Michiel Claus is a busy bee. He runs several labels, is an avid record collector and respected DJ travelling the world with his Walrus moniker, produces music and is part of the band bepotel records, works behind the counter at Crevette Records and manufactures furniture designed for record collectors and shops. Covid-19 only brought one activity from this lengthy list to a stop, the DJing in clubs we all miss like the desert misses the rain, but it didn’t slow Walrus down, quite on the contrary. He kept on pushing forward several new artists on his prolific label Basic Moves and inaugurated two brand new imprints For Playful Manners and Gems Under The Horizon. Being locked out of clubs was fertile ground for him to face a few challenging matters though, such as the hedonistic burdens that come with the buzzing night work and his obsessive collecting. As a result, Claus spent a lot of time in the beautiful Zoniënwoud the past year and insisted on taking our bikes deep into the forest for the photoshoot, while the rain was pouring out of the sky on one of May’s wettest days.
Why Zoniënwoud, Michiel?
I come here often to run and I specifically enjoy this spot because of its view, you’re surrounded by beautiful colours here. I’ve been here often during the pandemic, it’s not too far from my home in Etterbeek and really a great place to relax.
You have been quite busy over the past years, and started not one but two new labels last year. Did you feel the need for other outputs next to your successful Basic Moves imprint?
Basic Moves has become a rather conceptual label, where every release is a double 12 inch and a world on its own, with a unique narrative. The 15th release by Child Of The Waves is now arriving in the shops in a few weeks and I have all forthcoming releases already lined up until the 20th, which will be a special one by Deg and Michael Stordeur, there will even be singing involved. After this I’ll start releasing compilations curated by friends of the label. So indeed, with For Playful Manners I want to create a new platform to release club tracks that I like, no concepts or stories, just letting the music speak.
But still you created a fun crosswords puzzle on stickers that can be found in the sleeve, to share the tracklisting of your first For Playful Manners release. You just can’t resist adding an extra layer, can you?
Haha, indeed. I’ve started this label with my good friend Adi from Bogota in Colombia. The first record that is about to be released has music by her and myself. The crossword puzzle was invented by our Basic Moves copywriter Joe Delon, who appeared to have a passion for the format. The cat on the artwork was an idea of Adi, who is a huge fan of cats. Our tracklistings will always be gender balanced.
How did you meet Adi?
I met her in Bogota, where she came to pick me up at the airport when I arrived in Colombia. She had been in Belgium to DJ at Ojoo in Ghent and visited Crevette Records the same weekend, but I wasn’t there at the time. My colleague Jakob had met her and was so kind to connect us when I planned my trip to South America. Adi & I immediately got along well, she showed me her amazing city and we even ended up DJing together. About a year later we hooked up again in Berlin and listened to her and my music during a long afternoon. Slowly our idea to start a label together began to rise. Adi has roots in ballet, but stopped dancing to fully focus on her music production. You can really hear this in her music, she has got rhythm.
Your work often seems to start from a connection with someone?
Yeah, that’s definitely true. I met almost everyone along the way, by coincidence. Gems Under The Horizon, my other new label, is the result of afternoon parties we used to do in Brussels, gatherings with a bunch of people around a record player. The label’s main focus is chill out music, not exclusively ambient, it can also be a deep jungle track or slower beats for example. The next release will include a track by my good friend &apos which has a fun story behind it. When a child is born, some friends and I always have a vinyl dubplate pressed with a selection of tracks we create for the occasion. Normally the music never leaves the dubplate, which is set to deteriorate after about 100 plays, so now for the first time one of these tracks will make it into an actual release, a special moment.
What I noticed is that most of the music you release isn’t available to be streamed or even downloaded, you mostly opt for vinyl only. Why is that?
The music released on Gems Under The Horizon now is available on Bandcamp to download and after a few releases I might take it to streaming websites as well. But with Basic Moves I have strict contracts with artists who refuse to have their music available in digital formats, so I wish to stick to these. And it would be odd to have a few released digitally while others not, so I decided to stay consistent and keep it a vinyl only label. Unfortunately you can find the music easily on illegal websites, people even charge money for it. I once tried to fight it but gave up quickly, the shady part of the internet is unbeatable. In the end it’s also an economical decision, those 500 vinyl records of each release need to sell in order to make it a break-even operation. I fear that with digital releases available it will become harder to sell the records.
You’re a dedicated vinyl collector yourself, sitting on a huge amount of records and working in a record store. What is it you do exactly at Crevette Records?
I manage the second hand section. This includes making sure the bins are always refreshed and on point, having backstack available for all genres, handling new second hand collections that are arriving at the shop and filtering out the crappy and damaged records. I also make a weekly list of 10 favorites from the newly added stock.
Collecting so many second hand records is almost like collecting the sound of the city or even the whole country. How would you describe it?
We obviously make a selection to our liking, but to answer your question I would describe the sound of Belgium as rather eclectic and in your face dance music. We positioned the iconic Belgian new beat records at the front door, many people and especially foreigners ask for them and they always sell out pretty fast. We also offer a vast amount of US, Italian and UK house records in our second hand bins. The last couple of years our techno bins have grown a lot as well, especially the tougher work that is being pushed forward by DJs such as Helena Hauff or Dax J. The latter lives in Brussels and often comes digging, which is noticed by the younger generations who follow his path. There is a new and exciting generation of techno DJs who all play vinyl, they connect well with the Belgian techno tradition of the nineties with for example the Reload stuff or what Dave Clarke used to play at Fuse at the end of the previous millennium. And last but not least the old rave stuff also sells very well, of which we were able to buy a very interesting second hand collection.
Do you ever feel overloaded by all these records, all this input?
I recently made a decision for myself to look at my collection as open minded as possible and to be a generous DJ, stepping away from a more pigeonholed and introverted approach I was applying before, which I often compare to the obsessive collecting of milk caps, Flippo’s as we called them when I was a kid. Thanks to my job at Crevette Records, I began to fully understand that music matters to me when I can share it with others. I remember having to make a mixtape a couple of years ago and I spent so much time checking on Discogs what the value of a track was, whether it was rare or not. Looking back now, I find this rather ridiculous. DJing should be about fun, about entertaining, not about having the most and rarest records. This new approach releases a lot of tension for me.
What made you come to this conclusion? Were you fed up with yourself?
For a year now, I’m receiving help to deal with a few challenges in my life, psychologically and concerning the use of amphetamines. Unfortunately I’m a fan and a victim of those. It’s one of these bad habits that I kept on dragging around in my life and is very much connected to music, to working in my record collection, to listening to records, to preparing DJ sets and to nightlife in general. Almost every day a little devil was luring from around the corner. So about a year ago, when the pandemic locked us out of the clubs and while I felt I was doing pretty well with my labels and other endeavours in life, I decided to look for professional help, because it’s simply impossible to manage a busy life and be addicted to amphetamines at the same time.
Can you tell me a bit more about how you are being treated?
There has been a time in my life when I thought I needed drugs to feel capable of performing my duties, such as a DJ set, but I was obviously bullshitting myself. I felt really bad after an important DJ performance in London, where I arrived after a night without sleep and still high from the drugs I had used, ending up in a weird state of mind behind the DJ booth. As a child I was diagnosed as hyper mobile, which is close to ADHD, so amphetamines function just as relatine, they make me calm and focused, secluded from the outside world. My good friends know that these are not the best drugs to be around me, I’m mostly lost and unreachable on my own planet. Thanks to the help I’m receiving now, I’m learning how to deal with my passions, my music and my record collection, to appreciate all this also without using drugs. An important feature of the treatment for instance is the organisation of my record collection, in order not to have to listen to 3000 records every single gig again.
So how do you organize your collection?
I split them up in three parts. First there is the past, which is my archive and is divided in countries and genres. Then there is the present, those are the records that I know well at the moment, that I often play. And lastly there is the future, which are the records that I just bought or rediscovered in the past section. Structurizing my collection is a strategy to avoid using drugs again when I’m between my records. The question now is how to be ready for when the clubs reopen. Will I completely stay off drugs, or will I allow myself to do it again once in a while? How can I find a modus vivendi with my biggest passion? I want to be strong and feel self-confident for when nightlife takes off again, at least I already feel much more in-synch with myself than ever before. Our scene needs to debate openly about this topic, about vulnerability and the darker side of the job, which is often kept quiet or left untold.
You also design and manufacture furniture for record collectors and shops. How did you end up doing this?
Clauset & Dekeyser is a project I started with my good friend Laurens Dekeyser. After seeing a similar but smaller version of a closet made by a friend’s father, Laurens and I showed our plan to the employees of a DIY store. They couldn’t believe it would ever work, but what you see here in my living room is the result of our first experiment, I sent them a picture afterwards. Pim Thomas, who at the time was preparing the opening of his record shop Crevette, had seen the piece and asked us to make all the furniture for his store. We were excited but also bluffed, since we had never done such a job. A few panic attacks later we engaged a friend who is a professional carpenter and in the end all went well. Later on the demands kept coming in, now mostly for people’s homes. In the meantime Laurens moved to Switzerland, but I keep on building the closets. Soon I’ll be doing the 30th design, after which I’m taking a break with Closet & Dekeyser for at least a year. I intend to keep it a small project and I wish to do some internships in design companies and take the time to make a book, showing pictures of all closets and also presenting all owners, including a USB flash drive with a mixtape by each one of them on it.
We look very much forward to that, Michiel. Thank you for your time.