The label that brought some of last year’s most genius releases – World of Shells by Typhonian Highlife, or Ignatz’s The Drain being just two examples – is hosting, true to tradition, its annual festival. Honouring the label’s incessant efforts to promote everything avant-garde and experimental, we sit down with Niels Latomme, who’s – next to Pauwel De Buck – behind the festival’s programme, for a talk on its 20th (!) anniversary and the offstream gems you shouldn’t miss at Brussels’ Beursschouwburg this weekend.
For the second year in a row, Kraak Festival will take in the Beursschouwburg in Brussels’ city centre. It must be quite a change from Aalst’s Netwerk venue and Zaal België in Hasselt. Why the relocation to the capital?
It was a pretty natural development, actually. A venue has to be willing to participate in these kinds of events, and thanks to collaborations with Beursschouwburg in the past, it was a quick match. They’re ready to support the programme, and it just felt right, so I’d say that’s the main reason. Another significant aspect is the fact that Brussels is much more in-tune with what we’re doing nowadays. If you compare the current scene to the one you had 15 years ago, you’ll notice that there has been a massive explosion in DIY culture. Looking at labels like Lexi Disques, or venues such as Les Ateliers Claus, we feel that Brussels is the most interesting place for the festival.
Kraak has been around for twenty years now. You must’ve seen the musical landscape change considerably over time, with the amount of independent music labels multiplied. How do you position yourselves within this continuously evolving landscape?
We evolve with it. Kraak was one of the few – next to Dennis Tyfus, Scheld’apen and a handful of others – to program this kind of music at the end of the 90s and in the early 2000s, and you could say in a way that we were pioneers for the current flourishing musical climate in the country. Back then, Kraak developed into a club with a set of venues, we were organising so many concerts. Nowadays we take a more curatorial role – albeit not in an academical sense, we aren’t going to start writing essays and program hermetically closed stuff. We’ll always have our archetypal quirky side. What we do try to achieve is bringing artists together, especially those that wouldn’t easily find their way to our country otherwise. Then we try to link them thematically, in an intuitive way. Take for example a concert series such as BRAUBLFF, hosted in collaboration with Rotterdam’s De Player: five evenings with a focus on sound poetry, where the link between music and language is explored. Or a festival such as Eastern Daze, which is all about the parallels between ethnic music and western avant-garde music.
Stringed sirrups was the most challenging and adventurous performances I saw last year, Bergmark proved to be a innovator pur sang who reinvented the idea of an instrument is through a 20 minute performance . By hanging himself onto two piano strings, his body became one with the instrument he developed.
Is Kraak festival itself bound to a theme as well?
The festival happens on a much larger spectrum, although we do aim to offer a stage to artists that have barely, or never played in Belgium before. And we don’t care if those artists are just starting out, or are artists such as Beatriz Ferreira, who’s been active for 40 years now. There’s not a theme per se, our biggest goal is to expose and show the scene, its evolution and its development.
Can you explain Kraak’s musical philosophy?
Kraak isn’t genre-bound. We’re a bunch of music buffs, so we can’t bear to focus on just one specific style. We’d rather define the music and artists we promote and represent as ‘offstream’. Some might call it underground, but we’d rather steer away from that term as it doesn’t mean anything to us. It’s a term that’s constantly used, regardless of whether it’s relevant or not. There’s a tendency where everyone claims to be underground, but what does it mean in the end?
Exclusive Belgian performance by a true hearted sound researcher and musique concréte. GRM works (ed. Mego) stands, finally as a righteous ode to her ground breaking work.
How exactly would you define ‘offstream’?
It’s music that walks along the mainstream. We tend to look for artists with a curiosity of sorts, that have a desire to do things differently, whether that’s through distribution, or making electronica in the most complex of ways. We really look for artists that delve deep into the core of their craft. Kraak then aims to promote those artists, by putting up concerts for them and promoting them to an audience that’s as large as possible.
Where does the name ‘Kraak’ come from?
Johan Loones and Dave Driesmans, Kraak’s founders, came up with the name. It’s a reference to the sound a vinyl record makes at the end of a groove. Literally, the crack.Kraak festival takes place from 3rd until 5th March at Brussels’ Beursschouwburg kraak.net