R&S Records celebrates four decades of incredible music with a new compilation, In Order To Dance 4.0. We look at the label’s history with Renaat and some of its artists.
What’s your first memory of hearing an R&S record? Was it a slamming new beat cut at a Belgian club in the late ‘80s? Maybe it was ‘Energy Flash’ or an early Aphex Twin track. It could even have been James Blake or Lone in the 2010s. With 40 years of history, R&S is the rare kind of label that crosses generations. That’s incredible for any label, period, but for a dance outfit, it’s miraculous.
The fact that R&S can be both nostalgic and currently relevant, and mean just as much to Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z, is an astounding feat. This positions R&S as more than just a label but as a driver of culture, a beacon for the scene.
Founded in 1983 by real-life partners Renaat Vandepapeliere and Sabine Maes (the R and S in R&S), the Belgian label has since continued to be a driving force in dance music culture. This is largely due to an eclectic roster of producers and releases that prioritize quality and artistic integrity but also – and importantly – the instinctive vision of Renaat, who handles all of the A&R.
The label’s latest release, In Order To Dance 4.0, simultaneously celebrates this four-decade milestone as well as furthers the label’s long-standing custom of using the compilation series as a platform to showcase emerging artists. It’s also characteristically eclectic, with tracks covering techno, breaks, jungle, acid and other genres. And no surprise, it’s all top-shelf stuff.
This is the perfect time then to look back at the history of R&S and examine its cultural relevancy through the eyes of its founder and some of its artists.
Rock To The New Beat
R&S began in Ghent, Belgium in 1983. It hit its stride in the late ‘80s, releasing a sure-shot stream of tough new beat records, many produced by Renaat, a musician and DJ, himself. If you don’t know, new beat was one of the most exciting things happening in electronic music at the time, with clubgoers regularly traveling from all over Europe and the British Isles to hear the latest records at Boccaccio and other legendary clubs.
R&S was at the center of this circus, pumping out tunes like Space Opera’s “Mandate My Ass” and “Acid Alien” by Spock Jr., both Renaat records. New beat was to be short-lived, with its slower BPM count soon rising to match the house and techno records that were making their way over from America. R&S would soon pivot to embrace these new genres and become a global force to be reckoned with.
Rave Signals and Mentasms
Those who started raving in the early ‘90s will often claim Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’ and Jaydee’s ‘Plastic Dreams’ as their own. Of the R&S artists that we talked to for this piece – Ink of Loxy & Ink, Saytek and Dino Lenny – all of them checked these two records as their earliest R&S memories. Dino Lenny: “In the late ‘80s I used to be resident in a club in Malta called Axis. Dropping ‘Energy Flash’ was always something special. Each time I played it, the dance floor turned into a different scene from the future. People’s way of dancing changed and their faces too.” Can’t you just see it?
As tempos sped up, R&S was there to release a new wave of European records from the likes of CJ Bolland, Frank de Wulf and Outlander, whose ‘Vamp’ is another oft-mentioned favorite. Now with a global reach, the label was able to provide a platform for overseas artists as well, including Joey Beltram, Dave Angel, Carl Craig and a kid from Cornwall who went by the name Aphex Twin.
Richard James debuted on R&S with ‘Didgeridoo,’ a record that Renaat has claimed only sold 20 copies in its first year, followed soon after by Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1 on the R&S offshoot, Apollo Records. Live techno artist Saytek, who features on In Order To Dance 4.0, remembers first hearing it at the age of 12. “I was totally blown away by this music. It was the first time I realized how emotional electronic music could be.”
Silent Space: Taking a Break
After 17 years and enough releases to fill a warehouse, Renaat and Sabine pulled the plug on R&S Records and retired to raise horses. (And here you thought the label logo was because they liked fast cars.) “Everything became extremely corporate,” Renaat explains. “It’s the normal cycle. I’m not criticizing, but I (was) done. The excitement (was) gone.”
But he couldn’t stay away. And how could he? How can a musician and DJ not want to be involved with music?
Make Love To A Machine: R&S Records 2.0
R&S Records started up again in 2009, this time with Renaat determined to do things more in line with his own artistic vision. “For a long, long time, (R&S) was a technique label,” explains Renaat, “and there was nothing else you could do. But by taking that rest, I (now) feel … that people are more open to (new kinds of music). They’re not on your back because I’m releasing a jazz track.”
I was totally blown away by this music. It was the first time I realized how emotional electronic music could be.
R&S post-2009 is certainly a more eclectic beast, with a wide variety of genres and styles represented. James Blake released some of his earliest (and finest) work with R&S, as did Lone, whose technicolor techno and rave are worlds away from Blake’s deconstructionist soul.
Horsepower: Renaat, The Driving Force
Despite the variety, though, it all feels like it belongs together, and this is because it has all been curated by Renaat. You could call what he does A&R and yet it’s so much more than that. Every label has A&R but R&S Records manages to make it into something a little more relevant, a little more special.
“I’m a music fan. End of story,” says Renaat, explaining why he does what he does. R&S is not a techno label, or a house label, or an IDM label, although it has releases that fit into all these genres. No, it’s a music label, and that’s all down to Renaat and his wide taste in music.
Listening to Renaat talk about R&S Records, you realize that he doesn’t handle A&R as a businessman but as an artist – intuitively, with feeling and a desire to have a good time. “You know, I can only be myself,” he explains, “be honest… Actually, you know what R&S is? It’s a little, little thing. It’s this guy and I see myself going in a record shop and buying records and then listening to that. It’s nothing more than that. It’s as simple as that.”
Working intuitively, he sometimes makes mistakes though. “I make mistakes nonstop because I’m impulsive. I want to react fast. Of course, I make mistakes. I’m certainly not afraid of making them. Listen, it’s my passion. It’s my air. It’s my fun. It’s my life. It’s not even work.”
Actually, you know what R&S is? It's a little, little thing. It's this guy and I see myself going in a record shop and buying records and then listening to that. It's nothing more than that. It's as simple as that.”
Loxy & Ink: Inhabiting Eclecticism
Loxy & Ink may be known for drum and bass but the outfit is more eclectic than that. This makes them a perfect fit for R&S. Their release for the label, Manifested Visions, features not only their trademark high-speed heaters but also hip-hop, one of the few such hip-hop releases to appear on the label, something that the duo is proud of.
In fact, Loxy & Ink see themselves as more than just drum and bass producers, as Ink tells us. “To be honest, in my almost 30 years of making music, I’ve been very blessed to participate in all genres and styles that I have wanted to. Alongside drum and bass, I make hip-hop, house, techno, dub and breakbeat.”
When asked how he feels being on R&S, Ink says, “R&S has been a very special label for me for a great number of years, particularly with its impact on underground dance music around the world. Some of my favorite tracks of all time have been released on the label, so it is a great honor to be part of this legendary collective.”
Saytek: Live and Direct
Live techno musician Saytek has a track on the new compilation. When asked about being on R&S Records, his response echoed Ink’s: “It’s amazing! I was quite shocked when Renaat asked me about a track on a live stream during lockdown. When he asked if it was available I quickly edited it out of the recording of the live set and sent it to him. For me, it’s really a dream come true to be on the label that changed my life.”
Unlike most artists, who play live to promote records, Saytek has a 100% live approach. His records are literally that, recordings of a live set. “I love performing live and for me it’s about releasing music that I would play to people, not trying to recreate it in a DAW,” he tells us. “The feeling and the energy is different and it may be more raw and less polished but I am comfortable with that.”
Dino Lenny: Doing This
Italian producer Dino Lenny is another R&S first-timer appearing on In Order To Dance 4.0. His style blends house and techno with classic dance elements, as you can hear in “Did This,” the cut on the comp. “I’m trying to save the past (by) throwing it into the future. I don’t like where electronic music is going. Saying that, there is also a lot of good music out there to be discovered. We just need more labels like R&S!”
As for how he arrived at the unique groove in “Did This,” he says, “My head is a mishmash of random electronic memories. I’m like a broken jukebox. I jump from one thing to another. It’s like cooking. Sometimes there are odd combinations that work really well together. That’s when you have created something different.”
I could make a compilation with all the big names that the kids know. That’s very easy. But for us, as it has always been, we give all those new young people a chance, give them a platform. Not that we are God or anything special but it does help for some people
With his own personal eclecticism, Dino feels comfortable being on R&S: “I think it’s my perfect home. I love Renaat and what he has done for the industry. Not many like him.”
Giving Young People A Chance
“The thing that I’m proud of is that we are not trying to repeat ourselves and we have given young people a chance,” sums up Renaat. “I could make a compilation with all the big names that the kids know. That’s very easy. But for us, as it has always been, we give all those new young people a chance, give them a platform. Not that we are God or anything special but it does help for some people.”
Or, as Saytek says so succinctly: “Without R&S, electronic music wouldn’t be the same.”
While you’re here, if you like R&S you’ll enjoy:
Deconstructed: Vordhosbn by Aphex Twin
Deconstructed: Energy Flash by Joey Beltram