At home chez He4rtbroken & Slagwerk

Is this time of the year the most appropriate time to be sad? The days are short, the sun won’t show much and drizzle seems to be the only condition the tv meteorologist mentions. On top of all that, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic with yet another variant about to challenge our resilience, putting our cherished nightlife and cultural scene once again under house arrest. 

But let’s remain optimistic. Continuously producing fresh shots of energy is the perspective of a new edition of our festival, planned for Wednesday March 30 until Sunday April 3. During a range of events and nights in various locations in the wide area of the city, clubbers and electronic music aficionados will be served to their heart’s content. One event in particular, the collaboration between He4rtbroken and Slagwerk, deserves some zooming in. Uniting two exhilarating Brussels based communities for the first time, is probably also a cure for the dark times we live in. Both embedded in a kind of sonic avant garde with postmodern narratives and post-apocalypse aesthetics, He4rtbroken offers a karaoke shoulder to cry on while Slagwerk presents a playful 3D teddy bear on its Instagram. Curious to find out more about these events, their communities, hosts and backgrounds, we invited He4rtbroken co-founder Liyo and Slagwerk founder Otis for a joint chat. 

Liyo, on the page of your monthly NTS radio show almost every episode goes into another musical direction. Am I right to say that Heartbroken isn’t to be grasped in genres, but it’s more of a vibe, an emotion, a feeling maybe?

Liyo: The concept of He4rtbroken is to come together with other people and to bring in some staged drama, to embrace the emotions that music can offer. Our events employ the technique of catharsis. By putting a bit more oil on the fire through dramatical or so-called heartbroken music, we give people the chance to embrace their feelings in a social context. The name He4artbroken is very sincere, but also a bit over the top, playing with the full scale of the emotions around drama. For example, for NTS I recently did an insomnia mix, a condition I suffer from myself. The mix was supposed to be a lullaby mix, but since the tracks I selected are utterly melancholic, many people commented it has the opposite effect of rather blocking the listener from falling asleep. That’s probably what He4rtbroken is all about.  

What does NTS mean to He4rtbroken?

Liyo: On a very personal level, we were kind of disappointed when our 5th anniversary party had been cancelled just at the beginning of the first lockdown in 2020, so when NTS requested us to become part of their residents team around the same time, the news really made our day. I have always been a big fan of what they do and how they manage the station. They care a lot about the community thanks to their supporter program where listeners can opt in for a paid membership and receive extra content. And they share these profits with us, the radio hosts, which is truly unique for an online radio.   

And how important is London for you and He4artbroken co-founder Steff?

Liyo: It’s the city where the idea for He4rtbroken was born. Steff works and lives in London, so for a long time already I frequently visit her across the channel. Quite soon after she moved, we started going to parties and met a lot of people. When we realised that a similar approach to music didn’t exist in Belgium, we launched our events here. A London party very influential to us was PDA, where we often went and later invited their resident DJs to perform at He4rtbroken.

How did you and Steff meet? 

Liyo: We met at Dour festival during a TTC concert. I’m from Liège, she is from Brussels but went to boarding school in Namur, so we mostly hung out at the same Walloon parties during our adolescent years. 

What do you do in life next to hosting events?

Liyo: Steff is a set designer for mostly editorial, commercial and music video work, among others for artists such as Yves Tumor and Caroline Polachek. And I’m a video editor, I have been working a lot with Chinese documentary maker Wang Bing. Sometimes we use our professional skills for He4rtbroken as well, but actually not that much. Our events are also our very own spaces to let go and find leisure time, so I try not to have to stare at a computer screen for hours outside of the daily office hours.

How does a He4rtbroken night sound like? And what happens during such a night? It feels like you are much more than just a DJ, booze and dancing…?

Liyo: Well, let’s ask Otis, I find it hard to answer these questions.

Otis: Me and my friends started to go to He4rtbroken nights when we were just out of high school and while I was still living in Leuven, they were my baptisms into Brussels nightlife, taking the first train back in the morning. I have fond memories, we were always overly excited to listen to new music and also just did some good partying in the literal sense. 

Liyo: It depends on the venue actually. Sometimes we also just offer booze and dancing, other nights are more conceptual with a whole audiovisual program in a movie theater, for example. . 

Otis: By going regularly to He4rtbroken we also got to know their team and the Liège scene and that's where a big part of our network and many friendships started, many of which are still very strong today. During the years more and more Flemish friends started to go to those nights and I feel like they somehow bridged the French and Dutch speaking parts of Belgium in Brussels.

You organized a karaoke at Decoratelier as well last summer. Why karaoke?  

It’s something we had been wanting to do for a very long time already and the time was right. Our version only has these kinds of sad songs dealing with breakups, where people took the stage and the whole crowd was singing along with the lyrics projected on a giant screen. In between the karaoke there were DJ sets by our jokingly dubbed KJs, karaoke jockeys.  

He4rtbroken released a well-received compilation ‘Secret Songs For You’ in 2020 and a Valentine Pack with DJ edits in 2021. Has being a label always been part of your idea? 

Liyo: He4rtbroken is not a label at all. The compilation was born out of this nostalgic concept of the CDR: making a selection of music for someone, burning the tracks on a disc and making artwork for the case. I wanted to do the same for this compilation, loaded with emotional songs that go well with our philosophy, provided by befriended artists. We built a website around it with a 3D simulation of a night sky where every constellation was a song to listen to. The whole project appeared to be a lot of work and fun, but was always just meant as a one-shot enterprise. We also release from time to time some edits and productions made by our resident DJs, but I wouldn't really call it being a label.

Otis, Slagwerk on the other hand has been a real label for quite some time already. When and how did you start it?

Otis: The label started in 2018 and was basically an expansion of the event. It started off with a string of free single releases, but recently is turning a bit more serious though still not a big operation. We tried a few physical releases such as slim USB cards and CDs, but once you get into details and try to create something unique, it’s soon not profitable anymore which always is kind of a setback. But in the end the whole thing was never meant to be profitable, so that’s okay. Luckily Slagwerk has always been very fluid in both style and format which allows me to constantly adapt and change the formula whenever necessary to guarantee continuity. Having a label was sort of my childhood dream so I will definitely stick to it for the years to come.

How did Slagwerk come to life? 

Otis: I started throwing parties in my hometown Leuven about ten years ago, but it was very hard at the time having to fight with the owners of the venues all the time since they didn’t understand what we tried to do and had a hard time building a solid crowd. When I started discovering Brussels, I soon decided to move there and take my events with me. First it wasn’t easy, it took a while to surpass the breakeven situation, but the last couple of years I feel a lot of enthusiasm among a new and young audience keen to indulge themselves in our niche music selection.

Liyo, what do you think makes Slagwerk attractive?

Liyo: I believe it’s a mixture of qualitative line-ups presenting both upcoming and confirmed names, the solid art direction and its edgy character that created the hype. With the label on top, Slagwerk really speaks to its community in a very consistent way. 

Otis, your art direction is indeed very remarkable, how would you describe your aesthetics ?

Otis: Everything is made by close friends of mine, people part of the community who breathe the universe and music. It’s hard to describe, it has a playful and funny sense to it, while obviously it's very digital with many 3D elements. I like to work with a lot of different people and still have some sort of consistency in the esthetics without having to give any direction, it just sort of fits all natural and creates an intriguing whole.

What do you do in life apart from music, Otis?

Otis: I work at a company that does interventions with plants and woods, both public and private, such as playgrounds for children or installations on squares or in parks. It’s a process I had zero experience in before and somehow stumbled upon, but I enjoy the contrast between my day and night job.

Looking back at nightlife history, the British rave and free party scene in the 90s was built out of resistance to the neoliberal logics of Margaret Thatcher. Do you feel that your culture is somehow linked to today’s time and sociopolitical context? 

Liyo: From my perspective, I strongly believe in promoting a scene that is very conscious of diversity, inclusivity and other values that propel equality in the world. When we were first approached by Listen Festival in 2017 to collaborate on a line-up, we booked Klein and Lolina at Beursschouwburg. After being confronted with the rest of the line-up, we noticed our line-up had provided the four only females to the whole line-up. I contacted the festival’s booker and shared my discomfort about this situation, informing him that I was about to share a call-out message on my social media. He reacted in a very modest and honest way, explaining that they work with several hosts and curators and that my intervention was going to help them change the booking policy. The year after they indeed involved more female artists and later they even changed their tagline to ‘music and diversity’. Nowadays the topic is relevant and much discussed, a lot has changed over the past years.  

What to expect from your joint night at Listen? 

 Otis: not sure yet, that’s a good question. Our canceled line-up for the event in March 2020 had James Ferraro, an American producer who strongly inspired the both of us and was going to be the perfect headliner, but unfortunately it’s not going to work for the new date in 2022. 

Liyo: We share a lot of musical crushes, so we’ll find someone. Our resident DJ Ssaliva is also part of Slagwerk, so he’s definitely on the line-up but we’ll announce some more artists soon. We can’t wait.

Great, looking very much forward to it, thanks Liyo and Otis! 

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