Various venues, Brussels
With curatorial responsibilities handed entirely to Brussels-based collectives, venues, record stores and labels, Listen Festival 2023 was a celebration of local talent, allowing the community-building potential of music festivals space to take its fullest form.
During what was the event’s largest edition since its inception in 2016, this year’s chapter, staged at the end of last month, saw attendees dancing in 15 different venues across the city. Party-goers were granted access to converted train stations, money printing houses and even a neo-Gothic Roman Catholic church over the course of the affair – while also stepping into, naturally, some of the city’s more conventional club spaces. And with the programme’s strong focus on homegrown talent, the weekend presented a chance to experience the convergence of Brussels’ historic and contemporary cultural heritage in a multitude of ways.
Catering to even the most eclectic of tastes, the programme ranged from dub legend Adrian Sherwood – who presented his Dub No Frontiers project with the help of Brussels’ own High ‘n’ Irie Soundsystem – to a Nyege Nyege showcase with acts such as recent Crack Mix series artist Authentically Plastic. Those with a thirst for the styles more commonly-associated with the Belgian capital could hold out for the epic 27-hour Gayhaze X Spek party which spread across the Saturday and Sunday night and saw international house and techno giants Octo Octa and Roi Perez join local party-starters such as Spek’s Sixsixsixties for a sweat-fuelled knees-up.
From amapiano to experimental pop, here are the performances that best captured the essence of this year’s Listen Festival, a gathering with eclecticism and local pride at its core.
Friday night at Le Botanique was a showcase of some of the best in futuristic pop that the continent has to offer. Whilst other chambers of the historic cultural hub were filled with loyal Coucou Chloe and Mechatok fans, the venue’s intimate auditorium L’Orangerie offered a momentary detour from stony club beats and anthemic melodies. A soft hum of noise could be heard from a crowd poised in anticipation, and when Copenhagen-based composer, producer, guitarist and vocalist ML Buch joined her extensive hardware set-up on-stage, the audience response gave the impression that people had waited a while for this. Her modest stage presence illuminated by a single splintered spotlight, Buch switched between instruments, performing tracks from her sci-fi-inflected debut album Skinned as well as newer, more acoustic material from 2022 EP High speed calm air tonight. The crowd were completely enveloped in her dulcet vocals and evocative melodies.
Later on the Friday night, deciding where to settle was no easy feat. Liège-based collective Hybrid Nights teamed up with Crevette Records to host the likes of LCY, Simo Cell and Francesco Del Garda back-to-back Craig Richards at iconic club C12; over at abandoned warehouse Buda Bxl, local curator AliA co-hosted a dubwise bonanza alongside cherished Brussels label La Maloca.
At L’imprimerie, collective Not Your Techno rattled the walls of the former printing house. After technical issues cut an energetic set from Berlin’s CCL short, what would ensue was enough to wipe it from our minds completely. Despite a 20-minute-long period without speaker power, CCL left the crowd immutably charged. Their residual ecstasy and excitement for the next act was enough to keep their feet firmly planted. Once things were back up and running, local DJ and producer Cheb Runner ensured it was worth it. He saw opportunity in the enforced gear switch, and out of the stunted atmosphere emerged an intricate Middle Eastern folk song – an homage to Runner’s Moroccan heritage and a common thread that would proceed to run throughout his raucous set comprising electro, techno and gabber.
Saturday’s programme left us no more decisive in terms of venue, but with the decision to settle at repurposed train station Congrés came the opportunity to indulge in flavours of amapiano and gqom. The party was curated by Mo Mamba boss, Future Bounce signee and cherished local DJ Blck Mamba, and amongst those joining her were Zimbabwe-born and London-raised Charisse C and Antwerp’s Ninette, who was responsible for kicking things off. At just 16-years-old, Ninette’s ability to command a room, her technical prowess and perfectly-timed selections were enough to make a lasting impression. With her mum coming along to support, and Ninette beaming proudly and dancing throughout, it was a moment that stood testament to the festival’s promise of nurturing young homegrown talent.