SXSWorld March 2016 – Music


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3 6 S X S W o r l d | M U S I C M A R C H 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M ith Belgium's creative scene flourishing more than ever, Donald Trump's recent description of Europe's center point as "a hellhole" couldn't be more far off. The music scene, in particular, is thriving, as made clear by the presence of emerging Belgian acts at SXSW 2016. The beauty of the Belgian scene is its diversity and how all of these sounds — albeit sometimes atypical — manage to find a crowd. Belgium's tradition isn't particularly straightforward when promi- nent acts such as Stromae, dEUS and Soulwax come to mind. None of these artists have really fit into one stylistic box and draw inspiration from different genres of music and even, art (for example, look at any Stromae video or performance). Of course, it's practically impossible to make a clear intersection of the Belgian music scene, as it's so wide- spread and has so many crossovers. Bonkers as we are, we gave it a shot anyhow. Oscar and the Wolf is a stadium-filling sensation whose sensual, dreamy electronic pop recently found a U.S. home with Neon Gold Records. Close friends and frequent col- laborators all somewhat fit in that same electronic stretch: Tsar B creates a heav y-hitting kind of R&B with Eastern influences bathing in the darkness, VUURWERK (SXSW 2015 alumni) produce some of the most immaculate yet tense industrial electronic gems, and Glints bring some- thing that sounds like A$AP and Alt-J to the table. In this same bath of electronic wizardry we also find Sleepers' Reign, a duo that drifts somewhere between James Blake and Bon Iver. Finally, Tangram Records, which hosts var- ious, more bass-oriented releases from the likes of High Collective, Moodprint and LTGL and has been championing innovative elec- tronic music in Belgium for years, deserves a special mention here as well. Even more pop-leaning bands like Felix Pallas and Bazart tend to drift in this electronic slipstream, hereby creating opportunities for more left-field-sounding acts. From the typically Flemish city of Sint-Niklaas comes a rapper not far off the (seemingly) playful U.S. rap of Tyler, The Creator: Woodie Smalls. A more sensual kind of hip-hop/R&B is also brooding in Belgium, with both Abrahamblue. and DELV!S winning over souls with their really, really special voices. A sound that has clearly come forward is that of the brokenhearted: acts like Float Fall (SXSW 2014 alumni); Amatorski; I will, I swear; and Few Bits now do their serious soul searching all over the conti- nent. The popularity of these bands is partly to blame on Duyster, a now defunct radio show on Studio Brussel. A local label that bathes in these beautiful tears is Unday Records, home to more that also fit into this movement such as Trixie Whitley, Flying Horseman and Hydrogen Sea. Belgium's misfits go by the name of STUFF., a five-piece that creates a cross-genre groove, span- ning from broken hip-hop to more electronic and jazz-influenced future funk – "neo jazz" is an apt two-word-description. Their sound is anything but ordinary or easy, yet their rhythm is deciding the Belgium heartbeat as we speak. In a similar yet slightly more psychedelic atmosphere, we find Dans Dans, less intense but as captivating as the former. Of course, these different sounds have always existed in bedrooms and garages, yet not on the surface. The Belgian sound has shifted from a more traditional rock sound to a "hutsepot" (a local stew with all kinds of vegetables and meat) of progressive sounds. How come all of these artists have managed to set up a (modest) career in music? This is very much a coming together of various things. Belgium's government funds (some) music management com- panies, allowing managers to work with acts that have less commercial potential. And with probably more festivals than actual days in the summer in Belgium, local talent gets a chance to play for bigger crowds – even the leading festivals (such as Pukkelpop with its Wablief?! stage) give these artists a stage. Finally, various nationwide competitions through traditional press like radio and 'zines help younger bands get press and create new opportunities. Eppo Janssen, the programmer of Pukkelpop, points to another specific Belgian factor: the impact of one (aforementioned) radio sta- tion, Studio Brussel. Playing everything from the newest pop hits to rising indie rock gems, it exposes all kinds of music to the people in Belgium and can really help break an act or sound. This potpourri sinks in beautifully with the crowd, who end up loving the new Rihanna as much as a deep cut off the Unknown Mortal Orchestra record. Whereas Belgians are often described as "very modest," Janssen also believes this modesty has now been paired with new self-assurance in musicians on all levels. The musicians confirm the latter, with the belief that they'd rather try and fail than never try at all. This passion and drive probably trumps (pun intended) all of the above, making Belgian musicians a special breed determined to make the most of it. We may be a "hell- hole" to some, but we sure don't sound like one. T Jarri Van der Haegen is the founder of Disco Naïveté. For the latest SXSW showcase information, visit or download the SXSW Go app. Public Funds and Airplay Promote Belgium's Vibrant Music Scene by Jarri Van der Haegen W Few B it s Wo o d ie S m a l l s T H O M A S H O Y

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