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Session 4000

For our last interview in this series we gladly took our time to sit down with Damien Dardenne (aka Session4000, aka Dardenne): rather fresh in the city of Ghent, but an established value in the scene. He is a DJ with a tour schedule that reads like a travel brochure (Stockholm, Marseille, Tbilisi, …), a producer of many groovy tracks that resonate with artists like Anthea, Sugar Free and Sunju Hargun,  but most of all an utterly cheerful appearance: from Brussels to Ghent, with love.

︎︎︎ Soundcloud
︎︎︎ Funke exclusive set
︎︎︎ Spotify Playlist

— What sparked your interest in music?
When I was a kid sports, and football in particular, was everything to me. I briefly played for Standard de Liège but mostly for RFC Hannutois. When I was 12 I got gravely injured - big big bummer. A local party for youngsters became my escape. It was organized as part of Télévie: a charity in which my father is involved and that raises money for leukemia and cancer research. I played there for the first time when I was 14 years old; think of super commercial tunes and a DJ-booth with a microphone.

My brother was way into music. Thanks to him I discovered artists like Jeff Mills and Dave Clarke and music forged a strong bond between us. Later, my brother passed away. It’s been very emotional because if you come to think of it: thanks to him I am who I am today.

My brother had issues with addiction so my parents were hesitant to see me pursuing my thing in the scene. Nowadays they reckon the fact that it makes me happy and that I make a living out of it and they truly support me. Over time things became better; they visited Ojoo once for instance - which was the perfect context for them to get acquainted with all of this.

We lived in Hannut - not exactly a place with vibrant nightlife. I went to Fuse a couple of times, on my own. In Liège I discovered the electro scene with Forma.T’s parties who invited Ed Banger Records. I started to play in Liège and later in Brussels at Deep in House. Their crew noticed me roaming around there on my own and they were super welcoming, inviting me for the next editions as well. At the age of 21 I moved to Brussels. I quickly got to know a lot of people in the Brussels’ scene and my passion for music developed swiftly.

“ Producing also has a somewhat addictive side to it. In about a year I made almost 150 tracks. ”

— In what part does music bring bread to the table? What other job do you do on the side?
When I was younger I would have loved for music to be my only source of income, but financially that’s not easy to achieve. I worked at Essentiel and even as a personal shopper for a little while - quite an absurd experience, almost like in the movies. I like to connect and help people out and it doesn’t really matter if it’s with organizing a party or with clothes.

Today I’m working towards becoming fully self-employed through a trajectory called “Springplank naar zelfstandige”. I’m allowed to teach Ableton lessons, work in hospitality, help out friends in bars or restaurants and so on - right now the balance between all that and my own musical ambitions is good. Of course we love a good party once in a while, but over the years I discovered that there’s more in life than that.

“ Session4000 is a bit warmer and a bit more house-y - the Dardenne alias is more focused on chaos and techno. But the lines are getting blurry. ”

— How did you start producing?
Eight years ago a friend of mine sold some gear - it ended up in a dusty drawer for a year or two. The past five years though, I’ve been really focused on producing and learning all there is to learn. If you really want to develop a skill and you devote ample time, you’ll get better.

Three years ago, during covid, I followed an Ableton workshop by Eversines. It was all about finding a different approach and how to un-stuck your workflow. Up to this day that wokshop still helps me out. I want my Ableton students to get the same moment of Enlightenment. Often you can learn more from working together for one hour with someone else than by watching four hours of YouTube tutorials. I love Eversines, by the way, we’ll be doing a joined studio session sometime soon - he’s kind of a personal hero of mine and it’s surreal that somehow we’re working together now.

Producing also has a somewhat addictive side to it. In about a year I made almost 150 tracks. I party less than I used to: so more energy, more producing - simple as that. Often I’ll find myself in the zone and I’d have to force myself to do something else, like sports. It’s not really healthy either, to be producing most of the time. At night in bed you might be hearing three melodies at the same time with the vocal of another track bouncing on top. You have to let go sometimes.

— Can you explain the difference between Dardenne and Session 4000?
Session4000 is a bit warmer and a bit more house-y - the Dardenne alias is more focused on chaos and techno. The distinction came into life because people get confused when you bring two very different kinds of music under one moniker. Nowadays the lines are becoming even more blurry because everything changes and evolves - like tempos for example. House sets used to float around 124 bpm, which feels rather slow and boring to me now, whereas techno at 140 bpm is no longer considered super fast. I often play the same records as Session4000 and Dardenne, but I’d use them in a different way.

I got a little side tracked the last couple of months, by focusing too much on finding a certain very specific niche that I could call my own. I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the records I was buying and playing. It was forced and it didn’t really feel like myself. But it clicked for me with the realization that I can enjoy listening to a different niche than the music I’d dig for and play. So now I’m back on track, digging for groovier stuff. It definitely has to do with me moving to Ghent as well, I believe.

— Can you elaborate on that?
In Brussels the dancefloor often feels somewhat more intellectual, which isn’t far-fetched given the fact that it would often be flooded with other DJ’s. More than 40 diggers in the crowd wondering what you’re playing can cause some stress. Other DJs might focus more on the digging aspect but I focused more on the production side for a bit, so I lost some groove in my digging, my performance. A crowd can feel that too, which is challenging and then there is no escape.

Brussels has a dark and grim edge. It’s melancholic in a way. Intense as well - metro, boulot, dodo - in a way that I came to dislike. I feel happy and more at ease, living in Ghent nowadays. On the music side of things, there’s less pressure. You don’t need to play the rare, or expensive records to get a crowd enjoying and dancing. It’s a bit faster - more pumpy and techy maybe. When I go out myself, I DANCE and when I’m behind the booth I’d expect the crowd wants to party as well - not just listen. When you get the balance right, you feel like the king of the world, there is no way to explain that.

But for sure I still love Brussels. I’m going back more often now, to my friends over there at Crevette, Sono Ventura, C12, … I enjoy those moments and I’m glad to return to my lovely 9000 afterwards.

“ I believe that everyone who’s involved in music wants to organize an event at some point. ”

— You arrived in Ghent at an interesting time. A lot of young initiatives are sprouting - how do you try to contribute to the scene here?
I try to convince them that it’s not all about partying in life. Of course: a nice and long session on the dancefloor every once in a while can bring so much energy and inspiration, but it’s nice to know when to stop. If you’re really serious about music, you should approach it in a serious way. And even then it’s not easy - certainly as an organizer. With Naastelkaar (Damien’s series of events he hosts in Chinastraat with Marvin) I’m happy if we reach break-even. I can’t take any more financial risks but I believe that everyone who’s involved in music wants to organize an event at some point.

There’s a lot of local young talent in Ghent, that’s for sure. But it seems that all they want is to move to Brussels as soon as they can. It feels a bit sour because Ghent has a lot of potential but Ghent-Brussels often appears like a one way street.

In general, I feel like festivals and clubs from Ghent, Antwerp and so forth are investing a lot in artist rotation and trying to give a lot of opportunities to as many local artists as possible. Whereas festivals and clubs from around Brussels, would generally book Brussels’ artists as locals - but not necessarily DJ’s from Ghent or any other town. This is of course a generalization - not every Brussels’ club is approaching booking this way, but still, I can’t help feeling like this, no longer living in Brussels.

— Your schedule looks packed for the coming weeks - how do you feel about that?
My schedule is full until the end of March which feels really good. There’s a bunch of tracks about to be released, I think that’s part of the explanation. One of those releases is on the label of Anthea, who’s a very important ambassador for me. I also got some lovely support from Pieter Jansen (who’s behind Breakfast Club en yeyeh) and his buddy Eversines. To be honest with you, it’s kind of crazy how much stuff is going on. I’d often find myself randomly smiling like a little kid.

I do my own bookings nowadays and I only play one gig each weekend. When I'm booked abroad I try to go there on Thursday and stay until Monday or even Tuesday - to discover the city, its scene and just hang back a little. Often I can stay with the promoters so my only real expense is getting some food in my belly. It’s not always possible, but as long as I can approach touring like that, I’m super happy. For instance in March I’m going back to Georgia to play two gigs and do some skiing in between, together with my girlfriend.

What’s interesting to see also in other countries: small-scale clubs are struggling. No one wants to take too many big risks. Not easy to pinpoint the exact reason(s) but generally commercial clubbing, with big room names, still draws a lot of attention from young audiences. But I can feel it changing. There’s a lot of optimism.

— What role does Funke play for you?
It means the world to me - both as a dancer and as an artist. Funke is like a hard working family. I’m so glad to have landed here. I’m given opportunities here to organize stuff together, to give input and to truly collaborate.

For many artists who already played there, Funke is one of the best clubs in Europe, by the way. Both on a technical level as crew-wise; artists are lyrical about it. It’s a combination between this intimate club feeling, a very human approach, the long performances and the late closing hour, the exquisite soundsystem, the balance between established and fresh artists, … A magical venue, our little pocket club.

— Do you have a specific ritual, preparing for a gig?
Not really. I’m a dancer forever - even before my set. I’ll try to be there at least one hour beforehand - not to talk or to chill, but to really catch the vibe and analyze the dancefloor a bit. At the same time, I’ll try to close off a bit and be in my own bubble. Sorry to everyone who ever approached me before my set - I’m not an asshole, I’m trying to focus!

— What is your happy place?
The apartment I share with Julie, my girlfriend. I recently moved in here, so there’s still some boxes laying around but that doesn’t matter. It’s a home and it makes me feel intensely happy. We both have a cat - mine is called Skippy, hers is called Puk - they’re not the best mates yet but they tolerate each other, which is something already.

— What are you looking forward to in the (near) future?
Next month it’s release time for a new Session4000 EP on Locked In. Apparently record stores ordered more copies than expected so that’s really cool. Sometime next year I’ll be releasing EP’s on Psionic and on Anthea’s & Velasco’s label PARTI PILLZ.

Later in 2024 something will be released on yeyeh, thanks to the lovely referral from Remco (Eversines). I started talking to Pieter Jansen from yeyeh through Instagram - after a first video call it felt like we’d been longtime friends. Me, an almost bilingual Walloon, and a legend from the Amsterdam scene establishing a pure connection. Crazy. Last but not least, I’ll contribute a track on a VA on Off The Grid Records.

As Dardenne I’m not releasing (yet) on any label. But after super positive feedback from artists - and personal heroes of mine - like Efdemin, Sunju Hargun, Spekki Webbu, Carl H, Woody 92, Marco Shuttle, … and also Julie (and that’s even crazier, haha!) I decided to put out two digital releases soon through Bandcamp on my own “Trouvegroove rec.” imprint.

I’m so glad to everyone who is trusting me and treating me - still quite a newcomer - with so much kindness and warmth. It gives me the energy to really push the limits and step outside of my comfort zone.

Interview with Dardenne + words by Hans Empereur