They may be in their third decade of making music, but it still feels like Soulwax is deeply underappreciated, at least in America. The Belgian dance outfit (brothers David and Stephen Dewaele, aka 2ManyDJs, and Stefaan Van Leuven) released their first album in 1996 and have remixed and collaborated with a who's-who of dance music artists since, from LCD Soundsystem, Daft Punk and Gorillaz to Hot Chip, Justice and MGMT. But despite their consistent remix work, the group doesn't release studio albums very regularly, with their last record, From Deewee, arriving 12 years after 2005's Nite Moves.
With Soulwax booked for Coachella, the band played their first headlining U.S. concerts in eight years this week, including a stop at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 19 as part of the Goldenvoice Presents April series. Having just announced a new album (Essential, due out June 20), fans can only hope that the group decides to return to the States with a proper tour because their show at Fonda was nothing short of transcendent.
Playing in front of a deliriously excited sold out crowd, the propulsive, percussive sound that Soulwax is known for felt supercharged in concert. Much of that had to do with the seven-piece live band, which included three drummers (one of whom, Igor Cavalera, was the co-founder of Sepultura with his brother Max). It would be easy to reach for a 2manydrummers joke, but the polyrhythms of their music and its emphasis on percussive bursts (especially on From Deewee standouts "Missing Wires" and "Is It Always Binary") made it a necessary personnel decision rather than an indulgence.
With the clattering drums and retro synths, Soulwax at times felt like Kraftwerk playing with a marching band. But the lighting, outfits and stage setup were reminiscent of another influence: LCD Soundsystem. The entire band was decked out in white collared shirts and black slacks, mimicking their simple but hugely effective strobed lighting rig. And although their singing voices are very different, Stephen Dewaele, like James Murphy, clutches the mic to his face with the same mix of power and vulnerability, as if he finally mustered the courage to share an urgent secret.
The opening medley "No Drums/ Do You Wanna Get Into Trouble" foretold the rest of the set, as the group moved seamlessly from one song to the next, all the way to the final song before the encore, "NY Excuse." The sustained energy took the crowd from excited to ecstatic, as the non-stop mix and minimal stage banter created the vibe of a DJ mix as performed by a large ensemble of musicians. Plenty of artists aspire for that aesthetic but few have the experience and chops to execute it as well as Soulwax did.
American fans can hold out hope that the band returns soon for another tour but if not, diehards might consider a trip overseas to see them in Europe; Soulwax is that good in concert.
Check out a slideshow from the band's Fonda performance above and keep it on AXS.com for more news on the band if and when they return to America.