A decade ago, guitar and drum duos were very much in vogue, but today drums and keyboards reign supreme. One fine example is Glass Museum, a Brussels-based duo who are presenting their debut Deux at the second Nuits Sonores.
We were taken completely by surprise,” says Martin Grégoire with a twinkle in his eye. The 25-year-old drummer of Glass Museum sits down with us on a late-summer-sun-soaked Parvis in Saint-Gilles and delightedly explains how he and pianist Antoine Flipo (23) unexpectedly received an email from Stefaan “Dr. Lektroluv” Vandenberghe from Sdban Records, which will release the Jazz Cats compilation by hip-hop guru and jazz aficionado LeFtO on 5 October, and which also features Glass Museum. “We are fans of LeFtO, his radio show on Studio Brussel, and his programming in Dour. And we know Sdban from amazing bands like STUFF. and Black Flower. It is fantastic that we are being featured on an album with them, and that we are thus part of the nouvelle vague of Belgian jazz.”
Just like their comrades in the new generation of young jazz hounds, the Brussels-based duo is open-minded and without blinkers in its musicality. There is the classical influence of Antoine Flipo, whose piano tunes can sound as delicate as Satie, minimal as Steven Reich, or as bold as Rachmaninov. And there are the drums of Martin Grégoire, that exude more math-rock than say Max Roach. These two are the core. They then throw in some electro, or a wind instrument, like a trumpet in the wonderful “Tribal Coffee”. Yes, the British avant-jazz band GoGo Penguin is undoubtedly an influence, as are the Canadian jazz benders from BadBadNotGood. They themselves refer to the Japanese jazz-rock band Mouse on the Keys, the Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan, and the innovative American jazz trumpeter Christian Scott.
Their mix is sometimes stormy, sometimes tribal, sometimes fragile as a glass museum – incidentally, they derived their band name from a song by the post-rock veterans of Tortoise. “We like the tension of fragile things, like mirrors and glassware that might break at any time,” Flipo tells us. “There are only two of us. If one of us breaks a leg, it’s over.” Is that why their first album is called Deux? “Of course, it’s not that we can’t count,” Grégoire laughs. “We wanted to make it surrealistic. But that ‘two’ refers to us two in the first place. In a live setting, we sit face to face, like a mirror. And for each of the six tracks on the album there is a second, remixed version.”
We remark that Glass Museum is part of a movement of duos who no longer play guitar and drums but keyboards and drums, like the Ghent-based BeraadGeslagen and the Brussels-based SCHNTZL. “That is a funny coincidence, yes. This formula was just the most logical one for us,” Grégoire says. “The two of us as a foundation, and then semi-regular colleagues joining in to add flavour.” “Two people is also just very practical,” Flipo says. “We get on with things, we understand each other, we don’t have to have endless discussions. And live you can really find your own groove. It is very different when there is a whole group playing music behind you.” They are occasionally joined by an extra musician, like the saxophonist Pierre Spataro, who will also perform with them during Nuits Sonores.
Grégoire and Flipo grew up in the Wallonian city of Tournai. Grégoire came to Brussels five years ago to study law and cultural management at the ULB. Flipo trained as a bio-engineer in Namur and only moved to the capital this year. “We knew each other from school,” Grégoire says. “We each played in our own bands until we started making music together three years ago. At first in Tournai, and then here. Brussels is an amazing place, it is so dynamic.”
They both live in Saint-Gilles, but not in the same house. “No, are you crazy? We couldn’t do that,” Flipo laughs. “Martin suggested moving in with him, but I declined. Don’t get me wrong, we get on like a house on fire, but seeing each other 24/7 would be too much of a good thing. We each need our own space and oxygen once in a while.” Do they make music that could only be created in a metropolis? “Not really,” Flipo shakes his head. Grégoire nods: “Our music is more pastoral. When I close my eyes and listen to our music, I think of myself in the countryside.”
The soundscapes that Glass Museum creates are often described as cinematographic. “It is true that you can easily imagine film scenes to accompany our music,” Flipo says. “But I still see more landscapes.” “‘Tribal Coffee’ makes me think of little alleyways in Morocco or something, buzzing with market stall vendors and shoppers,” Grégoire says. “But ‘Waves’ could be the grand finale of a dramatic film.” That song is actually named after a film in the film Reality by Quentin Dupieux alias Mr Oizo – yep, the guy from “Flat Beat”. “A totally insane film,” Flipo laughs. “We watched it five times and still don’t understand any of it. Our song titles often refer to things we have experienced. Like ‘Wu’, which refers to our favourite word in Scrabble – which we are great at, by the way. The word is Chinese, but you are allowed to use it, and it can score you 33 points!”
So you think and you dance
Dancing and thinking: that is basically the philosophy of Nuits Sonores, an urban, cultural, and artistic laboratory that came to Brussels for the first time last year after fifteen editions in Lyon. For its second Brussels edition, the organization is again joining forces with European Lab for a four-day festival at various locations, with Bozar as its beating heart. You can join debates about art, society, and politics and the ways in which they are interconnected in Europe today, discover the interactions between art, science, and technology at the Bozar Lab, or just shake yourself loose to some electro, jazz, and world and urban music that is being served up at venues like the AB, the Beurs-
schouwburg, Les Ateliers Claus, C12, Brass, and LaVallée. Interesting names coming to The Loop include Le Motel and Aymeric de Tapol from the Vlek label. During the Bozar Takeover, you should definitely check out the electro jazz by the Brussels-based Glass Museum (see interview opposite) and the electrifying Afro-jazz by the Ghent-based BRZZVLL. Other highlights include the tête-à-tête between the American DJ Tennis and the Berlin-based veteran Jennifer Cardini. And don’t miss Lil Louis, who with his club hit “French Kiss” was one of the founding fathers of Chicago house. Stefaan Vandenberghe is casting off his Dr. Lektroluv mask for once and is coming to play the funkiest tracks from the Belgian vaults. So you think you can do the funky chicken?