Label focus - 35 years of the mighty R&S Records. . .
As R&S Records prepares to celebrate its 35th year as a leading underground imprint, Mark Whitaker and Dan Ward from the London office, give us a brief history of this scene shaping label and tell us a little about what the future holds for this institution of underground electronic music. . .
- - - - Words by: Alex Rose - - - -
With more than 3 decades of service to the sub terrain music industry, R&S Records has been (and continues to be) responsible for breaking tastemaker artists and producers and releasing game changer classics .
From it’s humble, distant inception back in 1983, when Belgium had a thriving ‘New Beat’ scene, and a somewhat perplexing knack of apparently importing US, Chicago and Detroit house and techno releases, only to mimic them and re-create rip off covers, and release them in Belgium… (this actually happened) …. A frustrated Renaat Vandepapeliere and Sabine Maes (Initials forming the R&S name) had their sights fixed on a new direction and set about laying the foundations for a credible future for underground music in Belgium… and so R&S Records was born.
R&S gained early credibility and notoriety, licensing and releasing highly regarded first and second wave US techno under the R&S Records Monica. Releasing music from pioneering US artists such as Kenny Larkin, Juan Atkins, Derrick May and many others, the fledgling imprint earned its stripes and built a solid reputation, along side beginning it's own quest to source and break new talent for itself through the late 80’s and into the 90’s.
Asserting it’s position as a credible European force to be reckoned with in the early 90’s, R&S went on to enjoy huge success through the entire decade and was responsible for bringing us originals works from artists such as Jam & Spoon, Joey Beltram, Jaydee, Aphex Twin and many more.
My first encounter R&S Records was in the form of Joey Beltam’s Energy Flash EP in 1991. Unusually for my record collection at the time, R&S was European offering, a Belgian export, and stood out as a refreshingly unique source of underground techno which appeared to be coming from closer to home, when comparred to the wholesome stock of underground Detroit, Chicago and later NY house and techno, that I cut my teeth on as an early music connoisseur. . .
Energy Flash EP - 1991
Energy Flash & me…
This record in particular holds a special place in my heart, not only because it was the first techno 12” I EVER bought in 1991 (I still have my war torn, extensively played copy of it to this day), but more broadly in that Energy Flash is a widely revered masterpiece of techno and still sounds highly relevant today.
It serves as shining example of the strength of the musical relationship between simplicity and effectiveness, and is highly regarded as a holy grail techno classic. Though, categorising such an impressive piece of techno as merely 'simple yet effective' does little to convey the sheer quality of the music on offer here. After all, 'Energy Flash' is a relentless sonic assault that hooks you tightly and reels you in for more, time and time again. Its dark, moody, rumbling bassline is capably supported by a solid 4/4 driving undercurrent of beats and wave after wave of pulsating effects. It is a truly pioneering piece of electronic music that sounds as impressive today as it must have done upon release some 27 years ago.. I digress…
. . . Soon after purchasing Energy Flash, I went on to quickly discover the ‘In order to dance’ series and discovered a world of alternative soundscapes which differed from the no nonsense, raw, US techno sound, Jam & Spoon’s Stella is stand out examples of this. There always seemed to be something different, leftfield about the homegrown R&S sound, reassuringly ‘underground’, yet enticingly transfixing and different to that of it’s US counter-parts. Something of a nod in retrospect, to the nature of the more progressive European, rave scene that was taking shape around the same time I guess.
Fast forward some 16 or so hugely successful years and R&S founders Renaat and Sabine grow tired of a seemingly uninspiring phase in music, and indeed the daily grind of the music industry itself and decide to take a short absence of leave, closing the label in 2006, only to re launch 3 years later in 2009, with a fresh crop of scene shaping new artists on it’s newly energised roster, leveraging it’s core strength once again to bring us a new wave of music from the likes of James Blake, Airhead, Nicolas Jarr, Benjamin Damage, Afriqua, Ada Kaleh, Lone, Blawan +++, re asserting itself once again as a taste maker of leading underground music, where it remains, stronger than ever to this day.
With label boss Renaat in his 6th decade and still playing 6/12 hour sets, R&S records and it’s presence in the world of underground music, is a an ongoing lesson in longevity and quality and serves shining example of remaining relevant and original in a an ever increasingly saturated modern underground music scene….