a juggling act with Jeroen De Wandel
For Jeroen De Wandel, the juggle is real. On top of his 9-5 corporate job, he also does a weekly radio show for Urgent.fm, runs a label called Icarus and programs concerts for Democrazy, all while slowly building his art career. It’s a handful, isn’t it? But Jeroen makes it look so easy.
Jeroen invited us over to his home in Ghent for an evening with his favorite records, local craft beer and heartwarming conversations. We talked about his art exhibits, his 13-season radio show and his ever-growing record collection.
Throughout the evening, he handpicked the following records to keep us company:
Lyra Pramuk – Fountain
Alice Coltrane & Carlos Santana – Illuminations
The Necks – Mindset
Brian Eno & David Byrne – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts
You have quite a huge record collection. How did you get into it?
I have about 5,000 records down here and a couple more sitting in my studio. I started collecting records when I was 18. The first one I ever bought was a very bad remix of Sweet Dreams. I actually did a lot of DJ-ing as well back in the days together with a friend, so I had to buy quite some records for the dancefloor and that’s just how it grew. It all started with electronics. Nowadays, I gravitate more towards the sound of classical instruments combined with electronics.
How do you arrange your record collection?
It’s purely genre-based and I have a section for pretty much every genre. Soundtrack, disco, jazz, 90s, 80s, ambient, trance, you name it. I arrange the genres in a certain natural progression, almost like a storyline. One of my largest section is simply what I call Icarus, music that’s difficult to box in genre precisely. My girlfriend thinks I don’t have a system and it probably doesn’t look like there is a system, but I exactly know where everything is.
What music do you often listen to and what are you into lately?
I have been a long time fan of The Necks. It’s a cult band from Australia and I always keep revisiting their work. It’s just pure improvisational music and I always try to see them live whenever they are around.
I also like the Swans a lot, but whenever they perform, it’s just a bit too loud for my taste. It’s a pity because you miss out on all the finer details in their work. Once they performed here in Kompass in Ghent, and I heard them from the corridor at a comfortable volume, which was great.
My favorite artist of 2020 was Lyra Pramuk. She released her first album last year in March and it’s one of the most experimental albums I have heard in a while, yet it’s clearly pop music. Every song on the album is purely constructed based on her voice, reinventing the term a cappella all together. It’s addictive, but I shared it with some friends and some of them didn’t really understand why I liked it so much.
Are you a full-time artist?
I’m working in a multinational running a B2B platform and organizing events. I only started art school when I was 29. It’s always been a passion, so I took evening classes after work. A lot of my friends think it’s a little bit schizophrenic to combine the corporate world with everything I’m doing, but it’s all about the balance.
Can you tell us more about your art?
A very good showcase of the work I’ve already done is captured in my series of photobooks called Amygdala. The amygdala is the part of our brain responsible for the creation, storage and processing of emotional memories. The project is still evolving and is a work in progress. It contains single images, installations, objects and collages that express how our memories change or get coloured over time.
So far I have made two photobooks, an Alpha edition which is a showcase of photos I took over the years and a Bèta edition which are collages I’ve made. It took about 2 years to complete the two photobooks.
Recently though, I am leaning more towards installations instead of photography. I have a few exhibitions coming up in May in Leuven and in June in Merelbeke.
What about Icarus? How did it all start?
Icarus is a radio show first and foremost. It already exists for 12 years and the label grew out of that about six years later. We air our shows every Sunday on Urgent.fm, which is a radio show for the university and for the city. It used to be 3 of us running it, but priorities have changed over the years and now it’s just me.
Do you have a concept for the show or do you just play the music you like?
The weekly radio show is already 13 seasons and running. I can’t just play a mixtape all the time, so I started introducing live sessions with various artists and bands. Especially since the radio station moved to De Krook, which is the library of Ghent, we now have a stellar professional recording studio, so it would be a shame to always play pre-fabricated material.
We would normally record the shows on Saturday and play them on Sunday evening from 9:00 to 11:00 PM. Now we’ve done 64 live shows already. The artists have carte blanche on what they’d like to do in the studio. Mostly it’s all purely improvisation but sometimes they share unreleased stuff too. It’s interesting for me, it’s interesting for the technician and it’s interesting for the artists as well.
The Bow tape was actually a result of one of those improvisation sessions. The musicians were so in the flow and just kept on playing way over time. It was too good to keep for ourselves, so we decided to release it as the first tape series on the label.
Most live sessions we did never actually were released. I still have so much tapes laying around with unused material.
What are your most memorable live shows with Icarus?
We had a couple of really cool shows. Sometimes the studio was overbooked and we had to improvise to make the show happen. With Varkenshond for example, we recorded in an empty office, and with Innerwoud we recorded in the corridor between the kitchen and the toilet. Nils Frahm also once made a mixtape for Icarus, long before he was as well known as today. He purely used jazz records he found from a local flea market. Most records didn’t even have a sleeves. That was pretty cool too.
Also, a cool fact about the University of Ghent is that they have an institute for psychoacoustics and electronic music (IPEM), which owns one of the few working EMS Synthi 100 models. It’s a synthesizer that can fill a whole room, developed originally in 1971, so it’s quite a ground-breaking machine for the time.
Soulwax did an album using the synth recently, but long before that IPEM contacted us if we wanted to do something with the synth. Of course we said yes and I contact multiple artists to see if they wanted to try out the machine. I often email people for the show and it doesn’t always pan out. You know how it goes with emails. But for this one, I sent out an email to 10 artists and to my surprise they almost all said yes to my request. Kreng, Kaboom Karavan, Oubys, Red Stars Over Tokyo, Mauro Pawlowski, Köhn, lode from Raketkanon and Floris Van Hoof all made amazing music with the synth. That was quite memorable.
Do you put a lot of your art in your releases?
The Bow tape includes black & white photos I took of the live session and I painted each sleeve by hand too. I also made the collages for Otto Lindholm, which are photos from his great great grandfather, in the early times of photography.
Are you married to a certain sound for the label?
Icarus is a platform for all music that doesn’t fit between defined borders. I don’t want it to be boxed in a genre, as long as the spirit is there.
So, how do you find the artists to work with?
Mostly it’s a very natural process. Given that I am juggling a lot of things all the time, it has to be really special for me to release it because it takes a lot of work and energy. I am not that interested in demos for that reason. I rather like to stumble upon things.
Do you make music yourself?
No, I never played an instrument in my life, although I did a few experiments with sound recently for my art. I’m basically collaging different sounds with the help of the super simple tool Audacity. I am trying to incorporate my heartbeat as a recording. That’s also how I like to make my mixtapes, by the way. I go all crazy and collage 30 layers of different tracks on top of each other. It’s my way of using sound.
I also have a lot of sound recordings sitting somewhere, from the busiest crossing in Shibuya to different ocean sounds. I also have recordings of many different birds. I really like the idea of capturing sounds.
What does the future bring for Icarus?
Over the past few months , we’ve had a few wonderful lockdown sessions slash mixtapes from Hantrax, White Stains and Nagløed. There’s also more to come from Kaboom Karavan, Machinefabriek and Fant^ms for the current radio season.
In terms of releases, I’m preparing something for Mirek Coutigny, whose beautiful album “The Further We Ventured” was released in 2020 just a few weeks before the first lockdown. Mirek has been engaging his artist friends to do reworks of his songs for six months now. The intention is that these reworks and remixes will be bundled together. I won’t say any more than that for now, but it will be something very special.
There’s also more good news about a new collaboration for Icarus in March and there will certainly be another release this year, but that will be for the second half of the year.