The Belgian Scene
Over the course of the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with a lot of different musicians and members of the hardcore/metal scene in Belgium. Through out my various encounters there has been one common point that has been recurrent. It’s something we all know and feel, but that no one seems willing to bring to light. It’s almost as though it would be taboo to speak about, and yet we all know that silence has never solved anything. I was presented with the idea of writing my thoughts down about it, and true to my word, I’ve done so. I gave myself a few days to think about what I really wanted to write, and what I really felt was the issue. I contemplated the question of whether or not there was truly a solution. This is what I came up with…
Disclaimer: Before I write anything down, I would like to state that I write from my own perspective. You may know me as the vocalist for Now, Voyager, you may know me as the ex-vocalist for Blood Redemption, or you may just know me as the brown dude with an American accent. Regardless, these views are my own, and I should not want them to be reflected upon any of my band mates. I am the only person responsible for my words, and I hope you can respect that. Whether you will choose to agree or disagree with my thoughts is perfectly fine, however I do ask you to read this with an open mind, and an open heart, and realize that I write as a member of a music scene that I care deeply about, and with the hopes that we as a Scene can change things for the better. It would be easier to remain in silence and let things play out however they may, but I’ve always stood for truth and so today I make my stand. If you should happen to agree with me, please feel free to share this message, and help create awareness. Strength lies within unity, and as it stands right now, we’re all divided.
I’m not quite sure how to begin this, simply because there is so much to say. The easiest thing to do is to start at the core of everything: Music. Let me ask you: what is the intent of music? Why do musicians create music, and why do we as listeners enjoy music? Take a few moments to think about it, because from what I gather, most of us have forgotten what music’s true purpose is.
I firmly believe music has always been about Passion and Love. Music has always been about sharing that Love with others. Music offers an escape we all desperately seek from our lives. Music gives us a safe place where we can forget about the problems of the world. Music allows us to cast our differences aside. Music allows us to come together in one place, and accept each other for who we are. Music creates a community; a family that brings us all together, and reminds us that we are not alone. Music erases separation so that we may come together, and be as One.
How beautiful the world would be if this were true. Sadly, when I go to a show this is not what I see. I’m sure this is not what you see either. It suffices to open our eyes, and to realize that we are as divided as we will ever be. Nearly every show I go to I can’t help but feel a hostile atmosphere that lingers in the air. A cancer that feeds off our fears of difference, and our pride that does not allow us to speak nor mix with others. Groups of friends will stick together separate from the rest to the point where you’ll see small ‘gangs’ formed. There’s no interaction, there’s small exchanges of the odd ‘hey, how are you?’ with acquaintances but nothing further. The awkward social elements that compel us to say hello. If I can be bluntly honest, in my eyes this is all fake. There doesn’t seem to be any genuineness, any desire to be a part of a greater family, nor any interest to let go of our differences. We claim to be there for music, and yet, I have to ask myself: Has music failed us, or have we failed music?
Unless I’m mistaken, the era of segregation has long since past, so why is it that we can’t just go to a show for the music? Time and time again I’ll see hardcore kids on one side, hipsters on another, and metalcore kids somewhere in between. Walloons in one corner, and Flemish in the other. A metalcore band takes the stage and you’ll see kids leave the room. Their reasoning: ‘it’s not my style’.
There’s two very big problems in this scenario.
The first problem is the innate reaction that we have to separate ourselves from one another. Weren’t we there for the love of music? How can we be one unified family when we take it upon ourselves to mark our differences. Let me state this clearly: It doesn’t matter where you’re from, it doesn’t matter what language you speak, and it doesn’t matter what you wear. Music is freedom, and we are meant to accept each other. The most basic rule of being in a moshpit is to “have fun, and pick each other up if someone falls down”. Why doesn’t this rule apply to the rest of the room? A show isn’t a place for pride, nor is it a place to make a fashion statement. It’s a place to be yourself, and forget about every single rule you’ve been taught in the outside world. We are all equals, we all have a right to be there, and we are all there for the same reason. Music.
The second problem is the unquestionable degree to which we all seem so hell-bent on trying to stand for something, and yet in doing so we’re spitting right in the face of music. You’re spitting right in the face of the bands that have put their hearts and souls into their music. For every single person that has never been in a band, allow me to say that it is NOT easy by any stretch of the means to be in a band. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard ‘it must be so cool to be in a band!’. Believe me when I say, it’s not cool.
I’ve been doing music for 9 years now. To be in a band you have to be willing to devote countless hours of your life to it. I don’t even care to express the amount of time and energy that goes into writing songs, recordings, and rehearsing. Simply put, it’s exhausting. You sacrifice your social life, and lose a lot of friends in the process. Your relationships, should you be lucky to have one, are often very unstable and end in ruins. And as for money? Try imagining how much it costs a band to have their gear, pay a monthly rental fee for a rehearsal room, go record, pay for printing, pay for merch, pay for a van, pay for van insurance, pay for maintenance, and pay for gas. I’m nearly broke at the end of every single month because my band bleeds me dry. I can confidently state that I am not the only one in this situation. Let me state this again: being in a band is not cool. The only reason I am in a band is because I love music. I love creating music, I love performing music, and I love sharing my heart and my passion with others for music. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without music. To be perfectly honest, there’s a very good possibility that I wouldn’t be around if I didn’t have music. Once again, allow me to say, I’m probably not the only musician who feels this way.
Back on the issue. Knowing all of this, how would you feel if you were in a band up on stage, and you saw people walk out simply because ‘it’s not my style’? Your heart would sink. You’ve devoted your time and energy to be there and play for a crowd that is basically saying ‘we don’t want you here because you don’t play my favorite style of music’. A certain respect is owed to a band that goes through all of that to perform, whether you like the music or not. Give them a chance, try and open your minds, and perhaps you might find something you do enjoy in a different style of music, even if it isn’t your favorite. You have every right to prefer a style of music over another, but in the end it’s just a lack of respect to come out to a show, go check out one band, and stay outside for the entire set of another. Give them a chance, that’s all I’m saying.
Belgium is the breeding ground for a lot of bands that have a lot of potential. The problem is, we don’t realize the extent to which our attitudes at shows does not promote a scene. It promotes difference amongst ourselves, and even more so, indifference towards music. Instead of gaining support, bands feel overlooked and under appreciated. They lose confidence, and sooner or later, they call it quits. The irony is, once a band says it’s over, that’s when people come together and express their disapproval. A band can spend their entire career playing shows to crowds of 15-20 people, but when it’s over they’ll do their farewell show to a packed crowd. Are we too blind to see that there’s a serious problem here? This scene NEEDS each and every single one of you behind it to survive, and to push our bands not only forward but UP. You keep this scene alive, and only you can make it so that these bands get somewhere. Without you there is no future for music. What I’m saying is, embrace the music and the bands we have right now, because if you wait then they might not be there the next time around.
Here’s another point. I was lucky enough to go to the UK and tour with my band, and experience what a real scene feels like. Here’s what I noticed: People were there for the music. It didn’t matter what style you played, it didn’t matter what you believed in, what you looked like, it didn’t matter where you were from. The ONLY thing that counted was the music. That’s what keeps a scene together, and that’s what keeps a scene alive. People meshed together and intertwined as fluidly as water and there were no clicks. No segregation. Just love for music. There’s another big difference in the approach and the mentality as well.
In the UK, there is an enormous amount of support for their bands. It’s their pride, it’s their culture, and they will back it up 100%. In Belgium, if you had to choose between a gig with local bands, and one with UK/US bands, we all know which one you’d pick. That’s a choice we all make, but then let’s be honest with ourselves and recognize that our scene doesn’t mean a whole lot to us, because we’d rather go support the touring bands. We lack pride in our bands, we lack the conviction to support OUR culture, and we lack the devotion to our own music. Instead, we allow it to die slowly like a candle that burns itself out.
What do we stand for then?
A scene involves two different parts to form a whole. The second part extends to the bands, and the behaviour that they adopt to represent themselves. There’s a major problem that exists on this end of the spectrum as well, and I’d like to address that.
I’ve played countless shows around Belgium over the past 5 years I’ve been in this music scene and I’ve seen a lot of things I feel are very displaced and even disgraceful about the way bands go about their business. First of all, the way a lot of bands act towards the crowd. It’s time to question ourselves and realize that the way we represent ourselves also has a direct effect on the fact that this scene remains so divided. We, as bands, also owe respect to the people that come out to the shows. It’s not just a one-sided conversation to be had. Without these people, we’d be nowhere. There would be no one to play to, no one to listen to us, and no one to appreciate the art we put so much of our lives into. We are not rockstars, and nothing is owed to us. There is no difference between a band and the people that come to see them. You are there because they put you there, and they are there to share your love for what you do. Do not disrespect them, and be thankful for the fact that people are willing to show their support and appreciate what you do. Life does not owe any of us anything, and every single thing we do get should be considered a gift. We, as musicians, should feel lucky, and be humble. It’s honestly just as simple as that.
I often get this feeling that bands are unsatisfied because they feel like they deserve better. There’s an unshakeable conclusion I draw from most of these bands, and that’s the idea that they’re not doing music for the sake of music. It’s rather that music has become an excuse to seek fame, and that creates egos that feel like they ought to be further along than where they are. Again, NOTHING is owed to any of us. Music is a field where you take your chances, and lay it all on the line. There are no guarantees for making it anywhere, but let’s be clear: The ONLY reason you SHOULD be a band is because you love playing music. If you’re intent is to become “big” then your intentions aren’t pure, and your music probably isn’t honest either. Music isn’t about becoming something you’re not. It’s about creating something you love and are proud of, and wanting to share it with anyone that’s willing to give your music a chance. Anything beyond that is just a bonus. We have a role to play in this scene, so let’s learn our place and respect it.
There is one last thing that I’d like to talk about: the interaction between bands.
Maybe it’s just me (I’m pretty sure it’s not), but how many of you (in bands, obviously) have shown up to a show, and just felt like you were being judged by another band in some way? Gotten looks that almost just felt like searing daggers just prickling into the back of your neck? I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve had that feeling. More importantly, I can’t even begin to understand why. Do bands gain some kind of pleasure out of trying to belittle another band? Is it because we’re a French-speaking band from Brussels? Does that make us any less deserving to play somewhere than anyone else? I thought we were there to play music, after all.
Let me say this very openly about my band. None of us are ashamed of who we are, and none of us would ever judge any of you for the language you speak, for the way you dress, or for the things you believe in. We are extremely open to talking about anything with everyone, and in fact, we absolutely invite it. The fact is, we love getting to know people, especially people who happen to be from a different place than us, because it helps us discover something new, and it helps us open our eyes. On top of that, we try to be curteous enough to try and speak in Flemish if we happen to be playing in those regions. The effort, and the desire to communicate is there. Frankly though, for those of you who do insist on things such as “French” versus “Flemish”, we may be from Brussels, and we may speak French but Now, Voyager is formed with people from various regions in Belgium. We have a members from Namur (Wallonia), Brussels, and even one from Grimbergen (Vlaams-Brabant), and add to that a French/Pakistani/American guy born in Brussels, and you get a cocktail of not only Belgium diversity, but also international diversity.
The fact is, we are very proud to be who we are. We are different within ourselves, but those differences are what makes this band what it is. We are a Belgian band; not a Brussels band, not a Wallonia band, and not a Flemish band. Belgian, plain and simple. We learn to accept and embrace each others differences, and it becomes our strength. If this scene was capable of doing the same thing, maybe then we’d be able to create some kind of community filled with support and genuine fondness for one another. Instead, right now it just feels like a lot of misdirected hate, and a lot of genuine fakeness (how’s that for word play?).
I cannot express how many times we’ve had bands talk negatively about us. I cannot express how many times we’ve tried to help bands, and support them in any way possible. We’ve had our gear spat on, we’ve been denied the right to get on a line-up for shows, we’ve been criticized, and we’ve been treated differently. We’ve had bands that had the guts to come ask us for contacts, favours, and even advice even though we knew they had said something bad about us before that. We’ve seen bands that never bothered to thank any of the other bands on the line-up, and that never even went to see another band’s set at that show.
We seem to have a very big issue. Bands acting out of self-interest while adopting a self-righteous manner that allows them to act with a complete lack of respect? This is not okay, and believe me when I say, that kind of attitude will get you nowhere. I don’t care whether you act out of insecurity, big egos, overcompensating big egos due to insecurities, self-interest, or anything else but there is nothing that justifies your behaviour. Keep that shit at home in your closet. When you go to a show, keep your attitude for your stage performance but remember that you have an example to set for everyone else in this scene the rest of the time. When you KNOW how hard it is to be a band, how dare you think you have the right to judge another? Put yourself back in your place. Take a good look in the mirror because you, my friend, are absolutely no different than anyone else. This behaviour simply creates the division in this scene that prevents your band, and everyone else’s, to find some kind of support. You’re killing your own opportunities in the end, and that’s about it.
A little competition between bands is never a bad thing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a healthy thing, if bands can keep challenging each other to push their music further and raising the bar each time. Competition is healthy when it’s done with the intent of self-betterment, but not with the intent to lower the competition which is the philosophy practiced in this scene, apparently. Bands, we’re here to set an example for the rest of the scene to follow. We’re there to support each other, and create a community. We’re there to play our music, share our hearts, and make people feel like they belong to something. Please, do not engage in behaviors that contradict the very thing you claim to be standing up for. Not only do you end up looking like a fool, but you make the rest of us look like fools as well. Be responsible for your words and for your actions, and bear in mind that you don’t only represent yourself, you represent the entire Belgian scene.
If you want something, put the work into it. Don’t blame your short-comings on others, and don’t look for excuses. There is no place for hatred or jealousy of any kind because that only contributes to the problem. If you want something bad enough, no one’s going to stop you, but you have to be willing to do what it takes to get there, and that means work and sacrifices on your side. Remember though, music is a field you chose to be in, and you have to be willing to face the facts and realize that there’s a 99.9% chance that you’re NOT going to make it. You’re just going to have to ask yourself if you’re willing to deal with that percentage of chance, and if you love your music enough to continue despite those odds. That’s a question that remains between you and your music, but if you truly enjoy playing music, then the answer is already clear. Rid yourself of your fears, and allow yourself to have fun and share something with the world. That’s what we’re all here for, isn’t it?
A problem can only be solved when it is addressed. We’ve let this issue go unspoken for too long now, and I believe it’s time to talk about it. We have a choice about whether to ignore this entire situation, the same way we have been, or whether we all decide to take a step back and attempt to change things around. Change can only occur if each and every single one of us does his part, and to be honest, this change doesn’t just affect our generation. We have a chance to set things back in place, and create a better scene not only for ourselves, but for the generations that will follow.
We often tend to think that we’re powerless as people. There has never been anything more untrue. One only need look back through the pages of history to realize how much an individual, or a group of individuals, can make an impact on a large scale. Are you willing to let your voices be heard, or would you rather drown in the silence that is sure to eventually engulf us all, and kill this music scene in the process?
Personally, I don’t want that on my conscience, so I’ve decided to speak out. Now I leave it in your hands to raise your voices along with mine, should you agree with what I’ve just said. I implore you to let go of this mentality that we’re all different, because whether you’re from Wallonia, Flanders, Brussels, and whether you like hardcore, metalcore, deathcore, and anything in between, you need to keep in mind that we are all the same, and that we are all essential components of the Belgian scene. Open your hearts, open your minds, support each other, and together we can create a real, and UNIFIED scene if only we could learn to accept and embrace our differences. This is our scene, and let’s be proud of the music we make. Let us remember that it is music that holds the power to bring us all together in one place, and let us remember that it is music that can provide us with a shelter from the things in our lives that are falling apart. We are all members of one big family, and music is the love we all share; the bond that ties us all.
The intent of Music is clear. I ask you now, what is yours? Belgium has become a mockery for its division, and the outside world knows us as the country that doesn’t have a government. Right now, that’s the image we give, and our music scene is absolutely no different. Be proud of who you are, and be proud of what you are a part of. Together, we can change all of this. Together, we can be a part of something bigger. Together, we can put the Belgian Scene back on the map, and show the world that we are united; that we stand for something.
Let your voices be heard. Let us speak as One.