The Sound of Brussels: Moaning Cities

© Ivan Put

Every week, BRUZZ goes in search of the sound and vision of Brussels. In a dark basement in a former textile factory in Sint-Gillis/Saint-Gilles, we met up with Moaning Cities. You're going to have to wait until September for the psychedelic rock quartet's second album, but you can get a foretaste at the Fête de la Musique.

In the middle of the table are a can of beer and a penknife for do-it-yourself cutting of slices of the sausage lying next to it. "We can't offer you anything more right now," we are told, apologetically – after which, what is there is eagerly shared.

It gives an idea of the easy-going mood and familiarity within the ranks of the group, which is clearly made up of a bunch of friends, prepared to make the best of any circumstances. Including getting behind to shove the van they roam around Europe in, whenever the engine lets them down. "It's a 1996 VW Transporter," observes singer-guitarist Valérian Meunier. "She's in the garage right now. We call her Monique. She's an old lady, after all."

The basement of an old textile factory in Metaalstraat/rue du Métal in Sint-Gillis/Saint-Gilles feels kind of chilly, even though it's 25°C outside. In a studio on one of the upper floors, a female artist is at work. Down below, an electric heater is turned on. "We have been rehearsing here for nearly four years now," says Meunier.

"The acoustic isn't bad, but it's pretty damp," adds guitarist and sitar-player Tim Sinagra. But they're not complaining: "It's really handy to have a permanent base we can always go to and that's within walking distance of where we live." Atmosphere is something you always create yourself, anyway – a point made by the wee statuettes of saints around the interview table, the now empty beer can, and a half sausage.

Musically, too, the band has found inspiration in the past. While psychedelic rock has been undergoing a revival for the last ten years, on their first album, Pathways through the Sail, Moaning Cities harked back to the genre's glory days in the Sixties and Seventies. "Maybe what you get to hear at all those psych fests in America and Europe is not that original," explains Meunier, "but we do try to develop our own version of the original."

The advantage of that kind of revival is that groups emerge all over the place with their own networks, so contacts can be made that help to get a tour organised. "On a small scale, to be sure," adds Sinagra. "But that way you can play a lot and you don't have to restrict yourself to your own country." Moaning Cities, for example, at the invitation of their friends in a band called Forks, recently performed in Switzerland and plans are under way for a tour that will take them to France, Germany, Austria, and Italy.

Locally, too, the group has been making waves. Its musicians are the driving force behind the Stellar Swamp festival, which took place for the second time this year, at both Atelier 210 and Magasin 4. "It allows us to show what's going on on the scene to two different publics, each on a different side of town," says Sinagra. "It means we are doing the same thing we do with our music, bringing different styles together, because psych music also has links with garage, stoner, surf, noise, world, etcetera."

Since the release of their debut album, there have been a few changes in the band's line-up. "We had reached a stage where we had to decide if we really wanted to commit ourselves," explains Meunier. After they had talked over some of the frustrations, the drummer, Grégory Noël, was replaced by Melissa Morales and the guitarist Bert(rand) Gascard also left the group. "Maybe we sound a bit rougher as a result," says the bassist Juliette Meunier, Valérian's sister. "On the other hand, with one fewer guitar, it became a bit easier for everyone to find or claim their own place."

That was something they experienced when, in late November 2015, they recorded the new album in the KoKo studio in Sprimont, near Liège, with Laurent "Roo" Eyen behind the mixing table. The album is due out this autumn on Noël's label, EXAG' Records.

The new songs, according to Sinagra, are rawer and less good-natured than the older material. "More gangsta psych rock," jokes Valérian. The first single, "Insomnia", is on its way already. "It's about not being able to get to sleep and being obsessed with thoughts that come from all sides, somewhere between dream and reality and catastrophe. Honestly, I don't know whether we sound softer or harder now, but definitely less 'classic'."

1526 SOB Moaning cities
© Ivan Put
"Good food and drink have always been important for the mood within the group," says Valérian Meunier. "On the road, we are obliged to put away BiFi Rolls and other rubbish in filling stations. But if there is freshly cooked food available, we are as happy as Larry. Even though we eat meat, we always ask for two vegetarian meals, so as to have sufficient variety."

It is in Italy, above all, where the musicians have family connections, that the group is able to indulge itself gastronomically. "Even in filling stations there, you can eat the original panini and you come across authentic espresso bars." The dry sausage the members of the group shared during the interview comes from Italy too.

"My mother brought it back from a traiteur in Roubaix who stocks a lot of authentic Italian quality products," admits Sinagra. "But on tour we regularly stock up on sausages like that," observes Valérian Meunier with a laugh. "There aren't many alternatives when it's 25°C."

BOROUGH: Sint-Gillis/Saint-Gilles
ALBUMS: Pathways through the Sail (2014); the new album is out on 23 September
CONCERT: 18/6, Jubelpark/Parc du Cinquantenaire (Fête de la Musique); 23/9, Botanique (presentation of the new album)

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