The intense Afro-punk grooves that Brussels-based instrumental trio Don Kapot squeeze out of their heated sax, bass and drum kit on Hooligan have an undeniable effect on your hip muscles and sweat glands.
Baritone saxophonist Viktor Perdieus and drummer Jakob Warmenbol got to know each other during a jazz camp and then found each other again in the Antwerp music scene. But their first concert as Don Kapot was five years ago in a now defunct Greek tavern on the Oud Korenhuis/Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blés in the heart of Brussels. That location had everything to do with the roots of the third band member, Greek Brusselian Giotis Damianidis.
“At first he still played guitar, but then he brought his bass,” Perdieus remembers. “That's how Don Kapot came into being, with a lot of emphasis on trance and grooves, and a very transparent but also solid sound. The Greek atmosphere in the café made it complete. We played for people who were eating, but still went crazy. In short, a fantastic kick-off.”
The seed of Don Kapot, however, had already been planted earlier, in World Squad, the multi-coloured Afrobeat combo led by Nigerian guitar legend Oghene Kologbo. Just as drummer Tony Allen, he had learned the trade at Africa 70, the band of Afrobeat master Fela Kuti, and would leave an indelible impression on both Damianidis and Warmenbol, who were housemates when they were both in World Squad. Faced with Kologbo's departure from Brussels and the split of World Squad, the time was ripe for a new chapter.
“After my experiences with Kologbo and Tony Allen, with whom I also played, and personal encounters with other masters of Afrobeat and highlife music, such as Ebo Taylor and Orlando Julius, I wanted to keep making and playing groove music,” Damianidis says.“It took some time before we had found the foundation,” continues Warmenbol, who also plays with Under the Reefs Orchestra and sporadically with Yôkaï. “We had many ideas, but did not compose together yet. During those first years, our sound developed mainly by performing a lot.” A sultry untitled debut was recorded in the summer of 2017 and released a spring later. From recording sessions that began in November 2019 and already resulted in the EP Don Kaset last year, a second full album has now also been distilled with Hooligan.
How did you, two natives of Antwerp and a Greek, end up in Brussels?
Jakob Warmenbol: I moved here ten years ago. I was tired of Antwerp. I like the openness and chaos of Brussels. It is easy to make contacts here. The city has recreated me. You can also hear that in my music, I think. We mainly rehearse in Schaarbeek/Schaerbeek, in Studio Grez, a large space shared by a collective of musicians.
Viktor Perdieus: It's an inspiring place, where our two albums were also recorded. After my studies at the Antwerp Conservatory with Ben Sluijs and Kurt Van Herck, I first stayed on here, but the call of Brussels was irresistible. Even though I now live in Ghent (where he plays tenor sax with The Milk Factory, a folky jazz combo whose new EP will be released in mid-April, ed.), I hope to be back soon.
Giotis Damianidis: I came here to study jazz guitar at the Flemish department of the conservatory, then was introduced to Kologbo, and the rest is history. I love the mix of cultures here. In an area of a few square kilometres, you get the chance to meet the whole world. Brussels is more international than New York or Paris. You're a stranger, but it doesn't feel like it, because everyone here is a stranger.
Your new record Hooligan sounds rabid, in-your-face and punk, but also honest.
Perdieus: And not romantic? (Laughs) In the middle of the title song, there is a melodic, in my opinion very romantic sax passage that would make any hooligan melt. The song was mainly influenced by a Greek tour. Along the way, we listened to the record once recorded by jazz drummer Billy Cobham with keyboardist Jan Hammer. We are thinking of inviting him to play the song together one day. We wrote it during a residency in the Hoge Venen/Hautes Fagnes, where we often go when we want to collect ideas.
Warmenbol: Usually those trips are very fruitful but last time, after three days we were still struggling. Everyone just wanted to take naps all the time. That only changed when Viktor discovered that we were drinking decaf coffee the whole time. Then the inspiration came back. Maybe that's when we wrote “Hooligan”?
Perdieus: Even though that word has a negative connotation, we thought it sounded beautiful at the same time, like a statement. It's powerful and rebellious, exactly like our music.
How did you get so bitten by the African grooves that make Hooligan so catchy?
Warmenbol: By playing with Kologbo. He breathes Afrobeat and taught me to play drums like Tony Allen.
Damianidis: He was a strict, somewhat impolite teacher, a real ghetto guy. He taught us discipline and to be less polite, also in our music. When I started with jazz, I thought that everything had to be complicated. I quickly dropped that idea with Kologbo.
Perdieus: At first, I listened mainly to the desert blues of Ali Farka Touré. In the song “Duur Duur” from our first record, there is a roughness that is inherent to many Malian recordings and now seeps into Hooligan.
Soon you will play three streaming shows, a hard one for a band that thrives on interaction with its audience, or do the guests make up for it?
Perdieus: It's a serious loss, cameras just don't give you the same energy back. We embrace the opportunities we get, but when there is an exchange of energies, our music only gets better. The biggest compliment an audience can give us is to start dancing to our music. With each guest, we will create a different set and atmosphere that will include new material, some Don Kapot classics and music from the guests. During the few rehearsals, we also try to make music together that is enriching for both worlds. Bert Dockx is a musical jack-of-all-trades. We look forward to combining his more meditative sound with the raw energy of Don Kapot. Fulco Ottervanger appealed to us mainly because of the humour in his work.
Damianidis: And Kaito Winse, who is of West African descent, can add some extra power and presence to our music. The location is also spot on. Un Peu is a new cultural centre in the neighbourhood of IJzer/Yser. A small, but atmospheric underground stage where our music should come into its own.
How do you manage after a year of hardly playing?
Warmenbol: Giotis is on a strict vinyl diet. He eats all his records. (Laughs) No seriously, we're all lucky enough to have some other form of income.
Damianidis: Since the pandemic hit, I have taken every opportunity to teach.
Perdieus: I also teach, but he does it every day.
Warmenbol: And I work for Molenbike, a cooperative of bicycle couriers. One of the things we do is bring the BRUZZ magazines to the distribution points by bike.
Hopefully this week with a slightly bigger smile on your face!