Hip Hop on top: a chat with All Eyes On Hip Hop’s Willem Vandesande.


After a good 12 years filled with (more or less) 90 events, All Eyes On Hip Hop (AEOHH) is Belgium’s most consistent and defining party in its category. Hypes come and go, but no other event has been steady throughout the years, offering a place in the spotlights for the homegrown acts that deserve your attention, as well as the biggest names from the global theatre. It’s this solid formula – which started off in 2005 at Hoogstraten’s Cahier De Brouillon, expanding to Ghent in 2011 and landing in Brussels and Antwerp in the last two years – that made sure the Belgian hip hop-scene had a solid concept to rely on. Recently, AEOHH took away the gold medal in the ‘Best Party’ category at the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards, and a massive night at Kunstencentrum Vooruit with DJ Premier and Roméo Elvis is coming up shortly. More than enough reasons to hit up main man Willem Vandesande and question him about the local hip-hop scene, his journey so far and what’s next to come.

With DJ Premier you booked one of the absolute hip hop legends. What role has this man played in your life?

"Personally, not a big one - but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t one of the greatest producers the hip hop scene has ever known. I don’t think there’s another producer that made so many classics as him. So when he climbs on stage and starts spinning all those bangers, you have to pay close attention. I was in Paris the first time I saw him - a full 2000 capacity venue. I was actually standing on stage, only a few meters from him. I will never forget the feeling I had when I heard those beats coming from the master himself, with 2000+ hip hop-heads going wild in front of him."

Besides DJ Premier, you also booked some top shelf Belgian hip hop with Roméo Elvis, Caballero, JeanJass and Le Motel. Do you think that francophone rap finally has the momentum to break through in Flanders?

"Starflam already had a breakthrough in Flanders 20 years ago, but Roméo Elvis definitely has the potential to do the same in 2017. I remember my French class in high school back in 1998, where we had to examine “Ce Plat Pays” from Starflam. So, Roméo, you know what to do… But obviously there’s more than just him. Caballero & JeanJass, Hamza and Damso are also getting more and more followers here and there’s a whole new generation knocking on the door with Le Dé, Le 77, Krisy, Nixon and Isha."

A party like this wouldn’t last for so long if it didn’t have great resident DJs. Can you tell us who these are and what their qualities are?

"Everybody is replaceable, even me. I think that’s why AEOHH has been going for so long. Hip hop is for everybody, not only for the ‘real heads’ or the ‘hip kids’, but also for those who just like to vibe on good music, regardless of who they are or what they look like. Everything that I do reflects that philosophy. The artwork, the DJs, the artists, the venues, etc. I want to make sure that everybody feels welcome to do their thing on the dancefloor.

That being said, there is one real resident DJ at AEOHH and that is DJ Azer, who I befriended 10 years ago. Back then I felt that he was a master in mixing the dopest tracks and creating the perfect party vibe. So I just had to book him – and he never left! He is still my favourite Belgian DJ, right up there with Lefto."

So far you’ve been going back and forth between Vooruit and Charlatan, depending on the size of the party. Did you ever feel the desire to explore other horizons?

"Of course! I have already organized some concerts in Brussels and Antwerp, but the plan is to organize AEOHH events all over the country - and even beyond. After the success of my parties at Charlatan and Vooruit and winning the Red Bull Elektropedia Award for 'Best Party' last November, I realized that the time is right to fully focus on the development of my own events and my own artists. That’s why I quit my job at Greenhouse Talent (a major booking agency, red). This was a very harsh decision to make, because I really loved my job and it truly is an amazing company to work for. That said, I am very happy I am free to do whatever I want now. So, yeah you can expect a lot more from AEOHH in 2017-2018!"

What’s your stance on the current hip hop scene in Belgium?

"Hip hop is really is booming right now in Belgium – and I think everybody is aware of that. Artists like Coely, Woodie Smalls, Brihang, Stikstof, TheColorGrey, DVTCH NORRIS, Bringhim, Blackwave and K1D are doing really good, and we already discussed the Francophone scene! And in case you didn’t know: Coely is going to sell out the Ancienne Belgique. Coely is going to sell out the Ancienne Belgique. Sorry I just had to repeat that sentence. For the first time since very long there’s a Belgian hip-hop act ready to stand next to a rock or dance act and take over not only this country, but The Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK as well. I truly hope that she will conquer the world!

In addition to live shows, the party scene is also growing. I see more and more dope concepts popping up all over the country that bring an interesting mix of ‘live’ and ‘party’ vibes. I’m very much looking forward to go see the Champion Sound beat battle later this week for the first time. Those boys are doing a great job at providing a platform for up-and-coming beatmakers! In Brussels, you have Back In The Dayz, Slice of Pie and Frontal; Leuven has Tangram and Slagwerk; Brugge has De Hossel; and so on…

Everybody is able to become (or at least call themselves) a DJ with the rise of the internet and high-end technological equipment. That’s a good thing, as long as they don’t forget to focus on the music and not on their social media status. The social media game produces a lot of fakers - and that’s not any different in the hip hop-scene unfortunately."

Even though hip hop seems to be revolving around the trap/lit/thugga vibe nowadays, AEOHH seems to be attracting loyal crowds, regardless of what’s considered ‘cool’ out there. How do you feel about hypes like these?

"Hip hop is definitely not only revolving around the trap/lit/thugga vibe. You’re forgetting about Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Action Bronson, Isaiah Rashad and even OG’s like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. By the way, Chance The Rapper just won three(!!!) Grammy’s!

AEOHH is all about the old and the new school hip hop music. I don’t have a problem with the evolution that the genre is going through, but with my events I want to bring a mix of both. People need to know where it all comes from. When you leave the venue I want to make sure you have danced on the new-ish, the early 2000, the 90s and 80s hip hop as well as the original funk, soul and jazz music. I want to trigger people to become music lovers like I am. I want them to go home and dig deeper into the stuff they heard."

After 12 years, which AEOHH performance has stuck with you the most - and why?

"In 2012, I saw Oddisee perform for the first time with his live band ‘Good Company’. He had just released a Bon Iver cover, which was on high rotation at Studio Brussel. So it really was the perfect timing for a magical, sold out show. This was and still is the best concert I’ve ever organized."

Any other memorable concerts from the AEOHH vaults?

"Well, feel free to check out the documentation of some legendary nights, like the J Dilla Tribute afterparty with Azer and SNS and the All Eyes On Hip Hop & New Era present Pusha T Aftermovie!"

And to finish off, do you have some personal recommendations of recent local beats not to be missed?

"Yes: TheColorGrey’s ‘Thin Lines’ and ISHA’s ‘Coloris’, featuring Caballero & Hamza."

Check out the forthcoming AEOHH event schedule. Click links for more info and tickets.

01/03: Charlatan, Ghent w/ Freddie Joachim

03/03: Het Bos, Antwerp w/ Ivan Ave & Senz

17/03: Het Bos, Antwerp w/ Collective Conscience (EP release party)

23/03: Vooruit, Gent w/ DJ Premier, Roméo Elvis & Le Motel, JeanJass & Caballero

*Pictures by Daniil Lavrovski.

Willem Vandesande