Cabin fever: Antoine Wielemans

© Manou Milon

Antoine Wielemans has been transmitting warm melancholy for the past sixteen years with Girls In Hawaii, but this autumn he will be making his solo debut. Until then, you can enjoy his equally exciting and tasty lockdown tips, from baba ganoush to Turkish delight.

When corona and lockdowns were still unheard of, Antoine Wielemans voluntarily went into seclusion on the coast of Normandy. Not to acclimatise, because he knew that the realm of freedom would be locked away, but to work on his solo album. The first result of his self-imposed quarantine is the melancholic single “Sel”; the bulk – his first solo album – to be released in September. “I have been making music with Girls In Hawaii for sixteen years now, I needed a break,” he tells us over the phone. “Those years with the group were intense, I never had the time or the energy to do anything else. For the first time in French as well. Fortunately, I wrote the songs for my solo album before corona, because a pandemic like that kills inspiration.”

1749 CABIN peter  the wolf

Given that, the past year was not all bad, because Wielemans could take the time to work on his record. It also let him crawl into his cocoon with his wife and their four-year-old daughter. “She is crazy about Angèle,” he laughs. “For the past year, she has listened to her songs every day. After a while, I tried to get her excited about something else, and that's how we ended up with Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev. It was love at first sight for her. After all these years, that fairy tale has lost none of its magic.”

Wielemans himself indulged in Aldous Harding. “Designer, her second album, is genius. I got to know her when we played together at the Feeërieën. The song 'Fixture Picture' was in my playlist of songs I listened to every day for the past few months.” Voyou, the alias of colourful French pop artist Thibaud Vanhooland, also ended up on that playlist. “He opened for Girls In Hawaii a few times in France. During the lockdown, he retreated to a remote corner and made the almost completely instrumental record Chroniques terrestres vol. 1, with synths, trumpet and rhythm boxes. Very melancholic.”

Antoine Wielemans's partner is the actress Lucie Debay, and they have often spent time in front of a screen together in the past year. “Lucie decides what goes on screen,” Wielemans laughs. “She convinced me to watch The Last Dance, the documentary series about the Chicago Bulls. You dive right into that atmosphere of the 1990s, with superstars like Michael Jordan. The documentary makers hide nothing. You see how everything becomes more commercial, how genius Michael Jordan was, but also how difficult and hard he could be for his colleagues.”

For those who, like Wielemans, are a bit fed up of Netflix, he recommends MUBI, a streaming service that focuses on arthouse films and classics. “You could really click on something with your eyes closed, it will always be great. The selection is updated every week, and there are always good suggestions. You can also search thematically, for example by selecting films that won awards at the Sundance Film Festival. I saw Midsommar, a recent film by Ari Aster about an idyllic commune in Sweden that goes completely off the rails. Very strange.”

1749 Turkish delight

Wielemans also discovered Turkish Delight, Paul Verhoeven's 1973 cult classic. “I didn't know Rutger Hauer, what a great face that guy has. I found it very confronting to see, in a year in which our freedom is restricted, a film about 1970s Amsterdam, in which alcohol, sex and total freedom are central.”

Another of Wielemans's discoveries on MUBI: Another Round, the latest film by Thomas Vinterberg. “A group of fifty-somethings want to test whether the theory that a person functions better with 0.05 per cent of alcohol in their blood is correct. Vinterberg, who also made Festen, shows in a way that is as merciless as it is hilarious what this does to them. That Mads Mikkelsen is in the cast is in itself a reason to watch.”

Wielemans did not spend the whole lockdown indoors. He regularly went cycling with his daughter along the canal, on the new cycle path between Brussels and Charleroi. Sometimes, he went about the town, and ended up in museums like Wiels. “As we are renovating our own flat in Vorst/Forest, we spent the last few months in a small studio in the city centre. Walking around in a building like Wiels is in itself an incredible sensation. The space on the roof, entirely made of glass, offers a wonderful view of Brussels. If I have to lock myself up somewhere again to write songs, I would love to do it there. (Laughs) He also regularly visits the MIMA. “I like the urban culture they bring to the fore. It's pop culture, but they don't spare the sacred cows.”

1749 Ottolenghi simple

When it comes to clearing his head, Wielemans takes to the kitchen. “My girlfriend can look in the fridge and improvise a great dish with anything she can find there, but that doesn't work for me. I like to follow recipes down to the last detail.” At Christmas, Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook by the Israeli-British kitchen prince Yotam Ottolenghi was under the tree. “As the title of the book suggests, these are not complicated dishes where you have to visit five shops to find that one special herb. The principle of the book is: a maximum of ten ingredients per recipe and 45 minutes to make the dish.”

One dish that Wielemans has mastered to perfection? “Try the courgette baba ganoush, a delicious oriental dip with roquefort, garlic, lemon, egg and goat's milk yoghurt. The most important thing is to sear the courgette, over a flame or on a gas fire. The inside of the courgette then 'melts' into a kind of purée and takes on a deliciously smoky flavour. Ideal for sharing with friends. Now we just have to wait until we can do that again.”

Antoine Wielemans's single "Sel" is out now

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