a late 1990s post-grunge band, scoring a hit with their engaging "Much Against Everyone's Advice," before totally rejigging their focus towards dancefloor ready tunes and influencing the wave of mid 2000s electro that was the beginning of this whole 'EDM' thing stateside.
"There's so much talent around here in Belgium," says current Eskimo A&R head Nadiem Shah. "And Ghent had such a rich club culture – so many electronic music and DJs – especially DJs that are eclectic," says Shah. "eclectic is the word that keeps coming back"
It is upon this ethos that Eskimo Recordings began, as many fine labels do, as a party, one that grew to house five rooms and 7000 people while The Glimmers (then The Glimmer Twins) spun genre-bending indie-dance sets. The first releases on the label in 2000 were mixtapes by the duo that laid the blueprint for the Eskimo aesthetic - electronically leaning disco, funk, house, and indie-pop/rock, all tied together with a playful air and sleek style.
Current label A&R head Nadiem Shah further verbalizes the sound: "There's a couple of words that come to mind when I think of Eskimo," he tells THUMP. "It's definitely eclectic, open-minded as well. And then, the most important words from me personally are: timeless music, and quality." Shah's aware of Ghent's cultural adherence to this traditon. "I was in this label panel with Renaat, who founded R&S," he explains. "He has the same mindset with the label - As long as he's into the music he doesn't really care about the genre."
Above: Atella's "The Monster" , " below: Brynjolfur's "I Love You"
"The mixtapes were the blueprint for the label musically and were really important to build the right community, the right crowd," Shah continues. "It opened the way for guys like Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas. Their first two albums were defining for us as a label. And then the Aeroplane album made him 'the king of nu-disco' a couple of years ago. Those releases really stand out and a lot of new people discovered Eskimo this way."
The music Eskimo brings forth into the world all maintains a certain feeling without being beholden to any rigid formula, and the label has approached the divide between electronic and indie music with a reckless abandon that suggests that there is no divide at all. "What we're doing is establishing Eskimo as a genre itself," says Shah. "If I sign a track or put it in a compilation or exclusive tracks – I want to be able to listen to them in 10 years and still think they are great tracks."
Jemayel Khawaja is THUMP's Managing Editor - @JemayelK