Hardcore is the new hippie!

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A new year brings us a new edition of The Sound Of the Belgian Underground, with a freshly curated line-up and our own evolution in including nightlife in SOBU, we asked some of the staples of the Belgian underground scene what it means today to be authentically ‘underground.’ With the effects of a post-COVID party boom and the eclipsing of the once marginal into the mainstream, their insights make one thing clear, no matter the label, a new underground always emerges.

<br>Interview by Jeremy Tawedian, intro by Melanie De Almeida Lopes

Edited by Herlinde Raeman, Mya Berger, Melanie De Almeida Lopes and Astrid Stubbe

Photos shot by Jente Waerzeggersl during SOBU2022 at AB, Brussels</br>

How would you describe today’s Belgian underground scene?

Joery (Het Bos): To answer the question in short: united yet fragmented and lacking both physical and mental space. I think it is fantastic that genres and disciplines mix and mingle and that artists from different corners of the alternative circuit are sharing lineups. On the other hand, this puts pressure on both spaces and subcultures in general; I don’t know how many places ‘only serve one audience’, so to speak, and how well, for example, the Metal circuit is being served in Belgium at the moment.

Thomas (Musique d’Ascenseur): I’d say there is a general feeling of ‘making things happen’. I feel like people are taking the initiative to organise, regardless of norms, legislation or commercial viability. In a way, it’s a scene that doesn’t depend on, or wait for, the ‘in place’ cultural institutions, even though they also do great things on their level. I feel like the term ‘underground’ is not being used as much as before, but the concept it represents is there for sure.  

Benny (The Shade): I think these scenes are characterised by strongly artistically minded people who constantly search for more progressive alternatives. When you follow these persons, you will find the ‘off-track’, often a space where different forms of art and different types of people are able to come together.

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How would you say this scene has changed in the past decade?

Antoine (Chanoirs): I have the impression that collectives are choosing one direction and going deep into it, having their own public. So sometimes I miss a bit of the blend, the eclecticism in music, going from A to Z without caring what the crowd expects from you.

Alexander (Veduta): I believe that a certain part of the audience is no longer linked to a certain genre or movement and will go to a Dua Lipa concert and an ambient performance in the same week. There is an absolute beauty in this evolution, but I also believe that the overall pace of sharing music and art has increased and the attention span of the audience has gone down, making it harder for an artist to stand out on a long-term basis.

Lotta & Brent (Stimular): The lockdown during COVID gave us all the opportunity to explore within the Self, to rethink our own creative flow, it shook things up very much and well, let's just say we're all learning to dance to a different beat now :).

Do you identify with the term underground?

Joery: I’m a big fan of words such as ‘non-commercial’ for instance because it gives an intention to it: I want to organise things in a non-commercial way, let’s say.

Lotta & Brent: We might not slap the underground label on everything, but we're all about those small gigs and parties where people pour their hearts into something –not because it's trendy or to make money out of it– but because it just happens. Because the urge is unstoppable.

Loïc (Grid): I think we have proven to be ‘early adopters’ of some genres, artists and concepts that are now more widely used in the Belgian party landscape. Perhaps it is more fitting to say we try to keep on experimenting with what a party can or should be.

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Yooth (Brikabrak): Almost all electronic music originally stems from an expression against oppression, against a status quo, making it underground by default. So music can be popular/mainstream and at the same time have continuous underground manifestations. When someone says ‘That sounds underground’, I'd expect it to be a bit deeper and experimental; not too easily digestible.

Seppe & Niels (LAAGZWART): I think the word ‘underground’ is a positive way to describe that the listener has to do a little curious digging to find it.

Vlad (ZAIKA): If you’d consider the underground to be the misfits, the non-conformists, the punks and the outcasts, then yeah –sign me up. That’s where I feel at home.

Should we care about the authenticity of music?

Yooth: Authenticity is achieved when artists can create solely for the pure joy that it's giving them. No outside opinion is important during the creative process. The art is made for the artist and can be enjoyed by others as a byproduct. It's important that music is authentic because that's usually the best music. 

Thomas: I definitely think authenticity is crucial. Authenticity is translated into how an artist stays true to themselves through their music, staying true to their experience, musical development, taste and values… without conforming to the pressure of trends or immediate commercial success. Staying true to your own unique voice and identity gives meaning to the whole musical experience. As a listener, it’s something that can be subtly sensed and something you can relate to and identify with.

Benny: In relation to music, we might say that we are in a recycling era, but that is nothing new, we are constantly building on top of what is already there, there is no true originality and that is fine. There is only how the artist interprets history, what has come before them, what grasps their attention, and interests, what sparks their passion and as follows, what they want to do with it in their own personal way. Some of that becomes grand, and some of it remains in the underground, waiting to be found. Both are equally authentic.

What is your definition of what’s underground and what’s not?

Seppe & Niels: Music that has a certain mystery and quality to it but is not fully hyped up by the media or some big-money corporation. Music with a very DIY and honest approach.

Vlad: Underground is perhaps the child, the seed, the freshly born subculture or micro-subculture, that eventually will grow and become bigger (unfortunately). That’s how the landscape is constantly switching.

Loïc: To me personally, an underground feeling has a lot to do with scale. The bigger the venue, capacity, line-up, advertising machine etc., the less underground it becomes. This goes hand in hand with the loss of some values that define the experience: intimacy–connection with the artist, community–connection with one another, safety…

Yooth: I gave up trying to define it (I actually never tried to begin with), because it's a concept in constant flux. I suppose underground in general means ‘opposed to mainstream’. I see it more as a scale with a lot of grey areas and I'm not sure if trying to find a definition is helping anyone forward.

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Do you think there is a need for an underground scene?

Joery: I think it is really important that there are spaces that question the norm. Creating physical and especially mental spaces where people feel free to speak out about whatever they have to say, will stay urgent forever.

Seppe & Niels: Yes, I think the underground is necessary to start a scene in a city and to inspire

people to make something of their own. It’s very nice to see and meet people who are into the same weird music as you are, so it forms a kind of instant connection.

Loïc: Definitely yes. In a lot of ways, I think the underground is more accessible than the mainstream. Money-wise, because underground is often less profit-driven, but also on a social level. There is less stigma around certain expected looks, behaviour or status and a larger focus on the love for a shared passion. Additionally, as a cultural phenomenon, it feeds the mainstream, from which new branches of subcultures originate. Underground and mainstream are communicating vessels.

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There are tons of articles fearing the gentrification of the nightlife scene: raves are coming out of the margins and into the mainstream. What are your thoughts about this?

Vlad: On one side, it’s good for us that the nightlife and the raves have become part of mainstream pop culture. For the first time in my life, my parents actually understand and know what I do or where I work. There are more jobs, more gigs and more general acceptance of what we do. On the other side, there’s an immense oversaturation of everything. Everyone’s a DJ. But fear not, everything is cyclical too. I think when the mainstream is so powerful, big and overwhelming, those who need it will unite in smaller darker places. New subcultures will be born. Mainstream fuels the underground.

Thomas: I think it is unavoidable, and just the continuation of the general gentrification dynamics that operate in all domains of society. This has the risk of underground culture losing its authenticity, and alienating the original community that gathered around it. On the other hand, this is a sign of recognition of the quality of this nightlife scene and of the impact it has on the broader cultural landscape, which in consequence might open opportunities for its actors. However, I am very confident in the underground’s resilience and ability to reinvent itself, as it always has and I am not worried about it disappearing anytime soon.

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Benny: I think we are past that point since post-corona. By definition: a rave is illegal and therefore hard to find or is underground. Yet the term is being thrown around to glorify and stylise certain types of parties and music genres, often of large scale and within the big room techno scene, even typifying a certain neo-rave clothing style –which certainly wasn’t associated with raves before. This is very much a marketing scheme to catch the attention of a young generation who has been locked indoors for three years, globally. Almost all fast bpm styles are seeing a resurgence because of this as well, as our current party generation of youngsters have an abundance of bottled-up energy which is needed to burst and is currently bursting. I believe it will settle down in two to three years, styles will change once again, while at the same time quality artists will remain and stay true to themselves and as stated before, a new underground always emerges. Art loops, only taking steps forward as technology progresses, allowing for new ways of making art and approaching its themes. It is the same in music.

Lotta & Brent: Not scary at all for us. Post-COVID, it's like a party explosion. Raves hitting the mainstream is a win because it means more folks can jump in. And with the right tools we can educate them and enlighten them: no judgment, no power, no intimidation, just a moment for everyone to feel the music, vibe with the sounds, feel liberated and free and express themselves. Hardcore is the new hippie!

Any word of advice for up-and-coming artists?

Antoine: Find your groove, be original, don’t be scared of eclecticism, go out of your comfort zone, experiment, find more passions aside from creation, learn how to live sustainably –you’ll need it if you become successful– take care of yourself and others, focus on the intention behind your creation and never underestimate the power of good music!

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @musique.dascenseur @het_bos / @the____shade / @chanoirs / @by_veduta / @we.are.stimular / @grid.avi / @brikabrak.bxl @laagzwart / @who_is_zaika <br/> <p> The Sound of the Belgian Underground <br/> 02.02.2024 - Brussels, Ancienne Belgique <br/> Go to this festival for free as a Different Class member. </br> Enjoy our limited offer now, 50% discount on the first 3 months. Don't sleep! </div></div>

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