Two weeks ago Julius and I met Philippe Coicou aka Kwak, founder of the Strictly Niceness (SN) parties, for a drink in the Flagey area. We mostly talked about SN, Brussels’ nightlife, and music in general. Spinning records by night and journalist by day, Kwak also hosts the Back to Niceness show on FM Brussel.
Kwak – Picture by Tim Sallé
Simon: Since 2002 you’ve been hosting the Strictly Niceness parties, How did it start?
Kwak: Let me give you some background because it didn’t happen just like that. It began with a party Eleven and I threw for our respective birthdays. We wanted to play music we enjoyed, because at that time Brussels was only about electro-clash, house music, commercial Hip Hop / RnB… Back then I didn’t find what I was looking for at the Fuse, Mirano or Louise Gallery for instance.
Simon: Were you looking for a more old school sound?
Kwak: We wanted a different sound. Once Bernard Dobbeleer (one of our resident DJ’s and programmer on Classic 21) said in an interview: “It’s not counter-programming, but almost.” Its true. We couldn’t identify ourselves with what was given to us at the time. We really wanted to enjoy what we were playing, and it’s really nice to see that after ten years we’re still having fun.
Gilles Peterson & Bernard Dobbeleer – Picture by Michael “Kanfu” De Plaen
Simon: Why the name Strictly Niceness?
Kwak: Another brilliant concept that came out my productive mind (laughs)… honestly, it is all about the niceness, the enjoyment found in what we are doing. We knew we weren’t going to gather a thousand people at the club with these events. Even though we proved that theory wrong last November…
Simon: You think Strictly Niceness aims for a certain kind of public?
Kwak: No, no, anybody who wants to come to our parties, as long as they have manners, behave well, and most importantly want to be there are most welcome. I don’t want to target b-boys, hipsters or anybody… We just want to present the music that we love.
Simon: You’re not by yourself when hosting those parties…
Kwak: The idea of Strictly Niceness was originally ignited by DJ Eleven and I. Later on, we got Bernard Dobbeleer on board. Bernard is working on Classic 21 (Belgian radio station), has been a dj for 35 years and has a serious musical culture. Eleven eventually left, Bernard stayed. In September, we decided to open a second room (The Attic) with 2 other residents Ric-O and Funky Bompa. And we also invite guest DJ’s on a regular basis.
Funky Bompa – Picture by Michael “Kanfu” De Plaen
Julius: Ten years have gone by, what changed?
Kwak: Music and nightlife have become “niche” businesses. Each urban tribe goes wherever it thinks it will hear the music that corresponds to them. I regret this situation…
Julius: But that does not apply to Strictly Niceness, people attending your parties come for different horizons.
Kwak: Maybe… It’s true we gather different groups of people, that’s a good thing. If we didn’t gather different kinds of people while playing the music we love at the same time, personally it would have been a failure.
Julius: Well I think that’s what you’re what doing right now, how did you achieve that?
Kwak: We offer something different. With us you can hear some rare groove or the latest Azari & III. We can play the whole musical spectrum since the 50s: house, hip hop, rock (it happened), drum n’bass, techno, salsa, afrobeat,… you name it. Within our niche (and I hate this word) we have a rather large vision. We want it soulful, real, givin’ it to you raw butt-naked you know. In that way, yes, we’ve achieved something. But it’s an everyday struggle. Strictly Niceness is of course a lot of joy but its also a lot of work: promotion, graphic design, … a teamwork. So let’s not forget Reedoo who is taking care of the logistics during the parties.
Picture by Michael “Kanfu” De Plaen
Simon: You host a radio show called “Back to Niceness” on FM Brussel…
Kwak: I’m from a generation that grew up with radio. My first radiophonic memory was the night Elvis died. I was 8 years old, in Paris, with my mother in law and my dad, and I spent the whole night hooked on a show live from Memphis, listening to the host talking about the downfall of the king of rock. That memory always struck me. It’s what made me want to become journalist.
“Back to Niceness” was Eleven’s idea. It’s kind of a foretaste, aftertaste, whatever you want call it,… it complements “Strictly Niceness” (the parties). So, how it happened… I made a draft of my project that I sent to a couple of french speaking radio stations, never got any answer from them. Then I called FM Brussel, told them ” Hello, DJ Kwak calling, I’d like to do a show” they said “OK you’re starting next week” … just like that. That’s how I got started, and it’s been 4 years and a half that we do it on a weekly basis (every Saturday 6-8pm CET). Our show is on Mixcloud as well. From a public relation point of view, all of my work is oriented towards the promotion of the Strictly Niceness parties…
Simon: Tell me a little bit about yourself, who is Kwak? What’s your story?
Kwak: I grew up with parents who loved music, so I’ve always been surrounded by records.
Simon: Different styles of records?
Kwak: Yes, my dad was from Haiti, so there was salsa, Haitian music, rock, soul, jazz,…. And since I was an 80’s kid, I got into Sugarhill Gang and Motorhead’s Ace of Spades… In my face, both of them, at the same time (laughs) Thats where I come from. Afterward I started listening to hip hop then soul/funk, and then back to hip hop (trying to spot who sampled who), then I listened to rock. After this musical journey I phased out for a while… and then I met Geofroid Simonart during my studies (whom I salute if he’s reading this) he was really into music and made me listen to a load of punk tracks, new wave…
Back then, music wasn’t categorized like it is today. You could really mix different genres. We stopped considering music as a whole. I regret that, I’m someone who’s against communitarianism, in terms of religions, ethnicity, music, …
Kwak – Picture by Michael “Kanfu” De Plaen
Simon: You’re a journalist for Focus Vif as well…
Kwak: That’s right I do a weekly column for Focus Vif. It’s called “In My Hard Drive” and I write about what I’ve been listening to lately. I started in October with Motorhead for example, which I saw live about 20 times! I’m a huge Motorhead fan as much as a Public Enemy fan. So I write about rock, hip-hop, or even the latest dubstep record. I’m a music lover. A punk/skinhead record from the late 80’s, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Souls of Mischief’s 93 ‘Til Infinity, John Coltrane’s Alabama, Agnostic Front’s Liberty and Justice for All… Music feeds my soul.
Reedoo – Picture by Michael “Kanfu” De Plaen
Simon: Are you planning big things for 2012?
Kwak: Strictly Niceness will celebrate it’s 10 anniversary this year. We already made two prestige parties, one with Gilles Peterson, the other with Rich Medina. Two guys with mad skills. I’m really proud we made it to 10 years. You know, projects come and go and they depends on wether the original idea was good.
In June we’re planing a birthday party featuring just the family, 3 teams of DJs: Funky Bompa & Ric-O, Eleven & Reedoo, Bernard Dobbeleer and I. I never forget that I’m not the only the person who founded Strictly Niceness. I didn’t get the idea by myself, Eleven thought about it with me. He’s my friend and I’m proud that we launched this project together. Even if he is not part of the team anymore, he’s 50 percent responsible for the birth, success, and longevity of Strictly Niceness. It’s simple math.
Julius: Would you sign up for 10 more years?
Kwak: I’m not sure… would you?
Julius: Yes why not, as long as we don’t do the same thing twice..
Kwak: In 10 years, I’ll be 53. I don’t know if I’ll still want to DJ at parties until the break of day at that age… Right now I’m really excited by these events. So I don’t know if I’d sign up for 10 years, but 5 for sure.
Simon: Any last words?
Kwak: One more thing, I’d like to wish LDBK a happy 10th anniversary. Laid Back and Strictly started at the same time and I’m glad to see where we are now. We followed a similar path, went through the same struggles, grew up together… Even though our shows, our techniques are different I’m glad we went through this journey together. Happy Birthday LDBK!