Dour Festival: your crazy uncle in the South

Pictures by Fille Roelants

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Dour has always been a bit of an outsider among the Belgian festivals. Known for its daring and alternative programmation, it’s like an eccentric uncle in the South of Belgium. An alternative dude that never wanted to grow up and enjoys partying hard, drinking beer in the sun and sipping Red Bull by night. During five days, his back yard turns into an international melting pot of artists and punters where music is played 17 hours a day. Indeed, with a daily programmation that runs from midday until 5am, Dour is not for the faint hearted.

Since its first edition in 1989, the alternative festival has grown year after year, presently drawing more than 200.000 music lovers to the former industrial backbone of Wallonia. It’s the place where one minute you might be getting down to the set of a big headliner while the next you’re discovering a new, exciting dj from the other side of the world. For its 29th edition, the festival once again delivers a quality lineup covering many different grounds.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so don’t simply take our word for it: with the likes of power women M.I.A. or Solange, Die Antwoord, Earl Sweatshirt, Justice, Romare (with full live band), Carl Craig and his Versus Synthesizer Ensemble, Dutch DJ Antal, dub legend Omar Perry, De La Soul and techno DJ Surgeon on stage next weekend, it’s clear that the lineup is as eclectic as it is exciting. Time for a little chat with booker Mathieu Fonsny, we thought.

Hi Mathieu. When did you actually join the Dour ranks?

"In 2006, I started organizing the Forma.T parties in Liège, Brussels and Paris. For our very first party in March 2006, we booked Justice and DJ Mehdi. At the time, Dour contacted me with the question to host a Forma.T stage at the festival. That first year, we started with a bang with all the Ed Banger artists and Erol Alkan playing. It became an annual rendez-vous and throughout the years we booked people like Diplo, Chromeo and many more, always getting a lot of love from the crowd.

When Forma.T first appeared at Dour, I was actually still working for Les Francopholies de Spa festival. We shared a mezzazine: Alex from Dour had his office upstairs, we were downstairs. We saw a lot of each other in those days, we’d have lunch together and talk music a lot. When in 2013 I told Alex I had stopped working for Francopholies, he promptly offered me to become his new booking assistent. Now he and I work together closely; this is already the 5th edition that we programmed together completely."

Today, Dour is known to be a very eclectic and adventurous festival. Was it like that from the start?

"About thirty years ago, founder Carlo Di Antonio - now a politician - had the idea to start a festival in his town. Werchter and Pukkelpop already existed at the time, so Carlo wanted to create something fresh, showcase artists you wouldn’t normally see at those festivals. So from the start, there was a big focus on French rock as well as genres like reggae, hiphop and techno. Already in the early nineties he brought De La Soul to Dour, while in ‘95 he was the first to contact Fuse to host a festival stage. So indeed, this adventurous approach has been a part of Dour’s DNA from the early stages. The team has always kept its ears and eyes open, looking for interesting partners to team up with. The collab with our own Forma.T happened the same way: when we were giving early dubstep artists like Skream, Benga and Digital Mystic a platform, it immediately caught the festival’s attention. The collab with LEFTO is another good example."

How would you describe the typical Dour visitor?

"The Dour ‘festivalier’ is very open minded and never afraid of discovering new things, whether listening to music or meeting new friends. It’s someone who enjoys sharing his music taste, world views and personal ideas as much as learning about someone else’s. He or she is a person who spends five days discovering and not just hang around the main stage to check out the bigger names, you know? And of course we’re extremely happy to have such an open minded crowd because this mix is what the happening is all about. At Dour you’re as likely to find rockers that end up dancing to reggea at the Boombox as hiphop heads losing themselves to a techno set at the Balzaal."

Once again, Red Bull Elektropedia will take over the Balzaal for four nights. What can we expect?

"From Thursday until Sunday you can catch some amazing DJs and performers at the Balzaal. The production is a very important factor and every year, we really try to outdo ourselves when it comes to sound and light on the dancefloor. We want your jaws to drop when you arrive, it has to be mindblowing! On Thursday, we traditionally have an old-skool drum ‘n’ bass reunion, this time with legends Goldie, Andy C and DJ Hype on the decks. Saturday night focuses more on the modern drum ‘n’ bass sounds. Friday, then, is all about house and techno: at night we have Nina Kraviz, Blawan, Sam Paganini and Amelie Lens on the bill, while the afternoon sports more housy sounds from Ghent’s Red D and Appolonia from Paris. On Sunday, Solomun, Dixon and Tale Of Us kick the evening into gear while Kolsch, Surgeon and Adam Beyer will send everyone into a frenzy with some harder hitting sounds when the sun goes down."

Sounds awesome! How do you see the future of Dour Festival?

"Our main focus has always been about retaining a good balance between different styles and genres, between new and exciting artists and big names. It’s one of Dour’s strongest points and something our community appreciates very much so we will always keep working on that. At the moment we feel blessed having such a loyal following of supportive and unbiased people. I’ve always been a Dour ‘festivalier’ myself, I haven’t missed a single edition since 1997. We’re always open for feedback from our visitors and we’re continuously asking ourselves how we can potentially improve the experience every year. Dour has always been a festival that’s young at heart, and I’m sure at some point the next generation will be ready to take over!"

From Thursday until Sunday from 3pm to 3am, the Red Bull Elektropedia Balzaal hosts some of the world’s greatest names such as Adam Beyer, Andy C, Audio, Ben Klock, Black Sun Empire, Boris Brejcha, Carl Craig, Claptone, Dave Clarke, Goldie, Kerri Chandler, Kollektiv Turmstrasse, Kölsch, Len Faki, Lone, Maceo Plex, Marcel Dettmann, Nina Kraviz, Recondite, Seth Troxler and many more.

Check out the full Dour lineup here.