Mekitburn Festival: worldwide, local and no nonsense

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Fans in the Vilvoorde-Brussels area will already be familiar with this popular little festival, but as Mekitburn prepares its 13th edition, the aims have sharpened. With a 100% Belgian lineup and a dedicated bottom-up approach, this event (taking place on September 15 and 16) is bound to provide everything you look for in a festival experience: hot new talent, a laid back atmosphere in a beautiful environment and a ridiculously low entrance fee. When we talked to co-organizers Sarah Van Ransbeeck and Malko Van Den Borre, we couldn’t help but notice how their infectious enthusiasm for the values Mekitburn stands for . It made us hungry for more! With just a few more events to go before this summer season comes to a close, make sure you choose Mekitburn as one of the last festivals to hit up. Why? We’ll let them do the talking.

13 years of Mekitburn already! How did the festival change over time?

Malko: "Like many other events, it started rather small when a group of motivated friends thought there was something lacking in their neighbourhood. They quickly found a perfect venue in the green outskirts of Vilvoorde. Nowadays we have over 100 volunteers who contribute to a two day festival with three stages and a solid reputation. We can count on a lot of familiar and new faces every year."

Sarah: "Next to that, the organization doesn't only limit itself to the festival anymore, but also creates all kinds of cultural & musical activities throughout the year."

Malko: "The main idea of our lineup stayed pretty much the same: creating opportunities for talent in more underestimated genres. However, we took this idea more serious in the last few years. I have focused a lot more on ‘cross-over’ artists that are capable of doing a lot of different genres, realizing it's fun when artists are able to surprise you."

Sarah: "Throughout the years our way of organization behind the scene has stayed the same. While the core team in charge changes every few years, there’s always a large family of volunteers who work hard to make it happen. For many creative people, Mekitburn has been a step-up to a higher level or simply a safe haven where they can experiment and develop their personal skills."

Your entire operation has kept running only by the hands, brains and goodwill of volunteers. That must be quite the challenge, no?

Malko: "You are very correct in assuming so. This will always be a challenge, but so far it isn't a challenge that we can't overcome. We have seen a lot of people come and go, everybody makes mistakes. You hit, you miss, you draw conclusions and you do better next time."

Sarah: "Some people join the crew because they simply like music or hanging out with friends. They turn up with an idea, they organize a small event & after a year or two they are in charge of a department. As long as there's a new generation of motivated people with a heart for culture & music willing to take up responsibilities, Mekitburn will continue to exist."

One only has to take a quick look at your lineup to see you’re focussing on local talent. What was the thought process behind this decision?

Malko: "Even for a small, divided country we feel proud to be Belgian. There's a lot going on in our national musical landscape so we figured it would be nice to fully focus on our homegrown talents for once. While many of the same ‘big’ artists are in the spotlights most of the time, there are so many talents who are right there at the surface, but stay unnoticed by many promotors or who don't find their way to a larger crowd."

Sarah: "We even decided to dedicate an entire stage to all things hip hop, all originating out of our thriving capital only. Sometimes it feels like it’s almost necessary to have as many foreign headliners as possible to be considered as a go-to festival, so we might have taken a risk this year, but at least we will feel a glow of pride each time an artist blows us away at our festival."

Your tagline says ‘Local Flame, Global Flavor’. Is food gonna be a big part of the festival too?

Sarah: "Malko suggested this tagline during a brainstorm session with our crew members last year. (laughs)"

Malko: "The 'Local Flame' stands for our crew's burning need to create and our crowd's passion. The 'Global Flavor' mostly stands for the entire experience, because its sounds and atmosphere are much more than you would expect. Although the festival might be a local product, it definitely 'tastes' like much more."

In what ways, other than music and food, do you cooperate with creative people on Mekitburn?

Sarah: "Mekitburn has always had its own decoration crew. In the past, the festival has had many different outlooks because of them, always giving a spot to artists who wanted an opportunity to show off their skills. This year, they will limit themselves to some impressive illuminated structures, a chill-out temple and a lot of homemade, ecological furniture."

Malko: "This year, we are working with For Flavor, who provide us with light installations for both stages. We are very curious to see how this will turn out!"

The location of a festival has become more and more important for smaller festivals to stand out. Where will Mekitburn take place?

Malko: "With the exception of the first edition, Mekitburn has always taken place at Domein Drie Fonteinen, Vilvoorde. While the whole domain consists mostly out of a very nice park, there's also one old big building (Ruiterijcomplex, red.) that functions as our main festival site. At the courtyard, we’ll build our first stage that will be called 'The Journey'. It’s here where you can immerse yourself in more worldly sounds like Stavroz and Jamaican Jazz Orchestra while enjoying the view of ancient trees rising above the walls. One of the other stages, called 'The Experience', is a long indoor hall with a low ceiling and a more limited capacity. You can hear most of the "underground" music here and there will be a full female lineup on Saturday. The other, larger hall with its high ceiling is something special this year: together with Chase and Brik we will bring a 100% Brussels hip hop lineup on Friday and a solid house and techno lineup on Saturday. The rest of the domain will make space for a skate area, a chill-zone, a food corner, a tattoo-shop and tons of free workshops."

If you’re really honest, which artists do you look forward to the most?

Malko: "First of all, I would choose Ozferti (live). This is an artist I didn't even know before Sarah suggested him last year. These are the most surprising acts for me to look forward to: someone who was right under my nose, seemingly having a unique and fresh sound all this time. He's a masked crusader who brings an eclectic solo live-set full of afro-inspired beats, accompanying himself on an electric guitar. Second of all, I would say Blue Bossa Liberté. While we chose to go for an all-Belgian lineup, I thought it wouldn't necessarily mean we couldn't bring some of the world to Mekitburn. BBL is a jazz quartet that’s half Brazilian, half Belgian. With a vocalist who sings in her native language and who knows how to play the flute, I’m sure they will enchant us! It might be the riskiest booking of this year, since jazz never really had a place at the festival, but I just couldn't resist this lovely summer music."

Sarah: "If I have the time, I would love to go check out Audri, who will be the opening act of the festival on Friday. Some of my favourite artists will perform at the Brussels hip hop stage later that night: Beatsforbeaches, Yooth, Mambele and, of course, Zwangere Guy. On Saturday, I look forward to UNOS and Blu Samu on our all-female stage and Okkupeerder at the Journey Stage."

So, all fired up and ready to join Mekitburn on September 15 and 16? Head over to its Facebook event page for more info and tickets!