From Liège with love: the booming career of DJ and furniture designer Karla Böhm.

Outremeuse, on the island between the river arms of La Meuse / De Maas in Liège, we meet Fanny aka Karla Böhm in her luminous appartement. In a lively neighborhood where Ave Maria statues alternate dance bars and right around the corner of the street where her parents used to run a jewelry store when she was young, Fanny has found a nice place for herself. A beautiful wooden handmade DJ booth and record closet are the eyecatchers of the living room, objets she has meticulously designed herself. With a fresh coffee, we venture into a long conversation about her booming DJ agenda, the scene in Liège, her label and other involvements that got her to the point where she is now. 

Hello Fanny! 

I’m wondering, were you born and bred in Liège?

I was here often due to my parents’ shop, discovering the streets of the neighborhood on my own, but we lived about 25km out of town. Only when I was 16 I swapped schools to Liège, a move that really opened up my world and mind.

Have you always been into music?  

Yeah from a very early age on, on every possible occasion I was looking for music or something related. I used to have an Ibanez electric guitar for years as a child, not knowing how to play it. I never had any musical formation and when I started to develop my own taste, electronic music grabbed my attention. But I have always been interested in many genres and various aspects and professions connected to music. That’s why today for instance I enjoy designing furniture for record collections and brainstorming on its mental, physical and spatial organization. 

When and how did you start to find a way into electronic music? 

I enrolled in communication studies when I was 18 years old, but soon discovered that I didn’t fit into such a theoretical practice. Luckily I felt much better when I started graphic school, but my rational side didn’t allow me to consider myself an artist or at least develop this, I thought I needed to find a job and make a living. I didn’t feel legitimate in the art world, lacking an appropriate education. So after my studies I quickly started working as a graphic designer for a commercial company and soon ticked all the rational boxes I had envisioned. In the meantime I started to DJ and thanks to notorious Liège DJ and promoter Nick Moinet aka Larson, I had my first bookings at L’Escalier, a small but influential bar where many DJs from our local scene have their first gigs. It’s at this point, feeling secured by the financial stability a job had given me, that I was able to liberate myself to start believing in myself as an artist. 

How has your summer been so far?

It has been great! As I’m not really a night bird to be honest, I really enjoy the day-time clubbing that happens in summer. It’s a different approach to clubbing, away from the standard dark dance floors, often in afternoons or early in the evening, where the sunlight strongly influences the records you play. 

How do you deal with the hedonistic and exhausting side of DJ life?  

Stress is something I’m rather sensitive for, so I’m really focused on a balanced and healthy life during the week. Especially a satisfying amount of sleep is what I can’t fall short of, at the risk of bringing me in a state of anxiety. I’m very aware of the responsibility I have towards the promoters who book and pay me for their events, I want to bring my best game possible. After a set, I can really enjoy relaxing and spend pleasant time with people though. But I have never had moments of abundance in my life, I have always been balanced. A libra, you know! 

Can you give us a tour through the current scene in Liège?

Over the past few years a few collectives have been rising, making a name for themselves after a period of relative silence here in the city. Once again Nick Moinet and his Unrhythmic collective is at the forefront, setting things in motion and hosting parties in and out clubs and a series of exciting free parties. A bit out of town the Noname collective and their La Nature Festival are really worth mentioning as well. Somewhere in the Ardennes they created one of the best and most underground events in Wallonia, going on for 30 hours during a weekend in July. I played from 10am till noon on the Sunday of their latest edition and while it was gently raining, people danced in front of a beautifully designed stage in the middle of nature. So much fun!

And last but not least there is KulturA. in the city center, a nice venue with two rooms often rented by various collectives.   

The DJ furniture in your apartment is beautiful, what’s the story behind it?

Smooth Operator is a custom designed audio furniture brand designed by a friend and me, the name a wink to Sade’s famous song. It all started about eight years ago, when I contacted a carpenter with an idea for a record closet that I had seen elsewhere. I redesigned it to my liking and he built it. Years later I started making sketches for my ideal DJ furniture and I met Amaury Cornet, who is a professional carpenter. He also enjoys nightlife, so we got along well and when I told him about my project, we decided to make the first prototype together, the one you can see here in the flat. More orders are arriving now and with each model being custom made, they take a while to be manufactured.

Is it hard to find a financial balance in such projects?

Well, with the prices of wood rising these days like never before, it’s challenging to find a middle ground between making some profits versus doing your friends a favor. Passion and financial stability need to go hand in hand, which is not always easy to translate in reality. I feel lucky to be in this position, although it’s not only sheer luck, but definitely also a matter of desire. Designing furniture is yet another activity linked to music that together with my other ventures gives me the stability to live out my passion. Cumulating many projects is what makes me happy. 

Speaking of another pursuit, how is your label Sous Sol going?

Sous:Sol is a vinyl label I run with my friend Arnaud Brassine, focused on deep and minimal club music. We have new releases coming up, but we’re not rushing. Here as well, resources have become more expensive and production time has immensely increased, so there is no urge to go fast. Right now we aim for one release each year. In the meantime I work with the great illustrator Elise Fauville, who makes these fun drawings for Sous:Sol. One of her drawings has now been printed on a t-shirt and will go on sale soon, with plenty of references to key actors from our Belgian scene that I admire, such as Crevette, Kiosk Radio, etcetera.

And your own productions? 

I’m often working in my studio upstairs here, mockingly called the spaceship by my roommate Julien for the weird noises coming from behind the door. I like spending time exploring sound design, rhythms, and many hours reading manuals of the gear. At the moment I focus on the trip over the destination, without the pressure of absolutely having to release something. My first official track has been released by C12, when the club launched its Social Distancing compilation series during the pandemic in 2020. 

Are you still doing graphic design? 

Not for a living, since I quit my day-time job a few years ago. But obviously it’s a skill I still use for my label or other projects. Recently I designed the artwork for the latest event of Bruxsel Jardin, the long-lasting parties and collective I joined four years ago. They pushed me to take up my role as designer again, a motivation I had lacked for a while but I’m happy to find again. 

What are the plans for Bruxsel Jardin? 

Looking back at a legacy of enormous events, we now mostly prepare smaller parties, for up to 300 people, with a social and ecological focus. A share of our profits go to Doucheflux for example, an organization giving homeless people access to hygiene. Or we make sure to cleanly leave behind the parks we temporarily occupy, with a lot of attention for the impact we have on nature.    

What’s happening the rest of the summer for you?

I’m playing Tomorrowland first and later I’ll travel to Portugal to play in Lisbon at Ministerium Club with my dear friend Johan and to visit Waking Life, the beautiful festival organized by a bunch of Belgians in the Portuguese countryside. That festival really has found an inspiring way to deal with the land and resources they use, it’s really worthwhile visiting! Hope to see you there!

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