Lifting the veil from Brussels' latest pop-synth enigma
Always been curious about the music scene in other cities outside your own little cocoon? We assumed you were! Every month we’ll feed your hunger for insights and secrets in the Scene Report. If you live in the French community of Belgium, a good Friday night hang-out spot is like gold dust – unless you call the bijou city of Liège home, says musician and record label owner Pierre Bihet.
Text by Pierre Bihet
Photos shot by Nina Strebelle in Liège
I’m Pierre Bihet, and I run the music labels Young Girls Records and Pendant que les Champs Brûlent, as well as Venice Beach Communication. My involvement with the music scene in Liège really started around 2004-’05 at the so-called Idiolabo Festival, a freaky gathering of the Belgian underground scene, where I decorated the toilets with collages and drawings. Thanks to Maxime Le Hung from Matamore and Yannick Franck from Idiosyncratics, I met a lot of people from the Liège experimental scene at this crazy carnival.
I started to play in an enigmatic band called Dolph Lundgren with some of the people I’d met at Idiolabo. Basically, we played a weird mix of Devo and Napalm Death. We performed some really wild shows wearing masks, full-on costumes and so on.
Weirdly, during this period, all of us were sick all the time. I don’t know why, but we all had this stupid nasal congestion again and again. So I started to play some short and noisy solo performance under the name Congestion Nasal. I would scream into a microphone while a recording of Sylvester Stallone’s voice from Rocky 4 played through the PA. Well, we were wild and young – but that’s history. These days I perform as Dream Beverly Hills, a nonchalant keyboard project which might sound like lo-fi dream pop at first, but really isn’t that pretty upon closer inspection.
Since 2006 Venice Beach Communication has organised almost 200 different performances in Liège – from James Ferraro to Keith Rowe, from Sister Iodine to Maher Shalal Hash Baz. We’ve always been really into outdoor shows, so last year we began to organise them. We started with Jooklo Duo on the top of the old fort, La Citadelle de Liège, more than a hundred metres above the Meuse valley. They played at sunset on a terrace overlooking the town, so we had a really good view of the city with an awesome free jazz soundtrack. The saxophone reverberated throughout the valley. That was pretty special.
We also hosted a show in an old deserted fort. The trick is simple, just book an artist who can play acoustic, find an original venue and promote the show. If you want to do something in Liège, don’t ask; just do it. That’s our way of life, I guess…
These days, there’s loads to do if you come here for the weekend. If you come by train, you’ll stop at our new UFO station, Liège-Guillemins, which comes out of nowhere. When you get off the train, you have to go to a nearby restaurant called Le Concordia brasserie and try the excellent filet Américain. Once you’ve lined your stomach, you can get the night started.
If you’re looking for a basement where you can headbang in the dark, La Zone is probably the oldest and most famous venue here. I’ve seen some great shows there – from crazy crust-punk bands to silly rock’n’roll combos. It’s on the other side of La Meuse, so you have to cross a bridge to get to it, but it’s not far – and is worth the effort. The facade looks a little bit like a venue in a Williamsburg basement…
Cupper Café, at the end of La rue Hors Chateau, is a small pub in front of this big red church that also has live music. Musicians’ collective Jaune Orange organised a show there recently. It’s a pretty cool place, and you can eat there too if you missed out on the filet Américain earlier.
If you’re still here on Sunday morning, there’s no better place to recover from your Saturday night than at Le Marché de la Batte, one of the biggest outdoor markets in Europe. Almost two kilometres long, it’s held next to the river and you can get good food and cheap clothes. Then change the pace and go and enjoy a coffee on the terrace of La Casa Ponton, a popular locals’ pub.
While you’re in the area, you have to order ‘les boulets sauce lapin’ (meatballs with rabbit sauce, a Lièges specialty) at Café Lequet. On summer afternoons, there are often funny rockabilly and rock’n’roll bands playing at Lou’s Bar.
Les Olivettes and Le jour du Seigneur can get pretty crazy on Sunday afternoons. The first is a kind of karaoke bar – but without a PA. Instead, there’s a real piano player and some old people singing old popular Walloon and French songs. Those oldies know how to party. We really like to go there when we’re drunk.
If you’d prefer not to start your working week with a hangover, go straight toward the hill and climb Les Escaliers de Bueren (or turn left just before and climb the other stairs) and ask for directions to Les Terrasses des Minimes. It’s a small public garden, with one of the best views of the city.
A good way to end your Sunday night is to watch a movie (it could be anything from Cronenberg to Tarkowski) at Le Cinéclub du Laveu. They have a really good bar with a nice choice of special Belgian and draft beers. I have a bunch of friends there; tell them I sent you and they’ll take good care of you.
Essential Liège spots: Cercle du Laveu, Villa Verkeyn, l’An Vert, Cupper Café, La Zone, Les Olivettes, Carlo Levi
Essential Liège artists: Pierre Berthet, Philippe Cavaleri, Pica Pica, Aurélie William Levaux, SSaliva, Cupp Cave