At home chez Le Motel: visual art and a huge cap collection
At home chez Fabien Leclercq aka Le Motel we find ourselves in a cosy apartment in Forest, a stone’s throw from the Marconi Park named after the Italian inventor of long distance radio transmission. There is no music gear present in the flat, it even lacks a pair of speakers for the moment, after having moved all hardware to a brand new studio space a few kilometers away in the same municipality. The place still has enough eye catchers though, such as a beautiful artwork hanging above the sofa by Spanish artist Felix Luque or Fabien’s vast cap collection on display in his bedroom. Fabien’s wikipedia page only exists in Dutch and hasn’t been updated since 2018, erroneously mentioning 1994 as his birth year. It’s about time to update the internet with a more complete version of this prolific DJ, producer and label boss who will be turning 30 in 2021.
You’re a field recorder, of which the result often goes into your music. Have you recorded sounds during the pandemic?
Definitely, I haven’t stopped, on the contrary. Many of my projects over the last years have included field recordings and I also often do it just to be inspired in my creative process as a musician. During the pandemic I was very happy to join the ‘On the go’ project by Beurssschouwburg, where they invited artists and DJs to record a sound walk in the city. My walk started in the Marconi Park here just next to my house, more specifically at an information board that explains that nothing in this park has been manipulated and everything will self-destruct. Inspired by this beautiful idea and ‘The Desintegration Loops’ album by William Basinski, for which the composer had used tape loops that deteriorated each time played and finally even destroyed themselves, I learned how to work with tapes myself and recorded sounds outside during the lockdown and interviewed people. I wanted to find out how they felt about the neighborhood, how they see the passing of time slowly abolish things or prosper new life. The sound walk ends in the Dudenpark where I recorded the famous parakeets.
Podcasting feels like a logical part of your creative universe. Can you tell us a bit more about the podcast Isola you made the music for?
Isola is actually the first podcast I ever worked on. It’s a new podcast series initiated by Laura Krsmanovic on the subject of being invisible. The first episode dubbed ‘confiné dehors’ focuses on the situation of the homeless during the pandemic, for which I created the original music and did the field recordings. During the first lockdown, we volunteered in a food distribution organisation for homeless people. Laura interviewed several of them about the implications of such a lockdown, which literally means staying in your house when you don’t have one. Afterwards she went back to present them the podcast and had their reactions filmed by videographer Pablo Crutzen. Today we’re working on the next episode of the podcast, focusing on youngsters questioning gender. Each time, the podcast will take a new shape. This time, it'll take place as an exhibition at 254 Forest.
Have you always had this interest in the state of our world, in social issues?
Connecting my music to the outside world and the human state of being with all its ups and downs has certainly always been my goal, but it’s definitely becoming more of a deliberate choice nowadays. This is the result of meeting people and experiences over the last few years, next to the pandemic that has really allowed me to slow down life and pose questions as an artist and as a human being. Looking back now, I believe putting my efforts in socially involved projects has helped me to face a challenging period, during which I had the impression my creativity had become somehow gratuitous, where I was producing so much music that I had forgotten why. I felt satisfied not only to express my own inner voice, but also to set up a platform to give a voice to others, as we are doing with the podcasts. Hearing from one of the homeless that they mostly hope for a passerby’s eye contact and to be treated as human beings instead of being completely ignored and pushed out of society, strongly touched me.
In what kind of surroundings did you grow up?
I grew up in Braine-L’Alleud, both my parents both my parents were professors. I was enrolled in a rather elitist school where at first I didn’t feel among peers at all, but luckily the school also offered an art program and it’s there I was able to connect with others and discover my passions. Yvan and Alban Murenzi, who later started Yellowstraps, lived in the same street as us, so we spent a lot of time together. Their older brother Christian was my first musical buddy, we started Le Motel together as a guitar and voice band with a tiny bit of electronics and inspired by Radiohead. But slowly but surely I let go of the guitar and focused on electronic music, while Yvan was becoming a great singer and Alban a splendid guitarist. The track ‘Pollen’ we collaborated on in 2013 was the first time we left the contours of our own bedrooms, when Lefto invited us in his radio show on Studio Brussel, which definitely marks the start of this great adventure.
You have started Maloca, your own label in January of last year, just before the pandemic. The first record presented 6 tracks of your own and was titled Transiro, which means transition in Esperanto. Is your life in a major transition at the moment?
Our lives are always in transition, but Transiro was indeed a reaction to a few complicated situations in my life at the time. Starting my own label meant a return to my most original self and passion and stepping away from the collaborations I did and enjoyed for many years. I wanted to put the main focus on myself again, which implies a new-laid working environment as well, where I feel completely free to test, next to overseeing and controlling all parts of the process. Don’t get me wrong, I have always felt a great deal of freedom in my collaborations with Romeo Elvis, Yellowstraps, Témé Tan or Veence Hanao, who are all friends and where both my and their world met and blended. Contrary to my work as a graphic designer, where I can create work on behalf of the client and to a certain degree let go of my own values, in music I have always demanded this complete freedom. But setting up my own label and focusing on my own universe, definitely leads to a different kind of freedom that I needed right now in order not to fall into predictable tricks and repetitions. That’s why it’s now credited as my music featuring a vocalist for example, instead of me being the beatmaker for an MC.
What’s the musical philosophy behind your label Maloca?
Most importantly to connect people worldwide who share a similar vision about music, which is a mostly hybrid kind mixing electronic and organic textures. Dengue Dengue Dengue for example, who appears on my first label compilation Maloca Vol. 1 released in November last year, is a great example. As Peruvians, the band members inherited local musical traditions from South America but living in Berlin they blend these with western electronic music. The compilation offers their music next to artists from Mexico, Lithuania, Angola, Colombia, Great Britain and a track of my own. Merging their sounds and identities, all with their own particularities but together as a clear entirety, is what drives me.
Linking musicians and scenes worldwide, is this something that works particularly well from Brussels, a city known for its central position both geographically and politically?
Although I see my label first and foremost as a universal concept from anywhere and nowhere at the same time, I believe Brussels definitely has influenced me in this direction, due to its location and its multiculturality. At the same time I came to realize that I work with so many artists from all around the globe, on my latest EP with the talented Nigerian and Cardiff based artist Magugu for example, while there are so many talented musicians walking around in Belgium. Feeling frustrated about these walls that supposedly exist between the different cultures living in my own country, I try to reach out to other communities. I once spent a whole night in the Matongé neighborhood in Brussels meeting musicians with various backgrounds. And for my next film scoring project, where one of the main actors has roots in Burkina Faso, I recently connected with Emilien Sanou, a Burkinabé percussionist who lives in Belgium. It is definitely a matter of breaking down the walls of our own secluded scenes, opening our eyes for our closest neighbors.
Where does the word Maloca come from?
Maloca is the word used by the indeginous people of the Amazon to describe their longhouse, a typically central house that represents the earliest form of permanent structure in many cultures worldwide. Before starting the label, I did a long trip in the Amazon and lived for about a week with the Ticuna tribe, who teached me the meaning of the word. They also told me that when the wood of the maloca starts to rot, they deconstruct and abandon the whole village and build it up again somewhere else, leaving the land, the rivers and the forest time to rebuild their resources, at least for ten years, before a possible return of the tribe. I was very impressed by this idea.
Using field recordings, how do you deal with authorship, with making sure that what you samples respects someone’s integrity?
That’s a good question about an important and complex subject. On the one hand there is the position of the photographer or reporter who doesn’t always ask for authorization, since their method and form of expression is based on coincidence and cannot be staged. When you go out on the streets for field recordings and capture a random conversation without consent, you’re moving into risky business breaking privacy laws. It has happened to me that I recorded a magical moment and used it afterwards and I am aware of my responsibility. On the other hand I see most of my field recordings as an exchange. On my trip in Colombia for example, I spent a lot of time in a village called San Basilio de Palenque where people with African roots live. Interested in their Afro Colombian style of music, I presented my intentions to them and from our common interest in music and my participation into their daily lives and community, the project took off.
What about sampling? Sometimes I can imagine you’re not fully aware of the cultural significance of what you sample? Do you check this before you use the sample?
Sampling is an even more complex matter and my position towards it has changed since I started making music. As a novice I most definitely have made mistakes, by simply using a sample from whatever source into my own music and releasing it instantaneously on the internet. And although sampling is the driving force of so much music all around the world, today I feel much more responsible towards the sources of my samples. On the opening track ‘Azande’ of my latest EP ‘Pots & Pans’ for example, you hear a sample of a female singer that I found while digging for ceremony music in record shops and libraries. Intrigued by her voice, I started to employ the sample in my DJ sets and when I decided to use it for this release, I realized it couldn’t be just another sampling but it had to be a collaboration respecting the singer as an author. So I was able to retrieve the source of the sample through the CD and original recordist. Hailing from the village Wayo in Sudan, it appeared not possible to connect the music solely with one singer, but only with the whole community, as a sort of communal song that is constantly passed onto the next generation. So after having received their authorization, I titled the village in the featuring field of my song’s information and I will share half of the profit with them. The next logical step would be for me to travel to the village and collaborate on new music with them. Moving away from sampling towards more authentic collaborations is definitely my goal.
Do you still often work as a graphic designer?
At first I considered graphic design as my job, while music was more of a hobby. But for the moment I’m slowing down my activities as a designer a bit and I limit myself to fun assignments such as my own label, for friends or for socially engaged projects. It’s a matter of only having 24 hours in a day, so I have to make choices. Since the pandemic started and my touring schedule emptied, I got involved in making the original soundtrack for a few films and also this year I’ve got two feature films and one documentary confirmed, so I really want to put all my focus on these, next to releasing more music and running my label. Music has now become my full time job.
Am I right if I say that your music will always have a strong visual aspect, it will never be just a white label sleeve and that’s it?
Definitely. Apart from my graphic design practice and film scoring work, I’m also involved in organizing the Les Garages Numériques visual arts festival in Brussel of which the latest edition was held in De Beurs / La Bourse. And with Antoine Deschuyter I offer an audiovisual show on stage that we performed several times already, during the pandemic we were lucky enough to do a Covid-friendly version in art center STUK in Leuven in September of last year.
How did you end up with scoring films?
Flemish director Dorothée Van Den Berghe invited me to make the soundtrack of her feature film ‘Rosie & Moussa’ in 2018, something I had never done before. I enjoyed it a lot, so I was really excited to do some short films and another feature film called ‘Binti’ the year after. I was even a bit scared the demand would dry up after, but so far the requests keep on coming in. Scoring films has always been a childhood dream.
Who is your favorite film composer?
Definitely the British composer Mica Levi, their work is brilliant. I just bought the vinyl record of the soundtrack they did for ‘Monos’, an incredible film by Alejandro Landes. Or do you remember the sequence in ‘Under The Skin’ where Scarlett Johansson walks through black water? That’s also Mica Levi who created the music, their impact on the film is huge. They are shaking up the world of film soundtracks, which is very inspiring. In the ‘music to image’ classes I teach at the ESRA school in Brussels, we have been thoroughly analyzing Monos as well. The students’ feedback greatly enriches my own knowledge.
What was your favorite film project to work on so far?
Working with Spanish visual artist Felix Luque was definitely a highlight, he is not only one of my favorite artists but has also become a good friend. For the first time in my life I have bought an artwork, his piece has a central position in my apartement right above the sofa. The music I made for his post-apocalyptic short movie called ‘Junkyard III’ directed by Nicolas Torres Correia is part of his solo exhibition in the Mima museum that runs at the moment.