Fresh on the Scene

Coco Haram


Some have already spent years in the shadows, waiting for the right moment - others have barely left their bedroom studios. Some aim for headlining festival stages, others aim for nothing in particular – but all of them have developed a sound with the potential to turn a lot of heads. With this feature we shine a light on some of the most interesting emerging new talents our tiny country has to offer.

Describing Coco Haram’s music is definitely not an easy task. But it was never supposed to be easy. Fans of raw lo-fi house and techno or lovers of mutated hip-hop and pop can both find something in there that triggers their senses. This Antwerp duo, Gavin Vanaelst and Jonas De Houwer just released their debut album ‘Contemporary Toyboy’ on cassette and digital via Unknown References. Enough reasons to invite them for a lil’ chat.

Both guys have turned heads before with different side projects. Vanaelst is probably better known for solo production alias ‘Kassett’ (winning the Most Promising Artist in the 2014 Red Bull Elektropedia Awards) or maybe even for ‘So Sorry’ (a discontinued team-up with British singer Faeriey). De Houwer on the other hand has been working on the soundtrack of a Korean short movie. However, those projects belong to completely different worlds, according to both: “The big difference is the work method. With Coco Haram we have our own unique way of working together, different instruments, etc. That’s just a lot easier to separate under different aliases”.

A strip club might be an unconventional place for Vanaelst and De Houwer to meet for the first time, but it was through a mutual friend that they ended up there on one fateful night. It could only get better from there. Quickly they discovered they shared the same interests in music production and started making a tape together – and that’s the story of their debut album. “We were just really bored”, explains De Houwer. “We were on the same level, so it happened very organically”. The album was produced over the course of one summer – very efficient to say the least.

But even though the album was made quite fast according to industry standards, the reactions have been very positive. “We didn’t expect so many enthusiastic listeners” says De Houwer. “Our shows have been becoming better and better too. Last week at Het Bos was really good for example. While our first live sets were not much more than just me pushing play, we’re now using Ableton with added instruments and live vocals. It’s our goal to develop a complete live performance with pop sensibility, not just DJ-sets. We feel like that’s the approach our music needs”.

Playing out opens doors – and that’s exactly what happened when Vanaelst and De Houwer played a little show a couple of months ago. After seeing them play, the guys from ‘Unknown References’ - a Brussels based label that previously released music from Wan Voager and LBNHRX - contacted the duo with an offer. Vanaelst elaborates: “They proposed to make a tape release – and we really dug that ‘lost and found’ lo-fi vibe”. “We were lucky that they let us do our own thing, we enjoyed complete creative freedom” adds De Houwer.

Creative freedom seems to be heavily valued by both Vanaelst and De Houwer. Upon listening the tape, it’s hard to pinpoint where inspiration has been drawn. “Other than Daniel Johnston and Blink 182 there’s not many artists we really look up to. We just do what we do” answers De Houwer.

By this point, some of us probably wonder where that particular name Coco Haram comes from? Vanaelst: “The first track we made together was called ‘Coco Papi’ – and that Coco part really stuck in our heads”. “And there was something that drew us to the word ‘Haram’. One and one makes two, so make of that what you will” adds De Houwer. “After doing some research we found out there is a League Of Legends player with the same. He has more fans than us”.

What’s next for this duo? “There’s not really a masterplan. We’ll just make some new tracks. Maybe there’s even a vinyl release coming”. 

If that day comes, here is where you’ll read about it first.

*Pictures by Daniil Lavrovski