St Vith, Belgium
Meakusma has long distinguished itself in the international panorama of music festivals for its community-based approach and remarkable programming, spanning the more uncharted to the legendary within contemporary experimental music.
Following a sold-out and stacked edition in 2022, the Meakusma crew announced a temporary pause from the four-day happening in Eupen – a bucolic town in east Belgium – to “reset some organisational aspects following the festival’s growth”. Over the August bank holiday weekend, the Meakusma Weekender – a smaller-scale event happening for the first time in the serenity of Saint Vith – saw Meakusma’s regular attendees in full force to support the event, making the most of the last days of summer.
At at time where many music festivals worldwide acknowledge the need to re-think their structure in order to keep afloat in the current climate, the continued trust and support of their attendees is pivotal. One thing that makes Meakusma unique is a steady cluster of music workers – from journalists and agents to artists to label heads – who come back every year to listen, meet and catch up. “We were concerned that our usual crowd wouldn’t come to Saint Vith”, points out one of the organisers. Still, worries vanished as familiar faces gathered in front of the Kino Corso, a charming small cinema hosting live performances during the afternoons and early evenings.
Every day unfolded with soothing ease as concerts materialised in various locations around the town: from the bricked rooms and garden of Kuckuck, the cosmic disco ball rays of Alte Post, Triangel’s club ambience, the elevated ceilings of the Church of Saint Vitus and the lush views from the town’s historic Büchelturm tower. Compared to the density of Meakusma’s pace in Eupen and the usual difficulty in seeing some performances because of overcrowded locations, at the Weekender, few acts overlapped. The venues’ capacity was on point, allowing participants to smoothly transit from one site to another, allured by a wide-ranging musical offering from folk, pyschedelia and fourth-world sonic immersions to ghettotech and deep house.
In a weekend filled with notable performances, here’s five highlights from Meakusma Weekender 2023.
With great anticipation, we entered the main room of Triangel – where most club-oriented performances took place – on the Friday for HiTech’s set. The Detroit-based trio, who released an excellent self-titled album on Omar S’ legendary FXHE imprint last year, took over the stage after MC Yallah had begun to loosen up the night’s still shy audience. Any remaining timidity on the part of the crowd was annihilated by HiTech’s performance, the stage and dancefloor becoming one as the trio invited dancers to join their elevated arena and the group themselves jumping in the middle of the heated crowd. “This is how we do it in Detroit, in the club!” shouted HiTech’s Milf Melly, setting the tone well.
On the Saturday, the cosy inner room of Kuckuck – a cultural centre located on the edge of Saint Vith – was warmed by a sensual performance from French duo Adiciatz. The pair formed of Manon Nogier and Guillaume Lespinasse – also known for his Jonquera and Pilotwings projects – stood in front of the other, dimly illuminated by neon red lights. As the former’s solacing voice sang poems by female Occitan writers while playing a Japanese harp, Lespinasse’s slow-paced drums and spiralling keyboard chords intertwined, inducing the listeners, mostly sitting with their eyes closed, into a medieval-esque reverie.
ML’s appearances at Meakusma have always been an unmissable event in the festival’s programme, usually materialising as long durational excursus blurring the lines between the sonic and the scenic. On this occasion, the writer and musician, known for his long-standing 150 Session show on NTS, inaugurated Sunday’s driftings at Kuckuck with a four-hour set spanning Persian piano, Sicilian chantings, hallucinatory collages from his releases (on labels including Termina and Accidental Meetings) to intermittent ligneous kicks and dubby basslines. “Each record is a gift. I feel like clapping constantly,” says someone in the crowd. At times longing, at times zenithal, more than a DJ set, it felt like a story unravelling in front of our eyes.
Maxime Denuc’s album Nachtorn last year comprised a trancey take on contemporary minimalism composed for MIDI-controlled organs. The composition, resulting from Denuc’s dream to “create an entirely acoustic dance music piece with the organ as a sole actor”, permeated the monumental modern vault of Saint Vitus’ church and its dark blue painted background echoing the record’s Klein-esque cover. If music elevates, music in churches restores that elevation to a holy dimension of sound. The organ seemed to be touched by a thousand hands, as did the audience, guided on Sunday afternoon into a religious rapture by ever-evolving progressions and a whirlwind of voluptuous loops.
The Dwarfs of East Agouza
Meakusma Weekender’s pace deployed as a continuous expansion rather than a linear unfolding of performances. And thus, the festival’s closing act on Sunday was greeted with no less expectation than all the others. The Dwarfs of East Agouza solemnly occupied the stage of Kino Corso wrapped in fading orange lights as they progressively engaged in a kaleidoscopic improvisation featuring bass, guitar, saxophone and electronics. After Maurice Louca and Sam Shalabi left the stage, Sun City Girls’ Alan Bishop sat in front of the crowd singing acapella his versions of This Guy’s in Love with You and Me and Mrs. Jones, cherished by the audience’s enthusiasm and giggles. A heartfelt conclusion to three days of discoveries, re-encounters, surprises and an invigorating sense of collective intimacy.