Belgium isn’t all fine beers and frites.
While America and the UK catch a lot of the shine when it comes to the history of dance music, Belgium shouldn’t be forgotten as a place where influential mutations occurred that would go to have long lasting repercussions. This year’s 25th edition of the Dour festival – Belgium’s leading alternative music gathering – reflected this proud tradition with a line-up that interspersed rap legends, world-hopping DJs and modern innovators with budding and established national talent from the electronic, dance, rock and rap scenes.
The closest I’ve come to Dour experience wise is Glastonbury in the late ’90s, albeit on a smaller scale. The programming felt slightly odd on the first day, too scattershot, but by the second day it all started to make glorious sense. And with some of the best weather in years, you’ve got the recipe for an unforgettable event.
FACT’s Laurent Fintoni caught up with a selection of the Belgian acts who appeared at Dour this year to try and gauge the state of the country’s various scenes.
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How was your Dour Festival experience this year?
Dour was amazing again this year! I think it’s the 7th year in a row I’ve played there now. With my crew, Forma.T, we have a meeting there every year and it’s always a highlight of the year. This time I got a present too, I got to play twice: one live show with the US rapper I’m producing and one DJ set to close the Friday night. Both shows were amazing. I feel like Dour’s audience is clever and they anticipate things well. They seem to know everything!
How did Surfing Leons start? What’s your musical background?
Surfing Leons started when I was journalist in Paris for Les Inrockuptibles. I’ve always collected records and played them for my friends in Spa (Belgium) where I was raised. But in Paris I had to earn a bit more money and so I started to DJ in small bars. I did this with my friend Geraldine Sarratia, a colleague of mine at Les Inrockuptibles. That was back in 2005. I then came back to Belgium, to Liege, and continued the Surfing Leons thing with Gass, one of my childhood heroes. He was THE local DJ that would make you discover the good records. We worked on it together for four years before he left and I decided to carry on alone. My musical background includes hip hop, which I listened to at school, early Detroit and Chicago music, which I listened to on the streets, and Daft Punk, which I listened to in record shops.
You did two sets at Dour, a shorter live and a DJ set. What are the main differences in approach between the two for you?
They are two completely different faces of Surfing Leons. The live show was all about the music I’m producing for Miss Eaves. She’s an American rapper from Brooklyn. We met online and struck up a working relationship. The Buraka Som Sistema guys released our first single. She’s come to Europe to tour, which is how this show happened, and we’ve already done shows in Barcelona, Ibiza, Paris and the south of France.
The DJ set is really what Surfing Leons is the rest of the time. A house and bass oriented selection, the music I make and play is I guess UK-influenced. So I have two faces if you will, one more hip hop-orientated, the other more house-orientated. Dour offered me the chance to present both to the public and it worked really well so I’m very happy.
What about your label Forma.T – which artists are you pushing through the label, and what’s the ethos/drive behind it all?
Forma.T is a small label and we release what we like. There is no pressure behind it or some sort of intellectual idea. If we like someone, we release it. So for example we did AKS’ first release, they are – let’s say – a dubstep band fronted by a famous Belgian singer called Selah Sue. We also released music from Monsieur Monsieur and Panteros666 (from Club Cheval), who are both now signed to Brodinski’s Bromance label. Right now I’m trying to push a young Belgian techno producer called Bad Dancer. I really think he could be someone big in the next few years.
What are the benefits and drawbacks for you of being based in Liege? And why should people pay attention to the music and artists coming out of the city/area?
There’s a lot to say about Liege… I love my city. I love leaving it and then discovering it again and again. Liege is an old industrial city that slowly started to die after the 80s when its core industries started to vanish – coal mining, metal, wool. So there’s nothing to do here if you don’t get off and do it. With Forma.T we want to bring something fresh, new and avant-garde. So instead of going to Brussels or Antwerp, we started bringing artists to Liege. People like Justice, Boyz Noise, Switch, James Blake, Diplo all had some of their first Belgian shows in Liege. We’ve also worked with other collectives, like Party Harders, to create a new musical point on the Belgian map.
I think because of the on-going economic difficulties people aren’t choosy about what comes to them. The same way everyone here supports the local football team they’ve been supporting us. Of course Liege is hardly a big European city, but it’s only two hours from Paris on the train, one hour from Cologne, so it’s easy to get to. There’s something unique in Liege that I can’t really explain. So just come and see it for yourself!”
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How was your Dour Festival experience this year?
Well I might sound a bit lame but to be honest I was fighting against the heat more than anything else by searching any little square meters of shade I could find near the stage. I was playing at 4pm on Saturday so I had to arrive at the festival at 2pm when the sun was hitting the hardest. Really enjoyed the Pinch and Sherwood set though, that was my favourite musical moment at this year’s edition of the festival. And meeting Sir Sherwood was probably a high personal moment.
You’ve been a long time supporter of dubstep and involved in the sound’s expansion outside of the UK early on. Considering how far the music has come since its beginnings, how was the experience on saturday having the likes of Loefah, Mystikz, Kahn and more play throughout the day and night?
I felt blessed to play on that Roots of Dubstep stage, which was hosted by Red Bull Elektropedia. The line up was mad coherent and pretty consistent so huge props to the festival for putting that one together.
How is the Belgian scene these days?
Well I’m not promoting nights anymore so I might not be aware of what other Belgian promoters are doing lately. I’ve had more bookings outside Belgium in the past year. I do have the feeling that the 130BPM ting is getting slightly bigger lately but certainly not as big as Belgian dubstep used to be just a few years ago.
You’ve been focusing more on your own productions in recent years, after years of DJing and supporting music. How has the move been, and what lessons have you taken from it so far?
I’ve always tweaked and played with sounds but I started taking it more seriously in the past few years. Changing the software I was using was a real boost in my creativity and since then I’ve released music on labels including L2S, Reggae Roast and Mindstep Music. Being a DJ only is not enough these days so am glad my own music is interesting some labels. This way my profile can be sexier to get bookings. I have a full BunZer0 12” planned in October on No Suit Records, a new label based in Berlin. It’s exciting to finally release something on vinyl, as it’s becoming harder and harder to do that.
What’s the best thing about Brussels and why?
The variety of beers of course, because we simply have the best ones in the whole cosmos.
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How was your Dour festival experience this year?
We didn’t have much time to walk around and see stuff. We did catch the Thee Oh Sees, it was good. It’s a band we listen to a lot these days, and they’ve got a lot of back catalogue. But I must admit I got a little bored. I really like the band but I got bored. It’s a little repetitive, same formula with each track, so after a while you get tired unless you’re a die hard fan. We only got to the site on Sunday around 6 so not much time to see much. I saw a little bit of the Smashing Pumpkins too… don’t really have much to say about it though. I loved them in the 90s but the new stuff isn’t really my bag. We partied after our set, it was a good vibe but you could tell it was the end of the festival. And the heat was insane.
How would you define the Experimental Tropic Blues Band?
It’s a mix of rock, blues, punk and really everything we listen to. Roots music. That’s how I’d define it. A melting pot. We’ve been working together for 12 years, we were a little more crazy and free in our early beginnings though. We’ve always been a trio and we also had a harmonica player with us for a while, Fabien Bennardeau, who came from another Belgian roots band. He’s a bit of a harmonica genius. Unfortunately the harmonica thing got tiring quickly, so that didn’t last long. It’s always good to try different things though.
On Sunday at Dour you presented a new project called The Belgians?
That’s right. It’s actually the name of a new album we’ve finished which isn’t out yet. The Dour programming manager wanted to do something special, something different to our normal Tropic Blues Band show. We got the idea at the last minute, we didn’t have much time to prepare the show. So we couldn’t get in all the aspects of Belgium we wanted, especially from the north of the country.
The idea is to represent Belgium, but not in the sense of ‘Vive la Belgique, it’s great, we’re all having a great time.’ There’s something positive in the show but also a degree of irony and humour in it too, which we need right now. The country needs us to make fun of it!
You could see this humour in the visuals.
Yes, as well as the additional band members and dancers etc… It was all put together just for Dour but now that we’ve done it we’d like to work on it some more, develop it further and do more shows with it but differently. The album should be out early 2014, 12 or so tracks. We did six tracks in the show at Dour and there’ll be another six on the album.
You’re based in Liege. Musically how’s the city?
Liege is good. There’s a lot of underground, a lot of punk rock, electronic rock, and a lot of pop rock and indie stuff. Groups like Piano Club, Hollywood Porn Stars, noise groups but also metal, hardcore etc… there’s a lot of stuff in Liege. Small city though. I don’t know if I would necessarily call it a scene. In a scene for me everyone mixes together but I’ve got the impression that people don’t necessarily mix together well, unfortunately.
Why do you think that is?
Maybe it’s because of the mentality. I don’t think everyone is ready to accept the others’ music. Different strokes for different folks.
Lastly, why you should people come and see you?
Because it’s a hell of a show! (laughs) A little while back I would have said because you should come and see ‘la bite electrique’ [ed note: loosely translates as the electric dick] but unfortunately we no longer let it out much. The other guitarist in the band, Dirty Cock, is responsible for it. We used to do ‘Garbage Man’, a cover of The Crams, using a jack to tap the rhythm and he would then play with his cock, naked on stage. People would laugh. It was popular. But we had to cut it because he had a lot of problems with it, with the law but also because that’s all people wanted, and they were asking a bit too much after a while. So yeah I guess I should say ‘please come and see la bite electrique, it’s very strange. You’ll be back.’
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How was your Dour Festival experience this year?
Dour was amazing this year, perfect weather for once (July in Belgium is usually not that sunny) and an amazing lineup, as usual. Of course this year was very special for me because it was my first time performing at the festival and I really enjoyed my set. It’s definitely one of the best moments of the festival for me. I also stayed in the camping on Thursday night, without having any tent or anything, we just partied until the morning at the 24 hours camping bar while playing music off someone’s iPhone. Pretty good times as well!
How did you get started in music?
I was a big music fan as a kid already, I have the privilege of being born in a family where music always had a very important place so I need to thank my family. I started DJing at 16 after saving up for months to buy turntables. From there I started to release mixtapes and get some gigs. It was around the same time that a lot of my friends were producing really amazing music. The idea for a label had been in my head for a very long time so it all came together quite naturally at one point in late 2010.
How do you see the relationship between DJing and actually making/producing music?
Well I don’t see myself as a composer but I’m working on some music, which is definitely club oriented, pure DJ tools. The main idea is to create tracks that will bridge some gaps in my DJ sets, and so for me DJing is definitely my main inspiration to find missing links between genres and different tracks. I also use my DJ sets to test all the forthcoming Pelican Fly tracks when I’m playing out so I can gauge the crowd reaction. For me one could not exist without the other, speaking strictly of club music here of course.
What is Pelican Fly?
Pelican Fly is the label I’ve founded with my friend Richelle, who has released two records on the label and also handles all the visual identity. All the artists we have released so far (or who are preparing records for us) are part of a big family and that’s a feeling that’s very important to me. Also we get a lot of help from our friends here in Brussels, Paris and around the world and we could never have done it if it wasn’t for them.
Here’s a list of the artists in the Pelican Fly family (no order): Richelle, Mister Tweeks, Cashmere Cat, Sinjin Hawke, Samename, Canblaster, Sam Tiba, Zora Jones, Lucid, Nadus, Lido, Cosmic Revenge, Deebs.”
What’s the best thing about Brussels, its music scene and why?
For me the best and the worst thing about Brussels is that it’s quite small, so everyone kind of knows each other pretty well. Sometimes there aren’t so many parties which is a shame, but it’s like a big circle of friends in a way and the overall quality of the parties is probably higher than in other cities. In terms of quantity it remains frustrating sometimes. I really love this city a lot, I was born and raised here so my heart will stay here but sometimes the lack of motivation of the crowd towards new and exciting experiences or music turns me down a bit. But I’m not about to stop trying things here!
How was the RBMA experience this year and how do you see it influencing your future?
It was really amazing, being around all these like minded, incredibly talented people, whether it was the other participants, the lecturer, the wonderful VIP studio staff or the RBMA staff itself. It was a life changing experience for me. I learned a lot from everyone there and will definitely continue to collaborate with a lot of people I’ve met there, most of them have also become personal friends in the process so it definitely changed everything for me. I will never be able to thank the wonderful people at RBMA enough for this amazing opportunity.
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How was your Dour Festival experience this year?
Dour was cool. Had a few problems about being rescheduled last minute but playing there was nice. It was the first time I played with visuals specially made for the set and it looked amazing. I didn’t really see much of the festival unfortunately as we arrived quite late. I did see Karenn who were playing right before me, it was really good.
What differences/distinction if any do you make between the music you produce as Cupp Cave and as Ssaliva? And do these differences also impact the live shows under each name?
It’s a bit blurred. Sometimes I will start a track thinking I’m working on Ssaliva and it will end up being a rhythm heavy tune. Sometimes I start with a simple 4/4 drum pattern and I’ll end up removing all rhythmic elements and it becomes an ambient track. For the live shows it’s different. I usually start working on a Cupp Cave set thinking it would be nice to make people dance. For Ssaliva it’s mostly beatless and quite moody.
Having mainly worked with Belgian labels, how have you found the experience of working with UK and US labels like RAMP and Leaving Records in the past year?
I’d say the difference was mostly about the exposure. Leaving Rec And Ramp are all lovely people so it didn’t really change anything from the friendly relationships I had with my friends here in Belgium.
What are the differences, if any, between parties and shows you’ve done in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe?
Mostly not seeing familiar faces when I play outside of Belgium. Besides that there’s not many differences really.
Do you think that being in Belgium helps with your creative process?
I think it does yes. Not only being in Belgium but also not being in a big city really helps me I think. Plus the people that inspire me the most are in Belgium. Besides Dynooo and Wanda in UK, people like Bepotel (Sagat, &apos and Walrus) and Hiele really push me to go out of my comfort zone.
Do you know about the New Aesthetic? This idea that the digital world is bleeding into the real world more and more. I know you’ve got an interest in some of the similar ideas, in terms of influences on the music but also visuals, images etc… What’s the weirdest way that these ideas have manifested in your music so far? And what’s the weirdest way they’ve manifested in real life?
I didn’t know about the exact term but it’s something I’m quite obsessed with. The line between the digital world and the real world is getting thinner I think. I don’t think these ideas have manifested in such weird ways for me so far, at least not in a Videodrome kind of way. But it’s something I’m dealing with everyday. The way real life emotions affect the way I’m making music on a computer or take pictures with my phone really fascinates me.