Ghent is the second largest city in Belgium. It’s a beautiful place with nice architecture and a relaxed atmosphere. But between the partygoers it’s probably more known for De Gentse Feesten, a 10-day-long festivity in the centre, with lots of beer, food, music, street theatre and other forms of entertainment. It’s currently one of the biggest national feasts of Europe. Besides the free program, a lot of festivals have their own program during the festival, which are more specific and focussed on certain styles of music and art. Such as:
- 10 Days Off, a festival in Vooruit, with a large focus on electronic music and acts.
- Boomtown, a pop/rock festival that goes on for five days.
- Gent Jazz Festival (formerly the Blue Note Festival) gives room for jazz music and tries to gain more attention for national and international jazz musicians.
Charlatan is a music café in the heart of Ghent. They have a programming that ranges from hip-hop, dance, indie, jazz and more. It’s a café with a broad taste, which is suitable for concerts and dance nights.
Democrazy isn’t really a venue, but more of a travelling music club with shifting locations. Currently they organise events in eight different locations: Vooruit, de Handelsbeurs, Minus One, Charlatan, theater NTGent and De Centrale. Democrazy recently celebrated their 30th birthday, a sign that they are in for the long haul. Besides regular music nights they are also the behind some festivals. They are one of the three organisers of Glimps, an international showcase festival that started last year. Democrazy is also a co-organiser of Boomtown festival and De Beloften, an organisation that thrives to help and support local talent. Another project that Democrazy started is DOK.
DOK is temporary filling in an area at the docks (yes, really) before it turns into a residential area. They provide their facilities to willing organisations that can use them for different purposes. They tend to help out starting initiatives, companies and organisations and other projects from Ghent. DOK has certain facilities to offer.
There is the DOKvitrine, a small workspace that is available for creative minds from Ghent to showcase and create their work. DOKmarkt is a market-hall inside an old hangar, right now there is a small skate ramp, which is open to public on set times. But in the summer they will have a weekly Sunday market, which opens in the same time as the DOKstrand, a city beach with terrace and the DOKarena, an open air amphitheatre for performances and shows. Besides all their other interesting facilities, DOKkantine is the place they use to set up concerts, movies, performances, lectures and other creative get-together. When it comes to shows, it’s mostly set up by other organisations as Democrazy and Subbacultcha! The artists playing are mostly alternative, experimental and/or indie bands.
Kinky Star Club is a venue by the Kinky Star Music Centre, an independent record label, a radio show and information service. They have a bit of everything:reggae, metal, indie, folk, pop, rock and other sounds. The good thing about Kinky Star is that they have a lot of room for (starting) Belgian bands.
Café Video is a bar that hosts free nights with bands and DJ’s. The bands are mostly from the upcoming alternative circuit.
Vooruit is a real venue that mostly focuses on bigger artists. They also host jazz, world music, (musical) theatre, dance performances, literature and dance parties.
Ghent is also home to some interesting record labels, which all have their own identity when it comes to the music they release.
KRAAK is not only a label; they also host events in different Belgian cities from time to time and publish a magazine called RUIS. The music they release is mostly lo-fi, experimental and avant-garde. You can check out the latest edition of RUIS magazine here.
Also in the experimental corner, but with a different approach is Morc Tapes. Morc has a lot of Belgian-based artist with a very experimental approach. Ranging from bedroom-pop to more dark-folk sounds. Some of the artists who released on Morc have also played on Incubate in the past. One of those is Circle Bros, the one-man band by the founder of Morc Tapes. His improv jams consist of layers of guitar drones and vocals filled with reverb
Quite similar to Morc Tapes is the label Funeral Folk. Although the sounds they release are pretty self-explanatory (dark, haunting folk songs), they also release some drone, noise and psych bands.
Another player in the experimental label business is AudioMER. They have a small batch of releases every year with very experimental stuff. The previously mentioned Kinky Star also releases music on Kinky Star Records. They have released a ton of artists and are focussing on Belgian pop and rock artists.
The record label Smoke & Dust operate on a whole other spectrum. They focus on more post-hardcore, punk and noise acts and there seem to be some bands from Ghent surrounding this label and a certain scene. There is a batch of Ghent based band that released on this label.
As an outsider it’s really difficult to try to work out the different scenes of bands that are in Ghent. Even with all the help and information I got send by local organisers and bands, it’s hard to distinguish the exact connections. So I’ll just try to organise the bands and artists by sound and/or genre.
As mentioned before, there is a big group of labels and organisations that are supporting experimental/alternative music. This field of music is mostly harder to explore online, so most acts and bands are suggestions I got through other people.
Köhn is a project by Jürgen de Blonde, a self-taught composer who has released on KRAAK. His output ranges from lo-fi ambient music with a minimalistic approach to piano composed pieces with electronic influences to weird synth sounds; one of my personal favourites.
Surrounding Morc Tapes and Funeral Folk there is also a group of experimental artists. There is the drone-folk by Annelies Monseré, who performed together with Jessica Bailiff at Incubate 2009, and Edgar Wappenhalter. Sylvester Anfang II is a collection of musicians (including Hellvete and Edgar Wappenhalter) who seem to jam and trip out on these psychedelic songs.
There is also a group of experimental musicians surrounding AmenRa, dark, loud and terrifying. Surrounding AmenRa you have the haunting noise sounds of Syndrome, the slowcore of Kingdom and dark-ambient from Sembler Deah.
MAAN is an experimental, improv project released on Smeltkop a DIY-label that is almost unable to find on the Internet. The only thing I know is that they released some tapes with experimental jams. Other experimental sounds to check out are Gerard Herman, Filip Gheysen and Simon Marius.
Ghent also has a large amount of punk, post-punk, noisepunk, metal or hardcore bands. Not all bands are as easy to define, because the genres are overlapping sometimes. Ping Pong Tactics, for example, are three youngsters who call themselves a pop-trio, but their songs also have a punk approach when it comes to simplicity, speed and lyrics. They have released on several formats in the past and quite recently they put out their first self-titled album.
The Black Heart Rebellion, released some 7” splits with AmenRa and an album on Smoke & Dust and are worth a listen. Alternative post-punk, switching between instrumental and almost post-rock like guitar sounds and the fierce screams by the lead singer. They are currently prepping a new full-length, so keep an eye out.
Rape Blossoms are a noisepunk quartet. The sounds are abrasive and aggressive, with repeating guitar and bass lines, steady drums and piercing vocals.
MAZE is a “lo-fi wave” trio. Noisy, fast and they also have some really cool artwork. In the post-punk corner you have some interesting stuff like Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat. There’s so much more, but be sure to also take a look into the noiserock from Black Spires or Kapitan Korsakov and the hardcore punk from Rise and Fall.
But besides all this experimental and loud music there is a big scene of pop/rock bands. Some are probably well-known, names like Vive la Fete, Soulwax are sure to ring a bell among most people.
There are too much bands to name them all, but some notable examples are Drums Are For Parades a power-trio that is getting attention in- and outside of Belgium. Amatorski are currently doing very well outside of Ghent too. Pop songs with a slightly alternative approach, ranging from fragile to bombastic orchestral pieces. The before mentioned are some of the bigger names, but there are also some smaller bands that are doing well within the pop/rock genre.
If you are in for dancing, check out the synthpop by the incredibly catchy Teddiedrum. A Little Trouble Kids are a noisepop duo who sound a little similar to other duos as The White Stripes and Blood Red Shoes. De Portables are aiming for a more adventurous pop sound.
Within the singer-songwriter field you’ve got names like The Bony King of Nowhere, and Love Like Birds. Other recommendations are: Leng Tch’e Grindcore/deathmetal and DJ Grazzhoppa hip-hop/turntablism.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised with all the good music coming from this place. There is a lot going on and Ghent is known as a rock ’n roll city, which also led to the award Creative City of Music by UNESCO in 2009. Ghent has a really active circuit of bands and venues, so this article probably still misses a lot of good music. If you miss anything just post the bands, venues, labels or organisations in the comments below.