Founded in 1992, Bonzai Records grew to be one of the world’s most unstoppable trance and progressive labels, spawning countless classics and kick-starting the careers of many artists in the game today. Bonzai Records itself was greatly responsible for defining the sounds of trance and progressive during the ’90s, and currently has shifted sounds in a direction matching the evolution of dance music itself.
With a 20-year celebration around the corner, we took some time to give a nod to one of the most influential labels by having a quick chat with Marnik Braeckevelt, a figure behind the label and a pioneer of the Belgian dance music scene at large.
How did the concept of the label begin? What were your original intentions for Bonzai?
It all started with a record store that was opened in the beginning of the ’90s. Soon the idea followed to begin a record label. At first we had no idea what it would be like, but after the third release, we started having one hit after the other. The unexpected happened and in no time we became a label that dominated the European club scene, and soon after, the rest of the world.
20 years later, you’re still releasing new music. How have you remained so active in the music business for 20 years?
Historically, we have always had a high output of music. Since we have various labels, each with their own defined musical style, it was easy to maintain active. On top of that, we also evolved musically over the years.
As a label, you’ve changed direction to a totally different style than how the label began. Explain what the changes are, and why?
We began as a label with a totally new sound and style. Today they call it hard dance; back in the early ’90s there was no true definition for this sound, so they called it the Bonzai sound. Later in the ’90s, we started Bonzai Trance Progressive, which set a brand-new musical evolution for both our label and the entire club scene. A lot of big names from today—such as Armin van Buuren, Tiësto, etc.—grew up with that music. A few years ago we changed sound, as we felt the purpose of the genre we were doing had become way too commercial, losing its true essence. So we developed a few new labels and gave our own vision on the sound we do nowadays, which is mainly tech house, house, deep house, and techno.
Beyond Bonzai, you have a slew of sub-labels through your Banshee Worx distribution company, many also celebrating 20 years in the business. Why did you begin Banshee Worx, and what have been some of your most successful labels here?
It was early 2005 when the first talks started with John 00 Fleming to pick up his JOOF Recordings labels for digital distribution. Soon after, more labels followed and we’re today the proud distributor of labels such as Renaissance, Azuli Back Catalog, JOOF Recordings, DJ International, Baroque Back Catalogue, B-Sides, Contrast Records, Missile, Mistique, Sunscreem Music, Neuroscience, Phantasm Records, Nutek Records, Paulatine, Platipus, Twisted Frequency Recordings, USA Import… An ever-growing list of labels and more to come.
If you were to do the impossible task of picking five of your favorite tracks from Bonzai, what would they be?
That’s a tough one—for everyone in every era or sound, there’s different favorites. Maybe the best choice would be to pick the best sellers ever on our labels:
Experiencing the music business for 20 years now, what has changed the most?
The music business has dramatically changed over the past 20 years. First of all, the dramatic decline of physically sold music, for both vinyl and CD sales, where digital sales have taken over. As a result of declining physical sales, also licensing of music has decreased. The way you promote your music—it’s actually a longer list than you think. The entire music business has been turned inside out and upside down due to the digital revolution the world has gone through over the past 15 years.
What are you planning for your 20-year celebration?
First of all, there’s a special four-CD 20 Years Bonzai compilation with 45 original full-length digitally remastered classics, which will be released also digitally on Monday, November 19th. Second, there’s a big 20 Years Bonzai: Old School Retro Party, where we bring back all the Bonzai legends from the ’90s in one big special event on Saturday, November 17th at Studio @ Ethias Arena, Hasselt, Belgium—without a doubt, one of the biggest venues in Belgium where all fans will gather for a magical night. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into making it the perfect night for anyone who has experienced the ’90s firsthand and beyond.
**Bonzai and Beatport are celebrating the anniversary with a special 20% discount on selected labels under the Bonzai umbrella. From now until November 19th, use the coupon codes below during checkout to claim your discount on the following Bonzai labels:
Bonzai Progressive: BONZAI20
Bonzai Basiks: BASIKS20
Bonzai Elemental: ELEMENTAL20
Piston Recordings: PISTON20
Eyepatch Recordings: EYEPATCH20
Green Martian: MARTIAN20
Sounds R Us Recordings: SOUNDSRUS20
Monog Records: MONOG20