interview

Koen Galle brings back Mantris: from Mumbai with love

With Souvenirs From Imaginary Cities, Dirk Eggermont aka Mantris sends a first public sign of life after suddenly disappearing from the Belgian dance scene in the mid-1990s. The album sketches the imagination of an introvert who continued to make music anonymously in a small flat in Mumbai. For Koen Galle, it was reason enough to start a new label with a metropolitan left field listening experiment.

The cinematic ambient on "Heaven", "Day After Day" and "Amber" initially seems to be miles away from house and techno tracks such as "Sleeping World", "Sfhere" and "Atlantis", which Eggermont broadcasted to the wider world as a teenager in 1992. Together with his travel companion, Christoph Waelkens who also released new work on the Brussels Vlek-label last year, he was behind such illustrious pseudonyms as The Black Sun and Brown Hardware Inc.

They released a series of ep's and twelve inches on cult label Elektron, a division of the Antwerp USA Import Records, which acted as a hub for many pioneers from the local dance scene. Like all things nineties, vintage beats from Belgium are becoming a hype again, and the Brussels DJ and label boss Koen Galle is now taking advantage of this.

Via Skype, Eggermont tells us that this is his first interview since moving to India for good two decades ago. This is a novelty for the hermit type with a passion for sound experimentation, because he has always felt most at ease when incognito. That has up until now never been a problem three flights up in a nine-storey block of flats in the Society district of a metropolis like Mumbai, with a wife and eight-year-old daughter as the main occupants.

“In this corner by the window, I feel very comfortable. On these four square metres, I do my homework as a design manager during office hours and almost all of my free time is spent creating music in exactly the same place. Here, I can conjure up a whole world. In fact, I was happy with the lockdown. As I didn't have to move around for work, I had even more time for my passion. So this is also where the seeds were sown for Souvenirs From Imaginary Cities, the first music I sent to Koen.” The album was not only considered good enough for a first new release in decades, but also for hanging a label on.

From hard- to software
“I started collecting records when I was fourteen: first house, techno and new beat,” says Eggermont, looking back on his wonder years in the Flemish community of Waregem. “Since then, I've broadened my horizons and listen to all genres, except rock. That's right at the bottom of my list after world, ambient, dance, jazz, classical, R&B... As teenagers we mainly went to the 55 in Kuurne, Peter Decuypere's night-club, who later also started I Love Techno and Fuse. I met some of the right people, and I became friends with Christoph, who had a synthesizer and a drum computer. That's how I got into the scene, which was much more underground back then. I remember legendary parties in the Boccaccio in Destelbergen and in a bunker somewhere in Germany, but the 55 had the best sound. When the club closed in 1992, my interest in the scene also decreased rapidly.” But he still left his credits on a few vintage vinyl releases.

Few knew that Eggermont continued to make music after that. Not even Galle. The resident of Brussels who spins records as Kong DJ at the C12 first discovered Eggermont's old productions at the Antwerp record shop Wally's Groove World. Galle: “I only made the link with Eggermont when I came into contact with Christoph via Vlek. When we were writing the press text for his new record, he started telling me about his pioneering years and about Dirk.”

Dirk turned out to have moved to India. “Even though my first introduction to the country in 2000 was an enormous culture shock, I have been here 21 years now,” he tells us. “I have always felt attracted to the East. I loved world music and Indian rhythms, the most difficult to master, have always fascinated me. This is exactly why Christoph once gave me a leaflet with information about a tabla course. I took lessons for three years and after that I went on a one-year trip to India. I returned, but I could not find my way back into Belgium. I didn't make music for four years, until I had a job here, a flat and a computer. I hadn't planned to start again. Also, I had always been used to working with hardware. But once I got to know the right software, I was sold again. Nowadays, I don't even have a synthesizer, just a USB controller and a keyboard. Everything is done through the software. That's the greatest difference with the old days.”

“Whereas we in Belgium were wondering what kind of hardware was involved,” Galle laughs. “We fantasised about the instruments Dirk had used, and about how he had recorded the drums. Until he with a huge grin told us that it all came from his computer.”

Magical realism
“I used to be mainly into beats and rhythms,” says Eggermont. “Christoph took care of the keyboards. Now I do both, there's more melody in my pieces.” He slices up drum samples and then enriches them with extra virtual synthesizers and drum computers. “What I find most interesting is that he makes music averse to all hypes and tendencies,” Galle continues. “He was among the first in Belgium after The Summer of Love, which came over from Chicago and Detroit, to buy equipment and start experimenting with electronic music. But this new music seems to come out of nowhere, it sounds so rich and imaginative. I do recognise the same urge to experiment, but Souvenirs From Imaginary Cities is anything but a copy of what he used to do. His sounds, ideas and field of vision have evolved enormously.”

For Galle, the link with the past is above all a useful hook. “When I delivered the record to Optimo, the legendary Scottish DJ-duo, they told me that they often played Dirk's old 12 inches in the 1990s. But I feel just as much appreciation for the variety and the surprising twists and turns of his new release.” For Galle, who runs the house label Ensemble and had been looking for an outlet for his interest in ambient for some time now, Eggermont's soundscapes came at just the right time.

“The identity of the album coincides with that of the label, which I founded together with the Antwerp brothers from Hill Men. Above all, we too want to create atmosphere. With the music we release, but also with the visuals by our designer Floris Machiels, with the helicopter images we share via our social media and with a future podcast project. Are you familiar with Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino? That beautiful example of magical realism is also an inspiration. Every song on Dirk's record is such an invisible, imaginary city to me, and that's how he too conceived it.”

“My music is always lush,” Eggermont concludes. I love dance songs that only float to beats and feel cold, but my creations are always warm. The atmosphere prevails. I think the ten new songs all speak for themselves. I'm an introvert. When I was eighteen, I barely opened my mouth. India has made me more assertive and open. There is no social security here. You have to take care of yourself. So I'm talking a bit more these days but making music remains my channel.”

1736 DJ Mantris Vinyl Mockup

Mantris: Souvenirs from Imaginary Cities
Release: 22/1, mantris.bandcamp.com/releases

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