Peter Van Hoesen on Center 91, his label inspired by Brussels 90's warehouse raves

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A headlight of the 10 years of Boiler Room celebrations we hosted in February 2020 was definitely the performance of Peter Van Hoesen. It’s refreshing to restream the video that is just a few months old, but already feels like a souvenir from an ancient time, a nostalgia for packed dance floors. The global health crisis that has closed all dance floors and led to moving Listen! Festival’s sixth edition from March to November, has a huge impact on our community. That’s why Listen! initiates this online series of articles and features, to continue to support our Belgian music scene and focus on stories that we believe are very much worth to be heard.

Peter Van Hoesen’s busy international touring schedule has been abruptly emptied just as every other DJ, yet this hasn’t slowed the Belgian down. Quite the contrary, as Peter explains to me in a Skype call. “I’m finishing four new digital EP’s on my new label Center91, of which two have been released already. I’m also working on two new collaborative projects that demand mixing as the next step. And by the end of the summer I hope to start working on a new album. Last but not least I’m also involved in a project building an online sound database. Somehow time flies faster compared to the pre-Corona days when I was travelling all the time.”

Center91 had already drawn my attention while reading the release text shared when the imprint was launched in 2019. “Via this newly launched platform, Peter Van Hoesen looks back towards his own experiences of the late 90s Belgian underground, extrapolating references from the intensity of the Brussels warehouse raves which continue to influence his practice as a producer, DJ and live performer.” Today four releases have seen the light of the day, ‘Illusions Of Contributions’ is just a few weeks old. The second track of the EP dubbed ‘Exit Strategy’ has nothing to do with the pandemic, he laughs away my question. It comes from a long list of track titles Van Hoesen has been saving on his hard disc for years.

While playing music from the Center91 catalogue, a comment by Youtube user Andrew Wowk on Van Hoesen’s Boiler Room video recorded in Brussels earlier this year comes to my mind: “The thing I absolutely love about PVH is the way he plays such heady, wacked-out stuff but injects this huge amount of funk into it. It's so refreshing amongst all the soulless, generic hard techno are playing these days.” It’s a good description of his ever uncompromising, forward-thinking techno music. When asking Van Hoesen about the ongoing research he references in the release text of the latest EP, the producer makes a similar point. “My basic principle is always innovation, how can I add something that hasn’t been done before. It’s a frustration to often hear techno tracks that have been done a billion times before, sometimes even to the degree of pure plagiarism. Obviously we all continue to use certain techniques or sounds, the fundamentals where techno music is built on, yet producing nowadays has drastically changed. I try to constantly renew my ideas of composition and sound design. Compare it to a contemporary painter who is not only utilizing different brushes or canvasses, but also employs new color compositions and experiments with how paint is transmitted on a canvas.”

On his label Center 91 Peter Van Hoesen aims to reconnect with the late 90s Belgian underground and Brussels warehouse parties. While preparing a Sunday Berghain set about two years ago, he was browsing his record collection and stumbled upon records from now defunct Belgian label RE-LOAD. Van Hoesen takes us on a trip to Berlin: “Hearing these tracks again was like walking through a time portal and I was struck by how much they had stood the test of time. I recorded a bunch digitally and took them with me to the club. In order to use the full potential of these tracks, you must not play them too slow, but approach the speed they were created in. They set Berghain on fire, an experience that intensified an upcoming questioning about the deep and contemplative sounds I was playing before. I started to play faster and harder DJ-sets again and simultaneously to ponder on how to translate this into my productions. This doesn’t mean I want to sound exactly how these nineties records sound, it’s more about how to evoke their raw intensity and speed with modern sounds and techniques.”

Van Hoesen remembers that the most legendary moments for many of his generation were the events happening during the nineties in the infamous PK Studios in Oudergem. This was a venue connected to the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, during the week used by students but vacant on weekends. “A few clever enthusiasts started renting the place, among them B.W.P., D-Jack and Rave Explosion”, Van Hoesen knows. “I’m not sure about the exact dates, I was in my early twenties so it must have been somewhere in the early to mid nineties and we’re looking at the emergence of underground techno in Brussels. Don’t be mistaken: these events weren’t amateurish, they attracted large audiences and had big sound systems. It’s in PK Studios that Jeff Mills performed in Belgium for the first time ever. I remember nights with Bandulu, Robert Hood, The Source Experience, Daniel Bell, … Although this was the pre-internet era and experiences weren’t as filmed or photographed the way they are now, I still have fond memories of that period."

I ask Van Hoesen how he recalls our capital city in the nineties, where he used to live for many years before moving abroad. “Brussels was charged with a certain intensity at that point in history. The vibe in the city was rather raw, different to what it is today. The real estate market was less congested, some areas were comparable to back streets in Chicago. There was a lot of friction and conflict, things had to be built from scratch and a DIY attitude was demanded. I believe these conditions added a certain grain to the city, a layer that coincided with the rise of techno music. And Belgium was rather ahead of the pack when it comes to incorporating electronic dance music. There had been the new beat hype at the end of the eighties, music that was played on mainstream radio and television. This led to a positive approach towards this new and futuristic sounding music in the whole country; also in other cities and scenes such as the famous ‘Paradise’ house parties in Café D’Anvers. But in the grittier surroundings of the capital, raw, fast and hard techno worked best.”

“I wasn’t yet making music in these early days of techno music. I used to play in a few bands, but when I lived in Brussels it was mostly partying for me and I started to dj. Much of the music played at these parties I’m referring to here was made in Belgium. I bought many records at BCM in Mechelen, Zzino’s shop who also ran RE-LOAD. Go dig for B.W.P. Experiments for example, a collective consisting of Seal Phüric, Acid Kirk, Deg, D-Jack, Pat Vision, Sebastian S and Mike DMA. Next to organising parties at PK Studios, they were all very active producers. Check their music and you have the soundtrack of this unique exciting history of Brussels underground techno.”