Scene Report

Brussels, Belgium

His series of pictures show the perverse chaos and its inherent poetry that are exemplar of the streets and atmosphere of Europe’s capital.


Text by Niels Latomme

Photos shot by Niels Latomme in Brussels

Apart from being a collector of old sheet-ghost pictures and running the Ghent-based-but-everywhere-active KRAAK label and concert organiser, I run a Brussels tape label under the moniker Beyt al Tapes. Throughout the years, Beyt al Tapes shifted its output towards neo avant-garde compositions.

Let’s talk bands first. Some of the most interesting, and deeply Brussels-rooted musicians, are Razen, a wonderful acoustic-trance duo who hail from various chapels in and around Brussels. At the same level stands Quentin Nicolai, blending abstract Belgian ethnic field recordings with naïve melodies and rural spheres. Quentin plays together with Xavier Garcia – curator of a great film and music programme at BOZAR – and Cool Brocoli in the brol kraut and outsider afrobeat combo of Humus. In the same scene you have the strongholder Benjamin Franklin, the master of the casio micro-symphonies. Young peers include Bear Bones, Lay Low, a cosmic-horror wizz kid and part of neo-Goa trance outfit TAV exotic. Draaier/Frezer, the caustic noise outlet of Tom Van Lippenvelde, operates from artistic support platform Nest.

At the beginning of the Noughties, the DIY and experimental scenes in Belgium were a source of inspiration. Labels including Imvated by Lieven Martens Moana, Puik by Jelle Crama, Ultra Eczema, KRAAK, Veglia by the then-Brussels-based Laurent Cartuyvels, the Man Generated crew in Tienen, Funeral Folk in Ghent/Maldegem, Young Girls in Liège were part of a global network and all shared the same ethos of freshness, absurdity and intuitivity, plus a good nose for music inside ‘the Other’.

Nowadays they’re peers, and you can’t look up to something which you’re part of. In this post-noise environment, the avant-garde composer and artists scenes of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s have become an inspiration. To namedrop some influences: Mill’s College, the San Francisco Tape Music Center and the Lovely label laying out highly aestheticised avant-garde, and post-fluxus composition techniques – David Behrman, Jacques Bekaert, Robert Ashley, Pauline Oliveros and Takehisa Kosugi are still impressive in depth; or the vocal poetry scene around the Revue OU magazine, published by Henri Chopin. Those were small groups of likeminded people, standing at the forefront of art, working on new forms of art and music, creating new, interconnected forms of poetry and distribution.

Brussels is a perverse, poetic, chaotic and fragmented city, historically a crossing point, a free state of free minds and a victim of crappy rural politics. Due to the city’s nature, there will always be other, hidden scenes and places. But here are some places and people I think are worthy to visit and to follow. The biggest venues are Beursschouwburg and AB. The latter started organising small concerts in Huis 23, partly curated by Il Professore Floris Vanhoof. Les Ateliers Claus, in Saint-Gilles, is good for discovering new bands. The Antwerpian Echnum scene moved to Anderlecht into a huge anti-squad place called Het Eiland, where, amongst others, TG is continuing his concerts together with Ernesto Gonzales, Mike Weird Dust and more. At the backside of the Palace is NEST, located in a former antiquarian’s house. They run silk-screen ateliers and an exposition/concert space. You’ll find tons of small, DIY-run galleries all over Brussels – check Hectoliter in the centre, or the new E2 at Kapellekerk. Ever active is the global underground DJ, party organiser, Mississippi Records distributor and beer lover Seb Basleer, as himself or under the guise of RebelUP!

I live in Forest, and the Parvis de Saint-Gilles – an oddly shaped market with a lot of nice bars – is just around the corner. Check L’Union and Brasserie Verschueren. On Saturdays it’s fun karaoke night at Brasserie de Parvis. For records, around the corner of Brasserie Verschueren you’ll find Arlequin, a second hand record shop.  I’m very fond of the many Portuguese bars and restaurants, their cheap food, Super Bock beer and great coffee. For Italian, you have Momo at Place de Bethlehem; 100 metres further is La Tricoterie, which serves great brunch on Sundays. My favourite bakeries are Marléne in Sint-Gilles and the Small Portuguese bakery at Av. Wielemans Ceuppens. Have a beer in the crappy Bar a Nelson at the other side of the avenue or in the Parc de Forest. Wiels is around the corner as well. An old man in mind, I am a sucker for classic Brussels spaces like Mokafé in the Galerie du Roi, Cirios at the Beurs, Daringman and Laboureur.

Back to the future, KRAAK will soon release the new Razen LP, new MAAN and new Floris Vanhoof records. And we’ve got a big festival called Eastern Daze lined up on 15 November, with Pelt and Master Musicians of Jajouka as headliners. Beyt al Tapes will be releasing the first single of Black Mambo, the newest Brussels Crap Wave revelation.

Brussels hang-outs and promoters:

Beursschouwburg, AB, Huis 23, Les Ateliers Claus, Het Eiland, NEST, Hectoliter, E2, RebelUP!, Beyt al Tapes

Essential Brussels bands:

Bear Bones, Lay Low, Razen, Quentin Nicolai, Humus, Benjamin Franklin, TAV Exotic, TG Gondard