Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Music Festivals, Belgian Style

As a birthplace of and haven for electronic dance music, I was very surprised to learn that Belgium annually hosts four major music festivals with a heavy emphasis on rock music. Each festival boasts its own specialty: Rock Werchter is arguably the biggest festival and is the supreme all-rock festival, allowing each band a minimum of 1.5 hours to melt faces; Dour hosts a greater variety of acts, reaching out to music fans of all genres; Graspop targets hard rock metal heads looking for a summertime headbanging outlet; and last, Pukkelpop (translation: Zit Pop), with seven stages and music running from 11am until 5am everyday, signs alternative acts ranging the gauntlet from EDM to metal.

A one-day adventure at Rock Werchter wasn't enough for Europeanization efforts, so a four day, all out effort was needed at this year's edition of Pukkelpop. Housemates and close friends live just in the area- visiting the festival was not only convenient for supply-purposes, but for better understanding their early, pre-Chicago invasion years.   Music starts on Wednesday night, welcoming early campers with DJ sets that last until the wee hours of the morning, before the official opening on Thursday morning. Unprecedented heat and dry weather, a respite from the standard Belgian summer weather, made the idea of dancing until 5am after standing in the sun all day more appealing, and the next four days proved to be a relentless, dance-inducing party.

Necessities for Pukkelpop this year proved to be flag-tattooed anything (leading to very excited shouts of "God Save the Queen" by our group of 20), Kanye West-inspired eye wear, candy in the shape of a grill, and clothing no longer needed post-festival (copious amounts of dirt, dust and sweat destroyed nearly everything). Excessive water, both in drinking form and the cool-down variety whisked from water bottles waved overhead, greatly improved the Pukkelpop survival rate and duration rate.

  The most marked difference between US-hosted festivals and those in Belgium is the audience. Belgians (and Europeans from far and wide) span the age range from 14 to 80+, the former staking a notable claim at the camping sites and proudly (smartly?) trotting around in little more than a bandeau bikini top. Young US music lovers are often denied access to epic events and the old often cite the lack of festival-goers of the same age. Though fewer over the ripe age of 25 were noticed on the camping, the age diversity on site was stellar and restored the notion that music, indeed, can unite the masses.   

Required eye and teeth wear 

An afternoon show in the Dance Hall- one of seven pavilions erected for the festival

 Near the festival's bazaar and entrance.

A late night dance session with Diplo in the Boiler Room 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Picnic op Anspachlaan- Brussel

In a concerted effort to increase the bike-friendliness of Brussels, a group of genius organizers staged a sit-in on one of the city's busiest avenues. The plan was a protest picnic- a very passive protest, as per Belgian standard- to be held Sunday afternoon on Anspachlaan. 

Bike lines criss-cross the city, its true; nonetheless, there is excessive traffic for such a modest-sized city and reckless drivers force bakfietsen and all their passengers to remain at home.  
Brussels instituted the Stadsvillo program only 3 years back to encourage more people to use bicycles for transport. For a modest €30 per year, a pass grants access to some 2,000 public bikes at 150 stations around town. 
A certain level of bravery is a requisite for Villo riders- navigating tram, bus, and car lanes, baby buggies, distracted text-walkers makes for an exciting ride. And contradictory to the country's "flatland" or "lowland" reputation, Brussels hosts some mean hills.

Needless to say, biking is more prevalent here than in most US cities, but the City's support for bikers and their efforts to improve bike safety leaves much to be desired. All this adds up to discourage cycling for sport and transport within city limits (keep in mind that cycling is the national sport of Belgium...)

Brusselaars and visitors enjoyed 4 blissful hours of an auto-free Anspachlaan, gathering to garner support for more pro-cycling policies, an extended bike lane network, and to simultaneously reduce the amount of vehicle traffic and increase auto-free zones. Packing babies, picnic tables, even barbeques and lawn bowling sets for the afternoon, over 5,000 protesters/picnickers turned up. The event was such a success that Brussels city officials agreed to maintain the new tradition each Sunday.

Now, all we need is some lovely summer weather to encourage leisurely bike rides through the city center, but I suppose we need to pick out battles...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 2012- Brussels

A second Belgian cultural lesson: pick your macrobrew! Yesterday was the Flemish national holiday, and aside from a day off, multiple concerts were staged all around Brussels. We stopped into the local nightshop to pick up a beer for the concert (held on Grote Markt/Grand Place in central Brussels) and I noticed all four of us reach immediately for Jupiler. 

Most well-known outside of Belgium is Stella-Artois, brewed in lovely Leuven, but lately we've favored Jupiler, the Brussels macro. Others include Maes, Primus, and if lucky enough to visit the Limburg province, Cristal. This brilliant selection of pils macrobrews has one caveat: your taste preferences often dictate your favorite cafes, as each signs an exclusive contract with the macro producer. No Miller AND Bud on tap here- you have to pick your poison before picking your watering hole.

More from around Brussels:

 Booker T on the keyboards outside the AB

 Comic murals around Les Marolles

 Concert on Grote Markt/Grand Place

Friday, April 6, 2012

New adventures...

Four more years in Belgium are on the horizon, so its time to really start adapting to local culture.

First lesson: dance moves.

This is the land of clubs and electronic music, and I need to adjust accordingly. Forget the Dougie, the Single Ladies walk, and the Jersey Turnpike- its time to get tektonik:

These dance moves will not only score you a few "putain, mec!"'s dans les discos de Paris, but you'll also post major points with the Dutch coalition, the Belgian street crowd, and pretty much any culture that still encourages mullets (read: Eastern Europe).

So, its high time I fetch a fanny pack, some pumped up kicks, a few polos from the second hand store, and start studying purging record stores of 80's-synth-pop-laced electro vinyls.