Not for the money, just out of love

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Next February will be a bit more special than usual as it marks ten years of collaborating on The Sound of the Belgian Underground with Ancienne Belgique. To celebrate this glorious occasion, the evening will feature live sets and (!) 5 back-to-back DJ sets, keeping you grooving from dusk till dawn. Get ready for SOBU 2024 as we chat with up-and-coming DJs Erykah and Stella K about nightlife, the underground scene and much more.

Hey! Could you tell us a bit more about yourselves?

Erykah: I’m from Ghent and I’ve been DJing for just over a year now. It went really fast [laughs]. Sometimes I feel like I need to catch up with where I want to be compared to where I actually am. It’s a learning process. I’m also still studying, so it’s been a bit of a hectic year trying to juggle student life with being tempted to say yes to a lot of fun gigs and projects. I’m trying to navigate through the situation I’m currently in [laughs].

Stella K: I come from the west of France, from Brittany. I’ve been in Brussels for the past two years now. I also study and do a master's degree at ERG, although I don’t do graphic research at all [laughs]. I’m more into performing arts and video. Apart from that, I’ve been DJing over the past 5 years in my room and it actually ‘went out of that room’ when I arrived in Belgium. I have the impression the scene here is way more ‘human-sized’ than in France or Berlin. So, it has been a nice couple of years in Belgium so far; I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s coming! 

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You’re both connected to different collectives, Erika is a member of Leda Collective and Stella participates in events of Sal de Fête. How important is it to be engaged in a larger family when it comes to developing yourselves?

Erykah: Since the summer I took a step back from the collective since my life was a bit hectic and I didn’t feel I had enough energy to invest in it 100%. The reason we started it was to contribute to a safer nightlife. We noticed there was a very general way of going out, not very inclusive to as many people as it could be. We started out as an aid group that grants extra measurements in venues to make sure everybody feels comfortable, can go where they want, take a breather whenever etc.  Our own friend group was hosting parties and we were providing a small care team to make sure that there was an alternative group that provided extra care and a quiet space. A lot of venues started to ask for us at parties, but sometimes without having the intention to change their way of organising them. What we’ve learned through the year-long journey of experience is that LEDA also wants to focus on sharing knowledge –like workshops, participative events and the creation of a knowledge-based platform, instead of solely going to venues or promoters. 

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A lot has been said and done about creating safe spaces, generating more inclusivity and placing an emphasis on self-care in relation to the nightlife scene. Do you think betterment is on the way?

Stella K: Honestly, I think more awareness has been brought about through important questions concerning gender and racial equality, which really gave it an actual ‘room’ in nightlife. On the other hand, whenever these questions are tackled by bigger venues and organisations, there is still a big gap between involvement and actual action. I noticed that it can become some sort of commercial gimmick instead. 

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I have the impression it’s often just trying to be inclusive because it grants a commercial opportunity.

Erykah: It is becoming profitable for big-scaled organisations to copy the safer space workings of small-based collectives and organisations. But these 'not-so-thought-through' tactics don't often help visitors. It can sometimes be more harmful to provide a fake service than to not have it at all. Organisations need to see if their facilities can offer a safer environment, see if the staff they're working with is aware of certain values and morals and if the core team of their organisation is willing to change certain behaviours in order to implement a safer space policy. It's good if you're genuinely trying, it's harmful if you're just doing it to lure in more people and money by claiming that you're a 'safer' venue.

Organisations need to see if their facilities can offer a safer environment, see if the staff they're working with is aware of certain values and morals and if the core team of their organisation is willing to change certain behaviours in order to implement a safer space policy

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Stella K: Yes. It’s difficult to strike a balance. But at the same time, so many things are happening because so many people are really trying to make things change; it feels really nice to come into contact with people and try to help them instead of being focused on making a profit. For example, with the other collective I’m a resident of, Call of Dirty, real efforts are being made to create a safer space for queer people, but above all to combine it with great musical programming. 

I feel it’s really important to show that it’s not only good to represent diversity, but that in diversity you have great artists. It happens, for example, that artists who identify as trans and other gender minorities are getting booked just for their identities, without actually caring about the music they make. 

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Just for ‘the numbers’, basically.

Stella K: Yeah, but behind those numbers are really talented people. 

Erykah: Sometimes I wonder if it went so fast for me just because I’m a woman and a black woman –that’s like double ‘ticks’. It can make you insecure if you’re the only female and/or black artist on a lineup. It makes you unsure whether they booked you for your music or if they’re just using you as a token. 

Stella K: Oh my God –the imposter syndrome. 

Erykah: [laughs] Yes, exactly. But it’s very much there. 

Stella K: I really feel you. But at the same time, it pushes us to try and ‘get there’ you know. To just keep on improving and work hard. 

How do you assess the underground nightlife in Brussels and Belgium as a whole over the last few years? A lot of clubs and organisations went bust due to the pandemic, life is getting more expensive… How do you cope with these evolutions?

Stella K: So, I think… a lot of things [laughs]. I wasn’t here yet, so I never experienced the Belgian nightlife before the pandemic. I must say I was surprised when I arrived in Brussels, there were not as many venues as I expected from a European capital. When I got involved with Sal de Fête, we were actively trying to find smaller venues that combine a great sound system with a nice area and indoor space but it’s hard to find [laughs]. Apart from that, we put an emphasis on quality above quantity and we worked together with other collectives like Montage, to put on meaningful events centred around the music, with like-minded people. With our radio residencies at LYL radio and Kiosk radio, we can focus on the curatorial aspect of programming, instead of adapting when you’re trying to find a venue. People also want to party in places other than the venues we already know about –which I thank every day for their existence and programming– but there’s simply a lack.

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Erykah: It just struck me that during COVID a lot of house parties happened –which I am, by the way, not an advocate for!– and it became another way of getting together with people. I also noticed those parties didn’t stay in a certain group of friends but became a way to get to know other people from different friend groups. At house parties or in smaller venues it’s easier to just float around, be yourself and meet new people in a more organic way. I do miss that now, I can’t really pinpoint why. More is definitely happening right now, which makes it harder to choose or just makes you wanna stay home on a Saturday night [laughs]. 

The term ‘underground’ is often thrown around casually, but what does it signify for you as an artist? Does it matter? 

Erykah: I started to understand this term when I started focusing more on the music I like; the British underground, garage, jungle, drum & bass. In my head ‘underground’ means original, one of the first, or ‘it started there, and then it went…’ But I don’t feel I’m from there if that makes any sense… Sometimes I think I’m misusing it, not the term ‘underground’, but the music. I’ll just play something without knowing enough about it and I do feel like, when it comes to the underground or any other type of ‘scene’, it automatically should come along with looking up and reading about it. Attempting to understand it.

Stella K: I agree. I also think it’s a question of money because it can be used as a label for people to pay €20 a night because it is ‘underground’ and therefore cool. I began going to parties when I was about 14 in Paris or Marseille, and now I think that time was very ‘underground’ in the sense that they were not profit-making parties, but everything was about the music, the energy. 

Underground is not only a type of music but also a type of energy that doesn’t run through the official circuits. It’s a very touchy subject. I don’t like it when it becomes a label. 

As Erykah said, I also think it’s good that people get interested in certain types of music because they are not so popular and therefore underground, which shines a light on the artists who made it. Perhaps what makes underground the ‘underground’ is that the people who make it aren’t doing it for the money, but just out of love. That’s an important condition. 

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How did you get involved with The Sound of the Belgian Underground and the events of Different Class? 

Eryka: I already knew of Different Class, just as a fan. Fairly recently Somto, the booker of nacht (and agenda editor for DC), asked if I wanted to collaborate with Donia for a b2b. I’m very excited about the collaboration and the fact that they thought of me to join the line-up. With people you don’t know it’s even more daunting! It’s getting to know each other, each other’s music and picking up on that vibe, all in one set [laughs].

Stella K: I’m playing b2b with Camilla, instar from Burenhinder, I’m really happy about that. We’re both quite eclectic in our selection, so I’m curious and excited to see how it all turns out. I also really like the tension of playing b2b; you never know what’s gonna happen next. 

I’m very excited about the collaboration and the fact that they thought of me to join the line-up

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What can we expect from the sets you will play at The Sound of the Belgian Underground at Ancienne Belgique?

Erykah: What I like about b2b’s is that you begin to rediscover your love for music that you may not have played in a while, all in the quest to find a complementary track for what the other DJ is playing. When playing solo, you typically have an outlined idea of what you want to play. However, when collaborating with someone, you truly get to know each other and discover new aspects of yourself. So, there's a lot to be excited about.

Stella K: Oh yeah, that’s nice… I didn’t think about it that way. It’s true, knowing a bit about Camilla's music, I have no idea, but there's definitely going to be a lot of sexy breaks and some good bass going on, as well as a few guilty pleasures!

What I like about b2b’s is that you begin to rediscover your love for music that you may not have played in a while

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @stellamakina / @eerykah_ <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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