Following our review of Ro Maron’s retrospective compilation ‘Collected‘, released in January 2015 on Musique Pour La Danse, we caught up with legendary producer Ro Maron, real name Rembert De Smet, to discuss his musical heritage and the resurgence of New Beat, Acid and Rave music.
It’s been a long time since you were producing under the Ro Maron moniker. Recently there’s been a big resurgence of interest in Belgian New Beat music – how does it make you feel to be getting all this new attention now?
It feels a bit strange and surely unexpected, but why not?! I made these tracks to be used in that moment, but it seems that they are now more successful and searched for than at the time they came out. I was always a bit of an outsider in the scene.
What was the purpose of using ‘Ro Maron’ as your name when you were using a lot of other aliases anyway. Were you purposefully trying to be secretive or was it just a bit of fun?
The “Ro Maron” alias did already exist for another project (to write a song for a Eurovision candidate) and I used it later on for all my projects, apart from my group “2 Belgen“. Also I worked in very different directions – sometimes very hard and punk, sometimes lightly crazy or rather romantic or ambient. I found it nice to look for a name that matched with the atmosphere of the track. Also the Belgians are not very chauvinist so the more obscure and unknown the source was, the better!
American acid house music is a clear influence on your work. Can you remember how you first came across this music and what made you decide to incorporate it into your own?
Once I decided to make this kind of danceable music I looked for all kinds of sources and inspiration. In the beginning, the electronic New Wave bands that were sometimes raw and experimental; The Normal, Gary Numan, Fad Gadget, also old Ska and Dub Reggae – particularly Adrian Sherwood and On-U Sound. At that time I also found cassetes with real “House music“; a DJ with a rhythm box, one keyboard and a microphone – very basic and primitive. I was always thinking of a punk and experimental way to make this dance music.
Some commentators have picked up on the idea that you were so prolific in New Beat because you simply wanted to exploit it commercially. Is this a fair assessment? Were you spending all of your time in the studio or were you also actively involved in the club scene where the music was being played?
It is true that at the end of the 80’s all live pop groups had problems to survive. The groups were all still going, but the public weren’t interested. In place of a group a DJ was asked to perform, and all the live venues became temporary discotheques. As a musician it was a hard reality – it was time to look for another job, or take the opportunity to do studio work for this scene. Antler-Subway (our record company) gave us the opportunity to produce maxi singles at a very high frequency and were also very open-minded – it only had to be danceable.
I was not involved in the club scene at all, it was not my kind of nightlife but sometimes I passed by there to check out my productions on the big sound systems or to check a demo of a track (mostly it was at the Boccaccio in Ghent). See it as a sort of study/travel.
Did you have a specific technical approach to making these tracks, for instance certain synths that were used a lot?
In the beginning I used what I had – an Oberheim DX drum computer, a Matrix 6, an Akai sampler, a Pearl Syncussion, a Roland Juno and a lot of guitar effect pedals, a MC 500 sequencer and my old MCI 16 track tape recorder. Once I worked with Ferre Baelen (aka Bhab) we learned to use the real stuff – TR-909, TR-808, TB-303, and old analogue CV gate synths like the Korg Monopoly, Moog and Roland 101.
I found also a rather unique system to combine Midi with the old CV gate – most of the more “trance” tracks are the result of this combination, for example “Meditation“ by Air of Gloom. There was always a sort of uncontrollable hazard and wildness in this way of working.
I understand you’re a multi-instrumentalist. Were you classically trained as a musician at a young age? If so do you think this meant you found it easier to be so prolific making dance tracks that were perhaps a little simpler in terms of their construction?
Let‘s say my whole life through I was a singer – as a boy I was already in a church choir and I have to confess that I learned a lot doing that! But for all the instruments I am playing, it is very basic. I learn just the musical lines that I need at that moment.
The exception is the guitar, that is like a part of my body – it is hard for me to sing without that guitar under my vocal. I think classical training is something above – when you use it functionally it can lead to perfection. But in many cases I know it is closing more doors than it opens.
Did you continue to maintain an interest in electronic music after the New Beat era ended?
I follow the changing climate in the music scene; even big live festivals like Werchter in Belgium are completely changing their opinion. DJ’s are really big acts now and many live groups are completely influenced by the electronic dance scene, such as Stromae, Oscar and the Wolf, Amatorski, James Blake… I have also a son who is completely involved in producing dance tracks, he keeps me informed about all the new things that are happening now.
Finally, have you considered making any new music as Ro Maron – or do you think it’s something you might do in the future?
At this moment I am really into a totally different music. I am writing and singing songs in my own Flemish language and I am trying to get them recorded, using voice, guitar and clarinet. But I never say never! Music is music in all different forms and maybe my son can be an extra stimulant!
Ro Maron Collected is out now via Musique Pour La Danse, order a vinyl copy from Boomkat.Ro MaronMusique Pour La DanseJanuary 2015AcidNew BeatRave