Dour mon amour! What to expect and how to get your free ticket.

Pictures by Olivier Bourgi

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Summer is here and you know this means festival time. One of Belgium’s favourites is Dour: five days of love and alternative music. Eclecticism, celebration and musical discovery are deeply rooted in the festival's DNA since it's early days. Prepare yourself for total immersion in underground music with more than 200 artists on seven stages ranging from hip hop to heavy metal, from industrial techno to global sounds, from electro to reggae and from indie rock to electronics. Dour has always been at the forefront of pushing new genres of music but after more than 30 years, how does the festival manage to stay on top of the game? Which novelties can we expect for this year's edition? How does the future of Dour look like? We sat down for a chat with Alex Stevens, one of the Dour music programmers.

2018 meant a big change for the Dour festival: the historical charming slag heap was replaced by the wind mill park. How did the organisation assess the move to the new site?

Moving our playground was a huge challenge. It was necessary however, as the previous site didn't meet today's standards anymore. The festival had become too big. At the same time, we think it is important to dare to evolve constantly. It’s not obvious for a 30-year-old festival to adapt to today's reality. The easiest thing would have been to keep doing what we were doing, but our audience evolves continuously. The majority of our original audience grows older and a younger audience with different musical preferences takes its place. Simultaneously, the way people discover and consume music changes. So it’s important to question ourselves continuously, our whole team is imbued with the question: 'which kind of innovation can we introduce this year?' Last year's conclusion was positive: the festival made significant progress on convenience, not only for the visitors but for our staff too, without changing the spirit of the festival. The sunset between the windmills gave it a magic touch, it was the cherry on the cake.

What 's new this year?

As everything worked out well last year, the overall setup of the site won't change much. The Red Bull Elektropedia Balzaal however, will be completely redesigned. Last year was great, but we think it lost a bit of its magic: by entering the festival site you immediately bumped into the Balzaal. Maybe that was a bit too obvious. On our former site, this stage was kind of hidden; you had to walk a bit to discover. Once you were there, it was like entering a cathedral: first you saw it from behind and by walking into it, you discovered its magic. So this year, we will invert its orientation and add some novelties; our visitors expect that from us. Here’s a sneak peek: we will line up three huge screens, covering a total size of half a football field.

There are so many Belgian artists to pick from nowadays; we really had to make tough choices.

Another change is the transformation from 'La Caverne' to 'La Salle Polyvalente'. It was impossible to make a strictly metal line-up for four days, so we decided to diversify the selection of artists on this stage. Saturday will be dedicated to all things metal, Thursday will be all about underground hip hop, on Friday it’s dub and reggae’s turn and Sunday will be about the new French pop movement. At night, solid techno and twisted electro will rule over the stage. Consider it as a Lablo XL. As the name 'La Caverne' didn't really capture the multitude of niches, we decided to rebrand it as 'La Salle Polyvalente'.

The other stages remain what they are known for: The Last Arena is the main stage for our headliners, Boombox is the attraction for the younger generation that loves all things hip hop and urban; La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie focusses on indie music in all its forms, Le Labo is the intimate club to discover the bands of tomorrow regardless of genres and the Dub Corner remains the meeting area for dubplate lovers.

There are plenty of festivals every summer. How does Dour distinguish itself?

Especially 'La Salle Polyvalente' and 'Le Labo' will feature artists you won't come across on other festivals. Acts such as Skee Mask, Ansome and Under Black Helmet play a kind of raw, industrial techno that’s lacking on other events of this size. This is also the case the sounds of artists like Kampiré, a DJ from Uganda or Moonshine, a Canadian collective. Both can be filed as ‘global sounds’, they fit perfectly in the Dour line up. This variety of genres and bands sets us apart from other festivals.

With 40 acts out of 240 featured artists, Belgium is well represented in the line-up. We suppose this isn't a random choice?

Ten years ago we consciously chose to retain a part of the line-up for homegrown artists. At that time there weren't hardly any Belgian headliners making it abroad. That was until Stromae and Selah Sue started making waves. Nowadays, we have a whole generation headlining festivals around the world such as Damso, Roméo Elvis, Angèle, Charlotte De Witte and Amelie Lens. We are more than happy to have all of them headlining Dour 2019. The former two will perform in the Last Arena, the latter two will tear down the Balzaal. We have been following each of them from the very beginning of their careers, so we are very proud with the way things have been going for them. Moreover, we have reached the perfect balance: two female and two male artists, two Flemish and two French speaking artists (laughs). This is Belgium at its best! Besides these big names, we selected plenty of upcoming Belgian artists. They are so many to pick from nowadays; we really had to make tough choices. I remember some years ago we really had to dig deep to find them and today they have become a natural and essential part of our festival.

At Dour, we forget everything and we focus on the moment. Consider it a form of collective meditation, pursued by 50.000 people a day.

Any gigs in particular you are looking forward to?

I am very curious to see The Brums perform live on Saturday, a group from Liège bringing a mix of jazz, groove and electronics. I also look forward to Disclosure, Koffee, Ansome, etc. Too many to sum them all up here.

We talked a lot about music, but Dour is also famous for its particular atmosphere, what is the secret behind it?

People come to Dour festival to live the moment together with friends, regardless of nationality, work or social status. The festival is a world on its own for five days. Our slogan 'Dour mon amour' is very simple: have a good time and talk to each other. These are the simple things we lack in our daily lives sometimes. At Dour, we forget everything and we focus on the moment. Consider it a form of collective meditation, pursued by 50.000 people a day.

Last year Dour celebrated its 30th birthday; what will the festival look like within 30 years from now?

That’s hard to say, but probably it won’t be about music only. I hope by this time we’ll have a lot of audio-visual art as well. I guess technology will be very present and will contribute to the interaction with the audience. I’m thinking about music or art created live in interaction with the audience. Probably the festival will become even more of an experience, a bubble in which we could all live together for 5 days. Looking back at the past, I think the festival will become more diverse. Compared to the early days with just one stage with live music, present day Dour has become very diverse with 7 stages, multiple campsites, an enormous audio-visual production, lasers, etc... My main concern has to be that we need to keep doing things differently than other festivals. If we would lose this attitude, the spirit of Dour won't be the same anymore. Only time will tell!