Back in April, Wim went to see some heavy stuff at Magazin 4 in Brussels, namely Angakok, Birushanah and Monarch. He came back with these photos. You can also watch them on Flickr (click here).
Belgian label Consouling Sounds is our country's leading expert in all things drone and ambient. In a way, I also think Consouling Sounds is at least partially responsible for the genre to evolve and alter. I mean, in my life I have heard countless of ambient albums and seen many acts perform their breathtaking music live but I have never witnessed something as immersive, danceable and intense as the three gigs I plunged into last night. Drone music is no longer the dark and lazy cousin of ambient, oh no. Drone is the new jazz.
I arrived just in time to climb up the stairs towards the Trix Bar and find myself a nice spot to see what this A-Sun Amissa was all about. I already heard the new album (and I'm listening to it this very moment) so I had a decent idea. However, the album contains a plethora of guest appearances and on the gig the band was a trio but that didn't seem to harm the quality and intensity.
I think the safest thing I can do, is compare A-Sun Amissa to acts like Dale Cooper Quartet and the Dictaphones or Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. With a blend of drones, experimental ambient and dark jazz, this act convinced me from the very beginning. Their set was the slowest, the only one without a trace of percussion but nonetheless an awe-inspiring and highly immersive one. It gave me goosebumps and I'm damn sure that I wasn't the only one. For a period of time, the entire audience must have felt like they were extra's in the new Twin Peaks series.
I remember thinking of one of his songs as 'Born Slippy' of the drone-ambient scene and another one of Front 242 meeting Aidan Baker, or something like that. Nevertheless, Barst live is always an adventure and in that aspect, this gig was no different. Even I, mister stiff, was dancing a little bit. This evening was getting better and better and the headliner was still to come.
For those who don't know, Yodok III is the new wave of jazz collaboration between Kristoffer Lo, Tomas Järmyr and Dirk Serries. On their own, each of them makes excellent, progressive and experimental music but together they seem to shine like no other. At least, that is the impression I had last night. I know that collaborations make artists better, more versatile too, but this was simply out of this world.
The concert started like many of the Dirk Serries concerts I have seen in my life. Sluggish soundscapes and drones gently filled the room before the other two started interfering. The dynamic and often insane drums of Tomas turned the whole thing into free jazz while Kristoffer added a touch of gloominess. From then on, the music grew, gained momentum and intensity. Hell, quite often even Dirk Serries was headbanging. Yeah, headbanging, to jazz, because why not. This gig had more intensity that most of the metal gigs I have seen (and believe, that is a lot).
I often try to indicate a winner, an imaginary price for best gig of the evening but I'm not going to do that here. For me, A-Sun Amissa won in sound, Barst won in party-caliber and Yodok III won in experience and intensity. Perhaps the biggest winner of the night was Consouling Sounds. Them or the audience. I think it's going to be extremely tough to equate the sheer quality that pierced our eardrums last night. Like I said, drone is the new jazz and it can get bloody heavy...
Living room concerts: chamber music for alternativos
In the past few days, my wife and I have been invited to two living room concerts. I'm not sure if we can speak of a new trend in the music scene, but as far as I'm concerned, everybody can invite me into their house to enjoy some beautiful music. I'll even bring my own drinks. At these two gigs combined, there were about twenty five people. Therefore, these gigs came with an intimate atmosphere, making it easy to compare them with eighteenth century chamber music performances. For a few hours, all twenty five of us felt like old European nobility who witnessed something unique, something nobody else would.
While the city of Antwerp was becoming occupied with Iron Maiden fans, we prepared for an entirely different day of music. For us, it started in the afternoon, when we went to the beautifully renewed Elizabeth Zaal in Antwerp. There, we witnessed Belgian jazz and classical music pianist Jef Neve perform 'Rhapsody In Blue' by Gershwin, accompagnied by a full orchestra. As expected, this was a performance from a very high level but what followed was even more breathtaking. After a short technical break, the Chorale choir walked on stage, along with a youth choir. Shortly after, the massively popular 'Oh Fortuna' by Carl Orff resonated through the theater, followed by the rest of the 'Carmina Burana'. Magic, pure magic, but what would you expect. There were about 200 people on stage, each of them a highly trained master of his/her skill. This was top level in all its glory and bombast.
Stratosphere and Ashtoreth
An Irish coffee and a durum later, we walked to a nearby street where we would soon enter the living room by someone named Thomas. We were early, but we are always early. Early to arrive and early to go (I have things to do at night, and at the end of this review, I'll tell you about it). We met up with the artists and the other people and prepared for the exact opposite of the earlier performance.
Stratosphere opened and did that in perfect Stratosphere style. His gig was quite similar to that in Mol, which proves my theory that he is the perfectionist who methodically prepares his set. The two tracks he played were two of his best and it's always a pleasure to listen to them. With our eyes closed and our asses comfortable on a chair we allowed Stratosphere to take us into another dimension.
Before the show, the artists had been talking about unwanted sounds, like the noises a cable makes when you plug it in our out. Well, guess what. That was exactly what happened when Ashtoreth started his set. Yet, since he is the improviser, he just worked his way around it and turned it into a ritualistic piece of music. He played a lot louder too, creating both intimacy and intensity.
After a short break, less technical than the one at the 'Carmina Burana' concert, both artists walked back to the stage and performed a song they made together. I was curious since the two are completely different characters and have a completely different way of composing music. But what I heard was amazing, a brilliant and coherent combination of both solo acts, one that is definitely suited to be repeated.
Two days later, we jumped on the tram towards Ashtoreth's living room where a duo named Kuro was about to perform. We didn't know the band but hey, when you're invited to that living room, you go. Once inside, we noticed the instruments, a violin, a theremin and an electric double bass. I loved it already. We cheated a bit too, since we listened to their album beforehand. I couldn't wait for this gig to start.
When it did, it pretty much blew everybody away. From inside the very soul of these instruments came a form of music that blended drones, ambient, classical music and jazz together in a whirlpool of soundscapes. I fell in love with the double bass (afterwards, Ashtoreth and I were plotting a plan to steal it) and, like every one inside, I was mesmerized by the music these two played. Of course we bought the vinyl afterwards.
When the final tones of the concert faded away, something hilarious happened, but I'm not going to tell you what that was. To know that, you will have to read my book, 'Cecilia's World' which is currently being written. This concert (and many others) will appear in it since it's a book about a young girl who discovered the world of alternative and underground music. Merchants Of Air will keep you updated about that when the time is right.
So, anyway, these were two amazing concerts which I will not easily forget.
Bands & Festivals