Silver lining, something good found in a bad situation, is the title of the debut album by Wiet Lengeler aka Sagat. Although not at all a first appearance - the Brussels based producer and DJ can by now be described more as a veteran of the capital’s scene - it took him some time to release his first long-player. Insert the album’s title, referencing some setbacks in his personal life and the resilience found within. And let’s not forget the delays caused by a global pandemic, which led to sharing music with the world that had been created three or more years before.
But Sagat is and has always been an optimistic and positive-thinking soul. We meet in his flat in downtown Vorst/Forest. Shared with his pal, fellow producer and DJ companion Weird Dust, the place instantly feels welcoming. Art and other tokens of creativity are to be discovered all around the place and the vibe is laidback, especially since the habitants had an unexpectedly long evening at a Bulgarian restaurant the day before. But with some freshly made coffee Sagat is rapidly recovered and turns out to be a grateful interviewee.
Dear Sagat, congratulations on your album, such a beautiful documentation of your sound and creative identity.
Thanks! I’m so glad it’s finally out. Some of the files on my computer date back from 2017, they made quite the trip to finally land on earth. And the production process of the vinyl record also took a very long time, with probably every single step along the way having been delayed somewhere, somehow.
How do you relate to your own music when it has been made such a long time ago?
The creative process, including research and first drafts, had started in 2017. I must admit that while working on a project for such a long time, it isn’t always easy to embed yourself in the initial mindset. Taste simply always evolves, we are never the same person we were a year or even a week before. So it sometimes felt like I was method acting. If you listen for example to my 7” release on Lexi Disques in 2021, the sound of these tracks is much more sunny and contemporary, more related to positive and open sounds. While on Silver Lining the vibe is definitely different, from another era.
I hear an array of sounds and emotions on the album, going from dark to light, from introvert to extravert, even within the same track. Can you relate to this?
The album definitely brought closure for me, letting go of some tough moments in life and seeing the good in the bad, the silver lining. So I guess you can hear both sides of the spectrum on the album. I have gone all in while making this album, it’s an utterly personal document. You might discern the struggles and the hiccups, the fall and rise. And apart from all that, it just sounds really good on a big sound system in a club.
That’s equally important. Did you build it for dance floors?
Yes and I tested it on a few systems. I worked a lot at Atelier Claus while I was mixing the album, it was great to hear the music instantly on big speakers. I think I exported about 40 versions of all tracks, taking them with me to DJ sets until I was fully content.
The track Club Gone must have been road tested a lot?
That’s the most no-nonsense club track on the album for sure, relating to that difficult period we all remember at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. The track has a certain destination but I can’t tell which one exactly, just as we were left in the dark during the lockdown. The bassline wobbles in the subs and has some Jan Jelinek pseudo jazz kinda vibe, a bit dubby, somehow portraying my hopeless feeling at the time. Well, at least it turned out like this. I find it hard to say where exactly a track started. My ideas usually take off with rushes. Similar to a painting, they are constantly enriched with new layers until the final result somehow makes sense.
Is it hard for you to reach your destination, to mark a track as finished?
Yes it is, I usually require quite some time to arrive at that point. Only a deadline can really push me to finalize a project. The conversation with a label and their feedback is always very helpful during such a process.
After three EPs on Brussels based label Vlek, did it feel like obvious to stick with them for the album?
Yes, definitely. I have always enjoyed releasing on Vlek, my first EP in 2012 was really at the start of the label and they kept on believing in me. They evolved a lot during the years, hard to be pigeonholed into one genre or vibe. For me that’s what Brussels is all about: different niches of which none is too predominant. Everything in this city is in-your-face. The audience is incredibly open-minded, there will always be at least someone who loves what you play even if it’s really far-out. And the city’s multiculturality is super rich.
You’re 34 years old now. Do you feel, with this album and with what’s going on in your life right now, that you’ve passed your personal rites of passage and had your creative homecoming?
I had given up my job at Beursschouwburg while starting to work on the album, wanting to fully go for a career in music. Obviously the album’s delay was quite challenging, but I’m still convinced that the decision was the best to make. My studio space feels finally the way I wanted it to be with everything fully cabled and connected and all the hardware that I wanted to have available. I can’t see myself doing anything else right now but making music.
And DJing! What does a Sagat DJ performance sound like?
I mostly enjoy doing warm-up slots or out-of-the-ordinary performances, where experimentation is more obvious than during a peak-time club slot. Not that I don’t like doing the latter, the energy can be very inspiring, but I like to have the option to DJ very adventurous. When Weird Dust and I DJ together under our Zoz moniker, we even try to trainwreck tracks in such a manner that they are interesting for a dance floor. In that case we decline the four to the floor drumbeat as the basis for mixing, while searching for polyrhythmic or polymetric guiding principles, such as three over four. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, the result is amazing. We use a special loop tool for vinyl records, first used by the techno DJs in the early two thousands. It’s really all about playing around and being as free as possible.
Just as on your album Silver Lining, clubby and experimental dance music are inseparable for you?
I’m easily bored in a club when everything sounds the same, even when a DJ truly masters the mixing skills and is able to set a special vibe within one style. I prefer breaking the vibe from time to time into another realm. I actually only have one version of myself as a DJ to offer. It would probably be good if I learned how to DJ in favor of an audience better, which would have avoided some silly moments when I realize I completely killed the vibe on the dance floor with a track that sounded great in my head.
Are you planning on playing the album live?
At Les Nuits Botanique in April I performed the album live, but I’ll probably won’t do it again. I had put a lot of work into preparing it, but I feel better when performing live without a script to follow, where I’m left with more room for improvisation and where I can mix new tracks with old ones.
The title track of the album comes with a really cool video made by Jonathan Cant. What’s the story behind it?
A couple of years ago someone sent me a message on Bandcamp, thanking me for my music and explaining to me how he discovered it. He had seen the dance performance Last Work created by Ohad Naharin and performed by Israeli contemporary dance company Batsheva, with five minutes of my music in it. When finding actual footage about the performance on Arte, I was flattered but also surprised no one from Batsheva had ever contacted me about this. The performance was played at least 200 times all over the world, even at venues in Belgium. I really liked it, so I would have loved to have seen it but also would have appreciated a correct licensing for usage of the track on stage. We contacted them, but their reply was never really satisfying and the matter has gotten stuck somewhere in between some lawyers. At that point, I stopped caring to be honest. But together with filmmaker Jonathan Cant we got the idea to sample the dance performance that used my music, as some kind of creative inversion. I hope they get the pun! (laughs)
© Jente Waerzeggers