Steve Slingeneyer is one of my favourite creators. He’s work is innovative, interesting, and most importantly, moves me. Steve’s had quite the musical journey, from the underground punk scene in Belgium to being the musical heart(drum)beat extraordinaire of beloved alternative rock/electronic act Soulwax to his killer DJ sets as the ultimate One Man Party. Since departing from Soulwax, Steve has been working on new music, his own music; music that has me super excited. I don’t know of anything else it sounds like. What I’ve been privy to in the sneak peek Steve’s shared with me shows a different side from what we’ve come to know of Steve, a beautiful mix of vulnerability, intimacy and a minimalism that speaks volumes. This is one of my favourite chats all year; a part II is in the works for the New Year. Stay tuned.
BIANCA: I thought we’d start at the beginning; what’s your earliest musical memory?
STEVE SLINGENEYER: My mum told me that I used to rock in the cradle to old glam rock, like Mud and stuff like that. I was born in 1970, I’ve been exposed to music since a very early age. I personally don’t remember my first but, there’s loads of musical memories.
B: You grew up in a musical household; your dad was a guitarist and played for orchestras, right?
SS: Yeah, he is still a musician. He’s been a musician since he was 16 as well and had bands. He played in a national orchestra for a big TV station here for about 10 years. He’s an arranger as well so I grew up with him always working at home transcribing music. He was really into music and bought a lot of records. I grew up with a whole mix of things. I got into buying records myself, it all started with AC/DC Highway To Hell actually. When I found it, I thought, OK I’ve found my thing I want to pursue this. I grew up listening to heavy metal and hard rock. My dad pulled out records from his own collection he didn’t like and gave them to me. He gave me his first Van Halen record.
B: What was growing up like for you? You grew up in Bruges?
SS: I grew up in the little suburb of Bruges, from the age of eight I just knew that music was a big thing. At home there was always music. My dad wouldn’t always be playing music but he was listening to music or transcribing it and my mother would be doing the dishes and listening to Beatles songs. It was a very musical household. As soon as I reached the ages of ten, eleven, twelve, harder music was the better music for me. When I went to middle school in Bruges I started making friends and really got into anything that was intense—that’s how I got into punk basically. I had a friend that was two years older than me called, Vincent, he’s actually a distant cousin of mine and we started trading music in high school. Punk tapes…I think it was one of the very first Punk & Disorderly compilations; do you remember those?
B: Yes I do. I have some!
SS: Yeah! When I heard that for the first time my mind was blown. I’d been listening to Metallica and Slayer first records and metal, I would spend a lot of time listening to local radio stations and making tapes. I would listen to John Peel’s radio show and just sit glued to the tuner with my headphones and record everything, trying to discover more. My friend Vincent exposed me to punk as a whole scene and the whole movement. I got into bands like Crass. It went very fast from then on. Bands like Discharge really blew my mind! The politics, I was hooked. A year later we formed a band, after hearing punk we thought, hey, we can do this too! I had a band called, Chronic Disease. We were in that scene for around five years. From about 16 to 22 I was very involved in the punk scene.
B: What were punk shows like in your town?
SS: My town was very conservative so it was very hard to even put on shows. You had to do it really underground. Bruges was like a big melting pot of punk and metal and anything that didn’t fit in with the “normal” music. Usually we would travel on the train on the weekends, maybe an hour or two, just to go see a show. They were spread out all over Belgium. Antwerp had a squatting scene back in the 80s, we’d go see bands over there. There was a place called Aalst not too far away from where I live now in Ghent, they really had a strong organisation, a collective, the “Smurfpunx”. There was also a place called The Rotten Fish in another part of the country, it was the size of a bar and we played tons of shows there. Every weekend, nobody had a car, we’d just get a train ticket and go see shows, meet people. It was very cool back then.
B: When you started your band you said you were 16?
SS: Yeah. It was so new and when you’d go see the band, if you liked them, you’d just talk to them. Everything was very open. For me it was mind blowing that you could just hang out with these musicians and talk. After a while you’d trade music and write letters to each other. If I think about it now, it’s pretty amazing, before the internet we were writing good people from all over; people from Argentina, America, all over. It was a great network.
B: I used to, and still do that with people all over the world. I love trading mixtapes and zines.
SS: I used to get mail every week from someone. They’d write asking for a demo tape. We really started out just doing it, we didn’t really think about it too much. We’d make some songs, put them on cassette (we basically just recorded our rehearsals), then make art work and send it away. I’ve always drawn my whole life and I used to do a lot of work for fanzines. I’ve always liked being creative in all kinds of ways. I felt like I was in the perfect place to be.
B: I love how the punk community can teach how to be really resourceful.
SS: Yes. You become a bit obsessed as well! You really get into it. I was always doing stuff. Someone would ask me to make a t-shirt for their band so I’d go “yes” and just do it. We weren’t really ambitious we just wanted to make stuff. After making one tape, I wrote to the guy who put on gigs in Aalst and we just started getting gig after gig after gig. It was so exciting. We all became friends. Do you know the band Doom?
SS: Bands like that were bands we’d contact. There were a lot of bands coming over here, we were known as one of the Belgian bands, people would pick up on it. I still have all of these flyers, posters and things; it’s pretty amazing what bands we played with. Really old punk bands like Chaos U.K. and Disorder, I met a lot of those people. Most experiences were positive, like spending the night on someone’s floor and all the things that go with playing shows.
B: When you started a band, you played drums and guitar, teaching yourself, right?
SS: Yeah. My dad is a guitar player so I picked up the guitar first. All I was interested in playing was bar chords, that was it for me I didn’t need to know anymore. When we formed the band, our drummer wasn’t really that good so I thought, maybe I should do drums. So I switched. Next we got a guitar player and then things really took off. I’ve been a drummer ever since.
B: What feeling do you get from playing the drums?
SS: I rarely think about how it makes me feel but, it does make me feel really good! It’s something I’m good at.
B: I read an interesting article the other day about drummers. There was a study done by a university and they’ve found that apparently drummers have really good problem solving skills and the article talked about how keeping the beat can put them in tune with nature, stuff like that.
SS: Yeah. I saw something about them testing Blondie’s drummer and they found out that drummers have a tremendous energy and of how drumming keeps you healthy. It’s a very primal behaviour. As soon as there is a beat people have to listen and move to it, you can’t ignore the rhythm of drums.
B: Absolutely! I’m a sucker for a good beat.
SS: It goes back to primal instincts, people would stomp their feet to warn of danger, a warning sound.
B: Let’s talk about the new music you’ve been working on. Thank you so much for sending me a sneak peek listen of it, it’s sounding amazing, especially the one that has your vocal on it. On first listen I was like, wow!
SS: I really needed to take my time with it and figure out what I want to do. It took me, let’s just say, in January last year  I decided, I really have to do this. It’s my time now and I’m just going to make what I hear in my head. I went into the studio for ten days, basically locked myself in and recorded 4-7 tracks. The thing is, I’m a very chaotic person so my songs weren’t finished and I wasn’t really making things so structured. I definitely got something down though that I feel is worth pursuing. I’ve been a good servant to other groups, I’m very good at helping others. When I quit Soulwax I really needed to reconfigure everything. I thought, should I just pursue what I really want to do now? Can I do this? I had a lot of questions. It took me maybe a year, maybe two, to take it seriously and finally go, yes I am going to do this! Since then I’ve just been recording and recording. I did my first solo gig two weeks ago, just Steve behind the drums and singing and playing along with beats, all this kind of stuff. I’ve made it happen! It was the first time it was just me on a stage, I set up the challenge for myself and did it. Since I’ve done it, it’s made me think, well what took me so long?! Why haven’t I done this before? I guess things just take time.
B: It sounds like a really empowering thing for you.
SS: Oh absolutely. I feel like you could be holed up in your bedroom making music forever, once you do it on stage and sharing it with people that’s when it really starts becoming alive—that’s where the power is! It’s not just you in front of a computer, it’s not faceless anymore. Then you sense the real power that you have and why I am excite to just continue and perfect what I am doing. I feel like in a way that I have only started, it’s so exciting!
B: Yes! You’ve been making playing and making music for so long, you’ve been through many evolutions in your musical journey and now it’s just you doing everything yourself. That’s rad!
SS: It’s a very personal journey and it’s not been the easiest for me to share my stuff. I have difficulty because I am so precious about everything. Only a while ago I started to realise that certain things don’t really matter, just do it and it’ll evolve while I do it. What I realised I want to do is to share my openness for music and also the vulnerability that goes with it. I want to make things more personal, more intimate and human. I’ve been through so many musical styles and different careers you could say, what it’s boiling down to now is that, I’m 43 now but I still feel so young and excited about everything! I don’t have limitations that way, I think I’m right now to share what I think music is about. The three tracks I sent you have different styles and different feelings but in a way I’m just going to pursue it and try to present my music not just as a chaotic mess but as, this is what I think is possible! I want to present all these different things at the same time but still keep it me, if that makes sense?
B: It does. All of my all-time favourite artists do that. With the vocal on the “Fear” track you sent me I can definitely hear a vulnerability in your voice; I love that about it.
SS: That’s good. It’s really daunting to do it live. I definitely need practice to sing well [laughs]. I have a couple of gigs coming up. Where I’m at is that I’m trying to really hone in on, what is the core of the performance? To me it’s about spilling my guts and being opening, vulnerable but also, strong. I want to get good at that. Part of why I’m doing it on my own first is because I need to explore my own capabilities before I can draw anyone else into it. I guess I tend to be a little chaotic with other people [laughs].
B: A couple of weeks ago you posted on your Instagram about your solo debut gig and I was amused by your caption that said: pray for me!
SS: [Laughs] Yeah, I did put a lot of pressure on myself to do it. The show went by so fast, I only played for 25 minutes but I put a lot of work into it. When it was done I thought, what was all the fuss about? Come on let’s do another gig! I want to go again [laughs].
B: Last year you were telling me about a book you were reading called, The Significance of Spirituality of Music.
SS: Oh yes, I remember that. In the last two years I’ve just been exploring the core…let’s just say spirituality of music has become more present in my perception of things. Sometimes, not just as a musician, you get taken by this force or I would call it a source, that sometimes you just go really fast with something and it has to do with not thinking about something too much; just flowing through your feelings trying to express something that is bigger than you. I’ve always been interested in that, I remember reading a book when I was 16-17 called, The World of Sound. It was the first book I read as a teenager that linked music to the Universe. Music is the most beautiful language that exists, it doesn’t need words, people get it or they don’t. Basically if you look at music in this way it can be magic, you can use it as magic.
B: I am so glad you said that because I strongly believe that music is magic. It can create such an overwhelming energy whether you’re at a show or even if you’re just humming yourself—it’s all energy and vibrations.
SS: It is. It embodies so many different moods. The funny thing is when I look back on all the really angry music I listen to, like all the punk, it was never really about happiness but it was more about feeding the negative. That’s why I slowly withdrew from that scene in the early ‘90s, it was only about being angry or against something. I don’t want to generalise too much but honestly that’s the feeling I got from it, we’re all just getting together and moping about “the man” or “the system” but there’s only a few people that actually do something positive to counter it. I was someone who never really fit in, even in the punk scene. I had long hair when I was straightedge and the straightedge kids didn’t get me, I was playing in a crust band and didn’t have any problems with people drinking or whatever. When you see that music is such a rich language and you start to use the positive, that’s when things really start to move. There’s lots of ways to express yourself with music, you shouldn’t just stick to one thing; that’s kind of my thing! I want to marry a lot of different styles. I’ve always been very wary of just going in one direction too much, which is also kind of a punk thing.
B: [Laughs] Yes. I can really identify with all of the things you’re saying about the punk scene, I never really fit in either even though I’ve been a part of it for two decades and very actively involved in the community. For me a big part of my understanding and experience of punk is of turning negatives into positives.
SS: Yes that as well. You have educators like yourself and other artists and writers, you don’t have to be in a band to be that…let’s just say I get a bit tired when I feel I am in a scene. When the scene starts to revolve around itself it can become a little, not self-centred but, well you know, there are other things out there. I’ve gone to punk shows recently and it felt like things haven’t really changed very much, same music broadly, the same way of dressing—it’s a bit silly I think. I’m not so interested in that, I’m interested in the personal politics side of punk or the DIY culture. The DIY culture and ethos is the biggest reward I took from punk, that whole learning to do things yourself and learning to think for yourself. The power of punk is to just say: fuck it! I’m going to do it.
Love & light,