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DiS is feeling lonely – we were taught French from the age of seven, but gave it up as soon as sixth form loomed. Now, in a primarily French-speaking region and with no fellow Englishmen around for company, we’re wondering how many beers we can drink in silence. Lots, as it happens.
The reason we’re here, a Eurostar ride away from the comfort of home and set up in an as-good-as-five-star hotel, is for Nuit Belge, one night in a series of shows at Brussels’ La Botanique. It’s the city’s old botanical gardens, with three ‘venues’ on site – two inside the glass-walled building itself (pictured) and the main stage, the Chapiteau, inside a marquee in the garden itself. If you’ve not worked out the night’s name just yet, let’s simplify matters: it’s a night of Belgian music. Exclusively Belgian music. Except – and this is where we sigh a little – all the bands sing in English.
There are nine varied acts to tickle DiS’s foreign fancy this evening, yet a non-participating musician – a member of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy mates soy un caballo (website) – informs DiS that not one of the acts appearing is really worthy of thorough analysis. We ask if one or two are likely to make it beyond the boundaries of their homeland, and are met by a scrunched-up face and some sort of gurgle of doubt. There seems little love lost here, in the middle of a small scene splintered by language divisions: Flemish acts rarely party with French-speakers, and the Germans have a crowd entirely of their own.
But the show goes on, and we do our utmost to see as much as possible. Our first visit to the smallest of the three venues, the Rotonde (the stage takes up half the room, which is like an odd combination of a school gym and a cathedral), is soon aborted – the crowd for The Van Jets (website) is spilling into the halls as soon as the band hit the larger-than-necessary stage; deep, rumbling bass floods from open doors, and DiS wonders if we’re not missing something a bit special. We ponder the situation for a second – to barge or not to barge? – before settling down the corridor at the middle venue, the Orangerie. Here, Les Agnes’ (website) hyperactive pop-rock is appealing enough… until you look at them, that is. They possess the most terrifying keyboard player DiS has ever seen, a woman whose amazing on-stage confidence manifests itself in the weirdest, most threatening facial expressions. She twists her body, pulling poses from a catwalk, while stabbing at her instruments with considerable abandonment. Her bandmates – there are three, men, decked out in black – are competent and could be entertaining… if our eyes could focus on them for five minutes without being distracted by that. Eeeewww…
Minerale’s (website) set – in the Chapiteau – begins rather worryingly, somewhere between Snow Patrol and The Killers, but their love of OK Computer-era Radiohead soon begins to shine through. Second song, ‘Razor Blade’, sets them head and shoulders above what DiS has seen so far, and while they could never be accused of possessing an innate ability to carve purely original musical furrows, their melodic indie-rock is nevertheless hugely commercial sounding; it seems perfect for car adverts and the last few minutes of Grey’s Anatomy, et cetera. While fame isn’t likely to come calling too soon, there’s potential in their songs for sure. Plus, their solid grasp of English – their lyrics are decent enough – should ensure that a few UK and US listeners sit up and take notice. Not bad, not bad at all…
Which is more than can be said for Sioen (website), who mistakes mediocrity at his keyboard for a strange eccentricity, and who clearly thinks very highly of himself indeed. His bland arrangements – fleshed out by drums and guitars, as well as someone pressing buttons on a big box of electronic trickery – fail to capture DiS’s attentions, and while his stage is beautifully decorated we can’t help but feel that more time should have been taken on the actual songs, rather than the environment within which they take flight. Within three or four songs we wander to Uman (MySpace) and wish, immediately, that we hadn’t bothered: reggae-lite rhythms are so hot right now in Belgium, apparently.
The Tellers (website) headline the Rotonde but, sadly, the venue’s rammed to bursting by the time DiS rolls up following a few free beers (it takes us a while to find the free bar, but once there we do bed in for 30 minutes or so). Sharko (website), we’re told, sound like The Police; from outside the Chapiteau we gain little impression, and as the rain begins to fall heavily we’re not about to crush ourselves inside for a closer inspection. Safe, polite pop-rock is what we hear, albeit with a few laptop tricks. Mud Flow (website)…? Well, by the time they take the ‘main stage’, that’s exactly what there is outside as they top the bill in the tent, so DiS seeks out shelter in the main Botanique building.
Where we find Joshua (website) crafting some hip-hop beats from a bank of keyboards and computer screens; an Apple logo glows bright on a dimly-lit stage, the few men on it – the MC is the most lively – adopting fairly statuesque stances throughout. It seems odd, since the music is quite obviously tailored to the desires and demands of a heaving dance floor. Hands are aloft in the crowd – clearly Joshua is a local favourite – but DiS has heard this type of thing before, and much better. Why listen to a so-so Prefuse 73 tribute act when the original is so_ good? A song title like _‘What U Doin’’ should give you some idea of what Joshua’s doin’, really. A few neat twists and beats later, DiS meets up with a fine fellow from the Dour Festival (website) to talk metal. In the rain. With more free beer. While bands continue to confuse their native tongue with one more likely to make them money. Really, some of what we witness comes across as forced and insincere.
The next day The Young Gods play; the day before saw Loney, dear and Patrick Watson entertain a sold-out crowd. Tonight, though, La Botanique’s showcase of domestic music fails to set the Brit abroad’s heart a thumping. There’s good music in Belgium, for sure – that much is obvious from listening to the Les Nuits CD that DiS picks up a little later – but little of it is on show while DiS is in town. Are we gutted? Hardly – Belgian beer and fantastic hospitality, for nothing? Brilliant, despite the inclement weather.
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