After a successful first edition, it’s never easy to confirm with a follow up. In 2016, Listen! was a welcome new addition to Brussels nightlife, attended by thousands of visitors. This year the festival returns bigger and better on March 30, 31 and April 1 in Brussels. Dirk De Ruyck, one of the founders and heavyweight in the Belgian electronic music scene, was kind enough to present the next chapter of Listen!.
So, Dirk, how did Listen! Festival come about?
"The idea for Listen! has been in my head for a while now. I’ve always been very left-of-centre minded, so the initial idea was triggered by my own taste in music and interests. Back in the days, when I was working at EMI, I got the opportunity to visit a lot of dance-events. Every city had its festival, except for Brussels. Other major cultural cities like Paris, London and Amsterdam are no more than 2 hours away. So it’s rather remarkable this kind of activity was missing in Brussels, since we do live in the heart of Europe. I worked out the initial idea, and presented it to a couple of people. I found 2 partners who were very eager to join the story and the rest is history."
How would you describe Listen Festival?
"Our baseline says it all: A Brussels Future Music Festival. A city festival which focuses on electronic music and innovation, while partnering with more than 20 organizations and major venues. The input of these organizations is of a massive importance. We’ve tried a few things last year and wanted to walk this path even further. This year, we’re teaming up with Flagey, AB, Fuse, …. And it’s something we would like to spread all over the city. We’ve even had some invitations from partners to start working on cooperations for our next edition."
Listen! doesn’t seem like a regular festival. It has a strong music program supplemented with record fairs, conferences, workshops, internet radio and more. What’s your view on the multidisciplinary concept?
"Music is the starting point of it all. On Thursday, March 30, we’re teaming up with Flagey, where we have our grand opening concert with Francesco Tristano (live). On Friday March 31, we have a big night in cooperation with Lefto, Tangram Records and Strictly Niceness were a.o. Benji B, Flako and Mr Mendel are part of the lineup. Our closing night on Saturday April 1, will have 808 State, Antal, Optimo and many more. With these extra activities we want to differentiate ourselves from the standard festival story, and so we try to bring a diverse and accessible program. Together with Turnlab we’re presenting a gear & synth lab, people can come shopping on the record fair and just like last year we’re hosting workshops and masterclasses. I think people just expect more than just music nowadays. Although it’s our core, we want to link other branches to Listen!"
Where do you get your inspiration for these activities?
"It made sense to combine these things. It just fits perfectly in our story and it’s a consolidation for the audience, because our daytime activities are free. In most of the cases, the partners are asking us to collaborate. So that shows they respect what we’re doing. I think it’s a natural process."
After your first edition, what did you want to improve?
"We wanted to keep the same intentions as last year, while expanding a bit and involving more Brussels based organisations. If we want to grow, it’s necessary to involve these external partners, because organizing Listen! Festival on our own would be complete madness. This idea resulted in our Thursday night walk. After The opening concert at Flagey, we’re organizing an urban trail through Brussels, which is free and you can discover 11 of Brussels' finest venues and promoters like a.o. Deep In house, Heartbroken, Crevette Records, … While uniting these promoters, we can put Listen! on the map and give a new boost to Brussels. Each organization has its own identity. We can’t tell them what to do and it wouldn’t make sense. We want them to be part of our story because of what they do."
Any other activities we should know about?
"Actually, Listen! Festival starts early this year. Starting March 16, two weekend before the festival people can join us at our Meeting Point & Pop-Up Bar at ING Arts Center. Here you can attend the Red Bull Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier talks and various dj-sets by some well-known Brussels collectives."
What are your ambitions for the future?
"We want to attract people who are genuinely interested in what we do and not just for our music lineup. People who want to be surprised, who are open to new things and who have an open view. And, of course, just keep on focussing on future music. It’s a bit of a childhood dream to have Kraftwerk play in KVS. It would be the ultimate synergy of classical, tradition and the future."