Home Art The sounds of Brussels. Why the city is a musical hotspot – POLITICO

The sounds of Brussels. Why the city is a musical hotspot – POLITICO

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We don’t have the towers of New York
We don’t have daylight for 6 months of the year
We don’t have Beaubourg or the Seine
We are not the city of love, but hey you see

And surely from this evening the sky will cover a storm
But after the storm with beers, people will party.

— First lines of “Brussels I love you” by Angèle.

“So this weekend I came across a little festival in a square, and there was some fantastic Senegalese folk music playing,” is probably a phrase that has been uttered in Brussels in recent weeks.

That’s because the city has a wonderful range of music, found everywhere from the biggest concert halls to your local bar. Jazz, hip-hop and all genres are plentiful, and big bands come here too (but remember that the Flemings in particular are often very big, so don’t stay behind them!)

To talk about it all would fill several volumes, but here’s a taste of the best that Brussels has/had to offer in terms of venues, labels, shops, artists and much more — plus a playlist for your commute home-work.

Concert halls

There are certain characteristics of a Brussels show: curiously punctual, they will always start and end on time; the acoustics will be solid (unless you’re pushed right in front of a speaker but, you know, plan accordingly); and the audience will be respectfully enthusiastic about those performing and each other.

Smack-bang in the center of the city, it’s Former Belgium, a former bank vault and retirement home that has hosted entertainment greats since the 1930s (minus a few years in the 1970s when it was closed). Think of a big name in music and they’ve probably played here, from Edith Piaf and Joséphine Baker to Leonard Cohen and Kraftwerk. She also organizes events in the Brussels park, opposite the royal palace, notably at Feeërieën (and yes, that’s the right number of e’s), where you can spend summer evenings listening to good music surrounded by light garlands — for free!

Looking for a chance to sit in a glorious great room? Designed by Viktor Horta (surprise!) almost a century ago, BOZAR The many rooms of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, including the vast Henry Le Bœuf room, have hosted some of the biggest names in music, from classical masters to the coolest techno artists. It is also home to the Belgian National Orchestra, as well as annual festivals as varied as the classic Klarafestival, the Afropolitan and the electronic rhythms of Nuits Sonores.

From botanical studies to the cultural center then to the indie darling, Botanical also puts on hundreds of shows in its three concert halls each year, and each venue offers something a little different. The biggest names come to the “Orangerie”, the smaller and circular “Rotunde” is warm and intimate (and, rare, you can both sit and see!), then there is the cellar “ Witloof Bar,” which looks like any hip place. the group’s dream.

At this point, the imposing structure that is Flagey basically means great sound. Formerly the headquarters of the National Radio Broadcasting Institute, today the headquarters of the Brussels Philharmonic, the renovated building welcomes the public of Piano Days, the Brussels Jazz Festival and many contemporary names.

Flemish Cultural Institute Beursschouwburg — right next to the Bourse, in the center‚ offers an eclectic mix of shows and events and has a rooftop bar. If, for example, you wanted to watch a documentary about the punk scene in Argentina, this is the place to go. He’s also established some big names on the verge of taking it to the next level, like Caribou and Sleaford Mods.

Want some jazz? You can walk towards the center in the red glow of the musical village for a Tuesday jam session or for the weekend program in the art deco institution that is The Archduke on Danseart, open since 1937 and known for having hosted greats like Miles Davis and Bill Evans. There is also Sounds in Ixelles, which has been organizing concerts and jam sessions for decades.

Music festivals

Whether it is the Balkan traffic! festival invade the city center, Listen! bringing underground names to venues across the city, the Jazz Weekend in Brussels and its hundreds of free concerts, or even the novelty of CORE Festival At Osseghem Park, there is no shortage of music festivals – and many of them are free. The main limiting factor could well be the weather.

But among the main pillars of the city, we find Coffee color, which has been taking place since 1990. By taking over the Heysel plateau near the Atomium for three days at the end of June or beginning of July, numerous world music can be discovered on several stages. Sunscreen, hydration and an innate desire to dance are recommended. Bonus points: It’s easy to get home by bus.

Brussels artists

Brussels has been involved in many musical fields. And while many artists have drawn inspiration from the city, over the years some have become almost synonymous with it.

Jacques Brel: The undisputed guv’nor of Brussels music, Brel was the master of song, whose moving songs of love and death could not be contained in the French-speaking world and made him an international star. Brel’s father ran a cardboard factory in which the young singer was determined not to work. Pulp paper’s loss was music’s gain. Brel once said: “in my eyes, Brussels has always been a tramway” – and that probably wasn’t a compliment, but he now has a metro station named after him.

Toots Thielemans: An official jazz master who has also taken the United States by storm, composer and musician Thielemans is known for giving the harmonica its rightful place in the genre (with its immaculate whistling). Beginning in the 1950s, Thielemans worked and performed with names like Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, and Dizzy Gillespie, and can be heard on many classic soundtracks, as well as the theme song from “Sesame Street”.”

Stromae: Originally from Laeken, Stromae is undeniably one of the most internationally recognized Brussels names in recent years, whether on stage with Kanye West at Coachella or stumbling around Louise for a clip. Marrying heavy lyrics with beats that make you want to get up and dance, he delivers a cross-cultural pop concoction tailored to his hometown since his breakthrough with “Then we dance” in 2009.

Angela: Angèle Van Laeken comes from a family of musicians (dad is the singer Marka, brother is the rapper Romeo Elvis). She rose to fame in 2016 by posting short clips on Instagram; two years later, his first album, “Brol”, sold a million copies; and in 2019 she was one of the faces of Chanel. I think we can call it a meteoric rise. There is now a show about her on Netflix, she is in duet with Dua Lipa and his song of “Brussels I love you” is the official anthem of the city.

People attend the first day of the Couleur Café music festival in Brussels | Hatim Kaghat/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

Telex: An unusual entrant in 1980s Eurovision – and harboring hopes of placing last in the competition with his song “Euro Vision”, which will burrow into your brain for days – Telex rode the kitschy, catchy end of the 1970s synth wave train. Also collaborating with the equally enigmatic Sparks brothers, the trio blended their synths and processed vocals with plenty of dry humor through weird covers and offbeat electro-pop hits before calling time on their band.

Dan: The award-winning ZAMU project from Daan Stuyven of Dead Man Ray, best known for the 2009 hit “Icon», Daan has been putting his authoritative voice on catchy tunes with a touch of irony since the end of the 1990s. Moving from dancefloor hits to cinematic dramas and bluesy in several languages, he can often be found on Brussels stages alone or with his group after each new release.

Guy Zwangere: Gorik van Oudheusden is a Dutch-speaking rapper from (mostly) the leafy town of Uccle, and he’s as decorated with awards as he is with tattoos. He has also worked with Belgian musical royalty, from Selah Sue to the late great Arno.

Lara Fabien: A list of Brussels names wouldn’t be complete without one of the world’s objectively impressive voices and soulful performers, as well as one of the best-selling Belgian artists of all time. Born in Etterbeek and student at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Fabian had her first encounter with the European public when she represented Luxembourg at Eurovision in 1988 before going platinum with her debut album.

Record labels

From the legendary to the brand new, Brussels has several. Here are the two big ones:

Present since 1981 — a relatively long period for an independent label — Jammed discs is now known for its curious curations and adventurous sounds from around the world. Founded by Marc Hollander of Aksak Maboul, the label received a WOMEX award and is doing well, home to artists like Bebel Gilberto, Yasmine Hamdan and Juana Molina.

One of the most famous labels in the city, even in the country, (PIAS) Records was founded in 1983 and its full name is of course: Play It Again Sam. Now a full-fledged family of independent labels, the group (PIAS) is a who’s who of Belgium and beyond, and their offices feature now from a record store called (AT PIAS) Also.

Record stores

A few spots for those who want to dig through Brussels and encounter the right amount of dust.

Located right next to Manneken Pis and brimming with progressive and psychedelic rock, it’s Calves and Geeks, a one-stop shop for hidden gems with explosive guitars. Or you can go through the next tagged door to comb through the piles of second-hand rarities at Arlqeuin. Better yet, do you want a record store for all things indie instead? Then there is Caroline Musicopposite Ancienne Belgique.

We could also go to Marolles, where there are many record stores in the city, and Shrimp will welcome you with a huge illustrated shrimp on its window. The place is full of new and used records, with crates of vinyl dedicated to the vast spectrum of electronic music. Founded by Renaud, alias ATTARI, Sono Ventura there is also one and, which is rare in Brussels, it is open every day. They have a selection covering all genres of new and used vinyl, and are also known for their outdoor parties.

Stromae performs on stage at the outdoor theater during the 2022 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

Finally, nestled in Saint-Gilles, is Dust merchants, as warm as the funky tunes that line its shelves. They also offer a personalized subscription service for those who need new discoveries.

Honorable mention

Broadcast from a wooden cabin in the Brussels park, located between shade and refreshments, Radio kiosk has become a must-see in Brussels. They can be found streaming songs of all kinds 24 hours a day – or just watching their delightfully cramped feed.

This article is part of the Brussels Guide special report.

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