Best of les Belges: festival season’s homegrown must-sees

 While Belgium’s festivals are major international attractions for bands and fans alike, the country’s local boys and girls don’t always get the limelight they deserve. But there’s little doubt that the Belgian music horizon is buzzing. This year’s festival programmes are a testament to this huge well of domestic darlings, with impressive lineups of homegrown acts from all genres: Girls in Hawaii celebrate their long awaited comeback while festival vets like Lefto continue to fly the flag and newcomers like Soldier’s Heart, Recorders and Vuurwerk point to a bright future. Here’s our hand-picked selection of native musos to check out during the festival season.

Girls in Hawaii

This festival summer marks the return of one of our favourite Belgian indie rock outfits after a two-year hiatus. After the unfortunate death of drummer Dennis Wielemans, Girls in Hawaii are finally back on our radar with the dreamy, slightly melancholic new single ‘Misses’ and a new album set for release in September. The follow-up to 2008’s ‘Plan Your Escape’ was recorded in Paris and mixed by none other than Tchad Blake (The Black Keys, The Dandy Warhols…) so grab the chance to experience their comeback live on stage at Pukkelpop.

Pukkelpop, 16 August

Veence Hanao

Brussels-based Veence Hanao has put Belgian rap back on our radar. “A witty wordsmith with a penchant for self-depreciation” as he’s described in The Word Magazine’s latest edition, he says his music is located somewhere between rap, spoken word and, yes, French chanson. Although not a huge festival-goer himself, he’s looking forward to experiencing the summer stages: “It forces me to work on a live-set that is different from the one I’m used to play in clubs, one that gets me out of my comfort zone and puts an accent on energy and dynamics,” says Veence.

Dour, 18 July

Cupp Cave

Cupp Cave‘s sound is something of a revelation,” raves Boomkat about the Liège producer, who also releases music under the moniker Ssaliva. And we are inclined to agree: Francois Boulanger’s carefully crafted sound irresistibly sucks you in with hypnotising, drippy beats and experimental, bewitching dreamscapes. We strongly recommend checking him out at this year’s Dour festival.

Dour, 19 July

Alek & Les Japonaises

Alek & Les Japonaises are probably Belgium’s quirkiest and most colourful music duo. They’ve got a thing going on that’s impossible to pigeonhole: “We don’t even know if this is a genre, but we call what we do electropical music, a mix of tropical and electro pop,” they say. This year they’re set to preform at Dour, something Brazilian-Belgian Alek Boff and Japanese Mai Ogawa, a classical pianist, can’t quite believe themselves: “When we started, we never expected to play at a festival. We didn’t even expect to play more than one show!” But their insane musical mix with lyrics in Japanese, French, Spanish and Dutch seems to have struck a chord and their live gigs are a glittery, fun affair full of kitschy costumes and weird gadgets that you should not miss out on.

Bitume Festival, 13 July

Dour, 21 July

Pukkelpop, 15-17 August

Pomrad

Last year Adriaan Van de Velde a.k.a. Pomrad caught our attention with his electrifying performance at Dour (read the interview here). His debut EP ‘Vlotjes’ even earned him a spot on the list of best Belgian newcomers of 2012. Since then, the electronic music producer from Antwerp, a trained jazz pianist, has been signed to London label Earnest Endeavours. He released his second EP ‘This Day’ earlier this year, another signature offering of electronic funk and this summer the introverted bedroom producer will be getting a feel for the bigger stages, including at Pukkelpop in Hasselt.

Boomtown, 26 July

Pukkelpop, 15 August

Deep in the Woods, 6 September

Recorders

Recorders make dancy and atmospheric indie pop rock. Their moreish debut single ‘Purple and Gold’ has been surfing the radio waves this summer, preparing the ground for their first album ‘Above the Tide’ out on Parlophone this fall. Although in the early stages of their musical career, the five-piece can already claim a number of impressive accomplishments, from getting Tony Hoffer (M83, Phoenix) to mix their debut record to touring with The Fratellis. “Playing concerts and especially the big summer festivals are really the pinnacle of it and something we’ve dreamed of when we started out,” they confess. “We’re particularly looking forward to play at Dour this year and Fuji Rock or Coachella one day would be a fantasy come true.” A Belgian band to watch out for in 2013.

Dour, 20 July

Brussels Summer Festival, 15 August

Vuurwerk

Although the guys from Vuurwerk confess that they’re “definitely not a festival band”, we strongly recommend checking out the Brussels-based producer crew at this summer’s Pukkelpop or 10 Days Off. “It’s a big honour and a dream come true to play alongside Matthew Dear or Kendrick Lamar,” say the Belgian newcomers who put on a helluva show at The Word Magazine’s five-year birthday party in February. Their debut album ME+ONE was released in April, an “attempt to overcome the dissonance between dance music and intimacy.”

10 Days Off, 19 July

Pukkelpop, 15 August

Soldier’s Heart

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVNvtbnDetA

Before even releasing their debut, Antwerp dream pop outfit Soldier’s Heart have made it into the line-up of one of Belgium’s biggest festivals: Pukkelpop. “This is really a dream coming true,” say the band, adding “One year ago we were dreaming about playing at Café Video, a small music bar in Ghent. But now we will be playing at big festivals which is almost giving us a heart attack. And working on our debut is almost as scary as playing in front of a large audience.” Their first single, ‘African Fire’, a dreamy synth pop tune à la Cocorosie definitely leaves you wanting more. It will be interesting to see how the newbies handle their sudden rise.

Boomtown, 25 July

Pukkelpop, 17 August

Black Heart Rebellion

For those into darker and heavier sounds, Ghent’s Black Heart Rebellion are a sure hit. Their crafty mix of post hardcore and experimental post rock is haunting and apocalyptic, giving the middle finger to the sunny festival spirit. “Atmosphere, surrender and intensity always have been and still are our keywords,” they say of their style which they’ve refined a lot since the early days on the Belgian punk scene in 2004. In the meantime Black Heart Rebellion have toured Japan and released their second album Har Nevo. “2013 is really an overwhelming year for us. Incubate, Roadburn, Pukkelpop, Dour, Fluff Fest… These were high on our want-list. Eight years ago we would have never thought we would play these festivals…”

Dour, 19 July

Ieperfest, 11 August

Pukkelpop, 16 August

SX

Rock Werchter is one of Europe’s biggest music festivals and five-time winner of the Arthur award for best festival in the world. Belgian acts have no real home advantage here however, so it’s quite a feat for Kortrijk indie pop outfit SX to have made it into the line-up this summer. “We’re spoilt here in Belgium with great festivals like Dour, Cactus, Werchter and Pukkelpop”, say SX, adding “…but playing at Coachella one day would be really cool.” And why not? Since their sudden success following their ethereal but catchy hit single ‘Black Video’, things have only been getting better for the band. “We blend pop music with techno, soul and other stuff into our own mix which we sometimes call ‘magnetic’”, they say of their debut record Arche, released in November 2012.

Rock Werchter, 6 July

Cactus Festival, 14 July

Dour, 19 July

BRNS

“We play indie pop music, but try to enrich it with other styles like math rock, post rock and abstract hip hop,” say BRNS about their catchy sort-of experimental indie rock in the style of Menomena’s ‘Friend and Foe’. And although they’ve so far only released ‘Wounded’, which is more like an extended EP than an album thanks to a track list of only seven songs, they’ve already made quite a name for themselves. After their first festival experiences at renowned music bashes like Dour, Les Ardentes and Rock en Seine last year, they’re ready to attack Pukkelpop this summer. “The best is that we get to wear shorts and tank tops on stage. Plus, festivals are a great way for people to discover our music. A lot of people will see us for the first time so we want to give it all.”

Dour, 18 July

Pukkelpop, 16 August

Lefto

Lefto is undoubtedly one of Belgium’s most prominent DJs and a bit of a festival veteran (this year will mark his 11th Dour…) If you haven’t caught him live on stage yet you should definitely catch up this summer. He relentlessly tours the world as well as co-programs festivals, presents a radio show on Studio Brussel and co-runs the B9000 label. “There are DJs who change to commercial stuff when they have problems, but that’s no solution. I basically play what I like. And I am very lucky that I have a crowd that comes especially to hear my stuff,” he told The Word Magazine at Dour last year.

Dour, 20 July

Coely

Coely’s very first festival summer has been a busy one: the young Antwerp rapper with Congolese roots is set to play Dour, Lokerse Festen, plus about 30 more dates in Benelux – quite a schedule for a 19-year-old newbie. But her singles ‘Ain’t Chasing Pavements’ and ‘Nothing on Me’ speak of her talent, as do her live performances in front of sold out crowds supporting the likes of Jessie Ware, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar. Belgium’s next rap VIP? Find out for yourself at one of her many dates this summer.

Dour, 19 July

Boomtown, 23 July

Lokerse Festen, 9 August