Gilles Helsen

Gilles Helsen has a degree in musicology and after his studies he started working at Klara Festival and Musica. Then, all of the sudden, his dream job presented itself: STUK, A House for Dance, Image and Sound in Leuven was looking for a music programmer. For the past 5 months Gilles calls himself a sound programmer rather than a music programmer, because he tends to focus on music and sound in a more innovative and unconventional way than others. He looks at music in a 360° perspective where artists not only play shows, but also dare to switch from music to other forms of art. Meet Gilles!

Interview by Laura-Andréa Callewaert
Photos taken by Siene Hollemans in Leuven

How is STUK different than other cultural houses in Belgium?

STUK aims to be a house where artists can create and present work that goes beyond disciplines or media, be it in the format of a concert setting, installation, public space or theater hall. Think for example of Asuna, who’s presenting his ‘100 Keyboards’ at STUK RE-START, a work that balances between sound art, music and performance. In terms of dance STUK is already one of the most important places in Belgium, because Charlotte (Vandevyver, dance programmer at STUK) has created a profound base for the dance community for the past couple of years. And with sound and music I’m now trying to do the same thing.

Charlotte has an important focus on sound and rhythm for this season and I am always searching for more than just musicians

Do you tend to combine the dance and sound programme at STUK?

Our programs are autonomous but Charlotte and I always search for a way to match them. For example; we are showing ‘Flamer’, a production made by Femke and Lander Gyselinck. Lander usually drums with his band STUFF. and Femke is a dancer and choreographer. In this show, they take over each other’s disciplines where Lander will be dancing and Femke will drum. This matches Charlotte’s program and mine. Another example would be Aya Suzuki, a Japanese percussionist who will be a resident during October. She will reinterpret a work made in the ‘70s where she’s playing nine hanging clocks and performs a choreography whilst playing them. Charlotte has an important focus on sound and rhythm for this season and I am always searching for more than just musicians, so you can feel that we really want to create a symbiosis between dance and sound at STUK.

Diversity is my inspiration for a big part of the program

What is your ultimate goal as a programmer at STUK?

I don’t want people to come to a show, go home and forget about it. I want to have a real impact on the public and on other artists. I want artists to take something out of the comfort zone and give them a place where they can improve, so we will work more and more with residencies in the future.

Do you take into account important subjects like decolonisation, gender and diversity when you’re programming?

Absolutely, a new series called ‘Babylon Bar’ that is taking place in December is specifically focussing on diversity in music and how globalisation and decentralisation influences music these days. Diversity is my inspiration for a big part of the program.

What are the future projects we can expect?

I always stay true to STUK’s DNA in a certain way, but I’m trying to freshen up the program with new projects like ‘Beyond Music’, a conceptual night about sound performances, 3 times a year. We’ll organise try-outs with young artists, where the focus lies more on creation than on result. One of the first editions will take place in a public space so there’s a real interaction between the public and the space. A second seed I’m planting at the moment is ‘Babylon Bar’, it’s a series about global sounds, improvisation and club culture. Artist who are influenced by global sounds but make it contemporary through electronic music. We’re starting of in December with AMMAR 808 and Paddy Steer, so that’s pretty exciting! Maybe it will evolve into a small festival one day!

Explore the music and dance programme at STUK!
all free for Subbacultcha members ✌
25 Oct – Colours of Noise: Andrea Belfi + Red Brut + Julien Desprez
28 Nov – Beyond Music: Sound performances: Aya Suzuki + Cathy Van Eck + Yann Leguay + L’Ocelle Mare
13 Dec – Babylon Bar: Ammar 808 + Paddy Steer
4 Oct – Deep Etude: Alma Söderberg
21 Nov – Flamer: Femke & Lander Gyselinck
12 Dec – Rule of Three: Grip/Jan Martens
16 + 17 Jan – Vox: DH+/David Hernandez + collaborators
23 Apr – Rasp Your Soul: Kat Válastur

STUK is starting the season with ‘STUK Re-Start – 36h non-stop festival’ on 27-29 September.  The event is free for all.