Truancy Volume 191: Ivan Smagghe

It’s A Fine Line, Blackstrobe, Kill The DJ, Volga Select, Les Discques De La Mort and Amour, Acide; the list goes on for projects and labels Ivan Smagghe has been involved in over the years. A lover of records first and foremost, the London based Parisian has carved a career of eclecticism that’s seen him often play with Andrew Weatherall. In more recent times, he’s found himself working on music with Rupert Cross, an in-demand composer who counts Hollywood, the National Theatre and Kanye West as some of his past collaborators. Together, they’ve released a string of releases all over the course of 2017, with labels such as Huntley & Palmers, Ransom Note and Vladimir Ivkovic’s Offen releasing some of their standout work, the latter putting out their debut album MA back in March.

Although recorded chronologically before MA, Smagghe and Cross’ second LP collaboration, Timothy Dalton came out on Monday on Idle Press. Described in the promo sheet as a ‘spaced out opera by the Silver Apples’, the LP features guitar work from Tim Felton, vocals from Andrea Balency and drums from Roman Turtev.  It’s an ongoing partnership that’s wonderfully touching upon multiple genres of electronic and rock music without singling out any particular one. We caught up with Ivan for a quick chat about his new project with Cross, Le Food in Brussels and record shopping in the eighties. His Truancy Volume, coming up at over an hour and eighteen minutes, is a tripped out amalgamation of records leaning towards the ‘non-danceable’. An expert in this area, he’s described Truancy Volume 191 as slow, with plenty of records being played at the wrong speed. Fans of his regular radio shows on NTS should find comfort in this one.

Seeing as you’ve just released a new record with Rupert Cross can you tell us a little bit about your personal relationship with him? How and when did you guys first meet, and the idea of making music together came about; must be interesting as he doesn’t formally have an electronic music background etc. You’ve had a pretty prolific year to say the least in terms of releases though. “Rupert was actually Tim Paris’ (who I do It’s A Fine Line with) piano teacher and arranger. Then he drifted ‘in the family’, doing arrangements for myself, CAR and others. The idea of working together on a real project came naturally. The fact that we come from totally different music schools (Guild Hall vs record digging to simplify) is what is really interesting. I would not say Rupert had no electronic music references at all, but I would say that how quickly he digests/analyses the new ones is impressive (I remember giving him 50 tracks of all eras/types I liked for him to come back and tell me ‘they were all the same’).”

You’ve stated in past interviews that the collaboration worked, in some aspect, in the same way you work with Tim Paris for It’s A Fine Line. Could you elaborate on this? Well, it’s quite fascinating to build on common ground, or go to places you would not go to. You learn, and you maybe learn about yourself. DJing is quite a lonely job in many ways, I like the closed interaction, almost a technical intimacy, that takes place in the studio.

I know you like talking about Belgium so going back a little while now, what can you tell us about Le Food in Brussels. From what I’ve read it’s one of the few parties that’s made you who you are today? “I’m not sure it made me who I am, but it was definitely a moment. Albeit a very hazy one, right in the shift between 90’s deep house and the early electro-clash (one of the promoters hated anything left of deep house, carrying an ‘electrometer’). Brussels used to be party central, more than anywhere really. They used to say on Fridays, ‘tomorrow is Tuesday’.” What can you mention about second-hand record shopping in Belgium? You called it in the past one of the last true bastions of crate digging—this statement still hold up for you? Yes, Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp have great second hand shops (they are getting rarer and rarer everywhere unfortunately).

You’ve talked in the past about the Route des Boîtes and how it was a time of non-stop partying. How hard is it not to get caught up in the bohemian lifestyle and to concentrate on your art as much as possible? Any advice for newcomers who are suddenly in the limelight. La Route des Boites is a different scene (though there are a few clubs I played and went to at some point); near the French border, clubs open at every hour but mainly trance. The Bohemian lifestyle? Well, many of us also did this job to get caught in it. Part of the thing and very good fun for a while. The hardest thing is not how not to get caught in it but how and when to ‘get out’. I take it easy now, but it was quite a long learning curve. I’m really not the person to give advice on this subject, and who would really want to receive this advice at 20.”

If I mention New Rose and Danceteria, at what point in time does that take us to? Can you tell us about that? “These were the two shops I was buying records from the mid-eighties. Probably more Danceteria (I ended working with the guys at Rough Trade), their sensibility was closer to mine (less 60’s pointy boots neo-glam punk, more industrial synth). Key moment were when buying a Traxx record or a Sub Pop 7″ was the same thing.”

We interviewed DJ Deep for last week’s mix he did for us and it was eye-opening talking about how him and Laurent (Garnier) had to ‘fight’ to get house and techno played in Paris in the early nineties/late eighties. From past interviews, I’ve read you weren’t interested in disco, stating that they’d have to ‘kill’ you to get you into disco around 88/89. Despite this, do you have any memories that might correlate with DJ Deep’s answer. You were obviously still buying records and possibly going to same record stores, correct? “That’s part of every mythology, the ‘early fighting days’. It was not that bad. Or rather, it was good because it was that bad. You’re young, you want to oppose. I mean the first dance clubs (I was an indie kid before that) were either gay or acid house, though the scene quickly got its markers sorted.”

After a steady amount of releases on Les Disques De La Mort you recently put out the first album on the label by a band called Save! How did their music end up on your radar? “I have known Marc from Colder for a long time, and Craig is almost a legend. I really like this record, not sure people got it, but I love it.”

What can you tell us about the mix you’ve done for us today? “Honestly, I sort of dislike doing podcasts. I understand why people like them but they are a bit of a fallacy if, like me, you consider dance music as something based on the relation of DJ/audience. I have issues getting in the mood without the people, but maybe that’s just me. So I always end up doing podcasts that are not danceable; I mean, this is slow, has records at the wrong speed, a lot of unreleased stuff, but it’s not ‘peak time’ material if that still means something. Down is the new up.”

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