That time we…. Profiled the country’s burgeoning punk-rock-noise scene (Part 1)

We continue our walk down memory lane with an in-depth feature on Belgium’s French-speaking region’s burgeoning punk-rock-noise scene. Featuring five acts – Moaning Cities, Mountain Bike, The Scrap Dealers, Umungus and It It Anita – and including intimate imagery by our in-house photographer Lisa Lapierre, the feature ran in our November 2014 edition. We begin with the feature’s first interview, that saw us talk with garage-rock outfit Mountain Bike.

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Made up from bits and pieces of Warm Toy Machine and the Marvin Gays, Mountain Bike emerged from the local garage universe and has been doing the rounds of the beer and sweat soaked scene since 2012. Their dirty and dusty groundwork has been overlain by a cheery infusion of pop attitude and can go from mellow to frenzied and back again in no time flat. They recently finished a European tour, and have opened for White Fence, Mikal Cronin and the Moonhearts.

On getting together

Etienne: Stefano and I used to live together in Toulouse and we came here together to make music. His brother, the bass player in Warm Toy Machine, used to be in art school here and when he came back to Toulouse he told us to get away from the south. There’s no money there. There’s 300 kilometres in between towns and you have to pay for the highway.

On Belgium

Stefano: It’s a totally different mentality, especially in Brussels. Belgium has the best festivals, and all the bands that play in Paris play here or in Antwerp. What more do you want?

Charles: You probably don’t realise it if you live in the middle of it, but for rock ‘n roll Belgium is one of the best spots in Europe, most definitely.

On side jobs

Etienne: I just quit my job as bartender at Madame Moustache. It’s too hard time-wise.

Stefano: I still work there as a bartender.

Charles: And we do the DJ stuff there too. Sixties vinyl DJ sets.

Aurélien: I give guitar lessons.

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On struggling

Charles: Our current financial situation is a pain in the ass.

Etienne: You have to have a good boss so you can say “Hey, I can’t work this weekend!”

Stefano: But it’s the same for everybody when you start. Maybe afterwards, we’ll be able to live from our music.

Etienne: That’s the dream.

Aurélien: I think it’s possible, but there will always be a moment where working and making music is hard.

Stefano: The moment where you start to get a lot of gigs. That’s when you have to quit the day job.

Charles: It’s getting better but still, it’s very hard. We all have to take days off to play and yeah, most of the time we get like 250, 300 euro for a gig so it’s hard to do it professionally.

Etienne: We don’t split the money, we just keep it to release albums and to pay for everything for the band like t-shirts etc.

Charles: Hopefully with the release of the album things are going to get better, that’s what we want, that’s our common goal. But it’s not with sales that you make money, because it’s a very limited amount of copies. Our goal at the moment is to make a great first album. If you have a dream, you’ve got to do what it takes to reach it.

Charles: Getting rich is not the dream.

Etienne: We don’t have children, we’re not engaged, we don’t run our own businesses

Charles: Of course it’s hard, but without the music we’d be sad people.

Etienne: For now, we’re really trying to get it out there, but maybe in a few years time if nothing happens, we’ll just keep the music to ourselves and go on working in whatever job we’re doing at that time.

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On touring

Etienne: We went on tour and we organised it all ourselves. Most of the time, there was nobody. Nobody knows you so there’s nobody in these shitty little places. Like in Italy, nobody turned up. It’s crazy.

Stefano: The north of Italy was really hard to play because the venues were always empty, people weren’t interested in Mountain Bike. Thanks to those tours I think we experienced all the bad stuff. I don’t think we can do worse then we did before.

Charles: We learned how to preserve ourselves from drinking too much. A hangover in a van, driving for five hours, that’s a pain in the ass.

Charles: But touring is great, you get to see people in their real lives. You get to discover countries very intensely. And most of the time you sleep at the promoter’s place, so they make you breakfast.

Charles: We used to do everything ourselves, we did a lot of tours with the Marvin Gays and Warm Toy Machine, so we know the network and we know lots of people in Italy, Switzerland and Germany. But now we would like to do something a bit more professional with a booker.

Charles: We work very closely with Wim from Heartbreak Tunes. He put us on some bills in Flanders.

Charles: That’s one of the things we are very happy about, getting gigs in Flanders. But it’s very hard to get to play there, I don’t know, maybe it’s a language thing.

Etienne: There’s a big scene there and the people really seem to like the shows.

Charles: Every time we go to play there, people are very enthusiastic.

Stefano: Well it’s the same in Wallonia, you’ll almost never see a Flemish band playing there.

Charles: We played a great gig in Berlin in front of a big, big audience for Volcom’s birthday bash.

Stefano: I was so happy to play with Radio Moscow because it’s one of my favourite bands. That was in Charleroi.

Charles: With the Marvin Gays I got to play with The Oh Sees and they played with Ty Segall. It’s very interesting to meet all of those people.

Etienne: And you start to realize that everyone faces the same problems you know, even these big bands of who you think that they’re very rich and stuff, but they never are, they’re tour in vans too.

Stefano: When you see bands like that playing for €400, you’re like “Ok, it’s not that bad.”

Charles: I think we live in a very good moment for music nowadays, it’s a very interesting time.

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On the name Mountain Bike

Aurélien: We picked it because it’s stupid.

Stefano: I’ve got a t-shirt with mountain bike written on it and a drawing of a mountain bike, so for the first seven inch, we tried to do a cover for the vinyl and we just took a picture of me with the t-shirt, without my head on it and with a guy playing the accordion in the street. So we just kind of kept the name.

Etienne: White fence is a really good band and their name means nothing.

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On pioneers

Etienne: We like the analogue stuff, analogue with tape. But recently the garage scene is more open to White Fence, Ty Segall, stuff like this, it’s less and less low-fi. When we started, Ty Segall was making really low-fi stuff. Since Jay Reatard, the garage scene is less segregated, more open-minded. This guy made splits with Beck, and he’s one of the geniuses.

Charles: This guy opened doors.

Stefano: He’s already dead.

Charles: He was the first one to get signed to a big label, coming from a very underground scene. In America he was on Matador for the last two albums. Deerhunter too, same thing.

Etienne: Black Lips, too.

Charles: They went into studios and had the opportunity to be on labels and everything. And obviously they had big access to everyone on Earth. Everybody was able to listen to those kinds of bands because they were properly recorded and well distributed.

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