For a city of 250,000, Ghent has done more than its fair share for electronic music. Places like Birmingham and Sheffield are more readily singled out as crucial medium-sized techno hubs, but Ghent has been every bit as important to the genre’s global development. R&S Records, the label founded in the mid-’80s by locals Renaat Vandepapeliere and Sabine Maes, is its most famous contribution. The imprint can be counted among electronic music’s most influential, having released the early work of seminal artists like Aphex Twin, Joey Beltram and DJ Hell. Ghent was also home to countless New Beat artists throughout the ’80s, while more recent alumni include Token, easily one of the best techno labels operating today.
You get a sense for how this has all been possible when visiting events like Kozzmozz, a quarterly techno party that’s been taking place for 20 years. Consistently no-nonsense lineups are assembled for each edition, drawing artists from techno’s top-tier and bringing them to a 20th-century theatre in Ghent’s historical centre. For the first session of 2015, the organiser’s put together one of the more interesting bills in recent memory, with slots for Shifted, Paula Temple, Abdulla Rashim, Jeroen Search and Inigo Kennedy, who was a late replacement for Planetary Assault Systems. On paper, it seemed like the quintessential Dutch-Flemish techno rave experience: massive sound, lasers and big rooms full of screaming teenagers. I was greeted with exactly that.
It could almost go without saying, but the music was brilliant from start to finish. I spent most of my time in the main room, where Shifted, Inigo Kennedy and Kozzmozz resident Kr!z delivered excellent sets, all of them very different. Following a steady warm-up from resident Spacid, Shifted played live for the second time in his project’s career. He showed a more no-frills approach than his more intricate and deeper solo releases might suggest, nicely suiting the big-room setting. Made up of unreleased loops and sketches, the set kept the energy high and steady for the entire hour. I’ve always thought a DJ or live act is doing something right when something as simple as a snare or hi-hat coming in brings about whoops and applause, and this was precisely the case for Shifted.
The night’s DJs were similarly well-received. Giving Abdulla Rashim the opening slot in room two was a good move, and though I only caught a small part of his set, he seemed in complete control as people rapidly filed in. It’s hopefully a sign of things to come, considering he’s becoming a more frequent guest at big parties like Kozzmozz. Paula Temple’s diesel-powered performance in the same room a few hours later couldn’t have been more different. I’m not sure if it’s experience or raw talent (or both), but the way she pieced together unconventional, extremely harsh-sounding industrial records in a way that made sense—and had people going bananas—was great to watch.
Kr!z’s closing set, while also very distinct, shared similar qualities to Temple’s. I’ve seen the Token boss in action many times, but I’ve never considered him a particularly accessible selector. Seeing him at Kozzmozz, though, gave me a new perspective on his style. He plays loopy, often tool-like music, but unlike many working with similar tracks, there’s an energy boost almost every time a new tune comes in. A lot of this has to do with track selection (almost every cut had a strange hook, often a weird vocal or interesting bleep), but I think it’s largely thanks to Kr!z’s mixing. He constantly works the EQ, and brings in tracks with sharp cuts and great timing, never messing up the flow with lulls in energy or clunky transitions. It’s the perfect style for a party like Kozzmozz, and it clearly works—the main room was still packed at the planned finishing time of 7 AM, so organisers kept things going for another 45 minutes to avoid sending a few hundred people onto the streets at once.
It’s the kind of problem most parties would be glad to have, and apparently it’s a regular occurrence at Kozzmozz. A few minutes before I left at the end of the night, I found myself looking around in awe. Kr!z had just dropped Regis’s “Baptism,” and the room was still heaving. There are few regular parties of Kozzmozz’s size able to keep hundreds of young people dancing to Downwards and Stanislav Tolkachev records until almost 8 AM, and at times throughout the night, I couldn’t help but think there was a good chance that I was sharing the dance floor with the founders of the next R&S or Token.