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Putting emotion and radical freedom back in the club: meet the Heartbroken crew

Putting emotion and radical freedom back in the club: meet the Heartbroken crew

When was the last time you went clubbing and were genuinely amazed by music you have never heard before? Surely you know R&B, house, dancehall, baile funk and trap – but never at the same party with such surprisingly effortless continuity. Enter the Heartbroken events, since 2 years in Brussels: without a doubt the most refreshing party in our country at the moment. 

Run by Liyo Gong and Stephanie Kevers (aka Steph), both ladies have a nose for booking the hottest and most creative international talents you never heard of – unless you are a Heartbroken regular, in which case we don’t have to tell you that this is not just a party, but a community of alternative and open-minded music lovers. Genres have no importance at these cosy events, so be prepared to dance to some forward-thinking emotional afro-trance or hard-hitting gabber reggaeton over a well-known pop acapella, whatever that means.

In anticipation of their Valentine edition at Universal Club on February 10, we shared a couple of words with co-founder Gong, better known by her first name (and artist name) Liyo.

It’s not common for me to see a party popping up in Belgium with such a distinct identity, both visually, musically and in terms of communication. Did you feel there was a need for this?

"It all happened very spontaneously. We started the Heartbroken nights because there was no place for the kind of music we wanted to play out and nobody was bringing the artists we wanted to hear in a club. So, we figured we’d just do it ourselves. Maybe we seem distinct because we were complete outsiders, we didn't belong to any existing club scene in Belgium, doing everything in our own way. For example, we would make the visuals ourselves without any experience in graphic design and we would do the communication in a very casual way. We clearly needed to create our own space here."

Were you guys doing something related to music or art before Heartbroken?

"We both have jobs that keep us very busy. Stephanie is a set designer and often works on music related visuals (she's worked with Klein, Farai, Palmistry, Yves Tumor, etc). I am a video editor, and to me DJ-ing is like another type of editing, only my footage is music in this case and I can make people dance to the story I tell, which is pretty amazing!"

As DJ enthousiasts ourselves, we're extremely excited with this current flow of music that’s being made without limitations regarding genres, underground vs pop culture or the conventional music business. Yet, at the same time, there’s a very clear sense that all this music - despite its very different sound - fits together as one family. What’s your take on this - by lack of a better word – “scene”?

"Nowadays, there is a global array of musicians pushing all kinds of boundaries. I think it fits as a family in the sense that a lot of these artists are inspiring and encouraging each other, although the sounds are different and everyone has a very personal approach. To me, it's the openness to diversity, the free mind-set and the will to challenge existing dance music conventions that make that movement so interesting and essential. This can draw together different artists from all types of backgrounds, with various sensibilities. That's also why it's hard to define it in terms of traditional music genres or scenes, which I think is a good thing. It has induced new perspectives in music production that are still being explored, so it creeps me out when sometimes people try to reduce it to a gimmick, a 'post-something'."

The artists you book come from every corner of the globe. Do you personally feel more connected to the ‘international scene’ because of the importance of internet in this generation - or do you identify your events as Belgian/Bruxellois?

"In our case it would be impossible to not feel connected to what's going on outside of Belgium. Stephanie is half Portuguese and lives between London and Brussels. I live here in Brussels too, but I also studied in Berlin and Shanghai. On top of that, I still feel very close to my family in China and the music scene out there. We are also part of the Sister group, a global solidarity network of female-identified musicians. But that doesn't mean our events aren’t Belgian too. With Heartbroken, we wanted to provide an ‘IRL’-platform for the local producers and music enthusiasts in Belgium who are in the same dynamic, as well as promoting our favourite artists to a local audience, maybe building bridges in the process. Also, the crowd in Brussels is really cute and easy-going, and people here started following us in a very organic way, so we feel truly happy to organize Heartbroken here."

Which has been your personal best set you’ve ever heard at Heartbroken, ever?

"I think the sets of Sega Bodega and Mischa Mafia were my all-time favourites!"

You did a few events at the wonderful Beursschouwburg, but also - like the upcoming one - at Universal Club. I guess many people have never heard about this place. Can you explain what it is and why you keep going there?

"It was very hard for us to find a venue at the beginning. We contacted every possible place in Brussels and we had terrible experiences before ultimately finding a safe haven at Universal Club. This place is a small basement club run by Deejay Oulare, a godfather figure in the afro-beat scene here. He has proven to be more open-minded than a lot of venue owners in Brussels at the time and trusted us when for many others saw us as just "two little girls without experience, throwing a weird, girly party". He has never judged us by the cover and he says his club is open to everyone, thus called the "Universal Club".

It's a very special place to us with loads of soul and a sense of family. Many of the staff are apprentices of Oulare and turned out to be great DJs, which we found out at our first night there. They started playing casually at the end of the night when we were packing, and it was so good that we ended up staying and dancing until 8AM! Since that moment, we include Deejay Oulare on our line-ups when we throw nights there. The setting is very cute too, it's intimate and sexy, with mirrors and crazy lights everywhere, perfect for dancing. So we try to do events at both Universal Club and the Beursschouwburg, a venue that we love very much as well. We were lucky enough to get a chance to promote nights there later on. We choose our location depending on availabilities at both venues and which place we feel fits the lineup better in terms of vibe and capacity. We couldn't exist without these two places and we feel very thankful for that."

Apart from yourselves, you could also say that Nevrland are also residents. What is it about them you love?

"Munix and Ssaliva (who make up Nevrland, red.) have been part of the family from the very beginning. I think we met them when we did our first sets in Liège - my hometown - back when both Heartbroken and Nevrland were still unheard of. The four of us were already in the same vibe and we all had a very emotional relationship to music. I think that's the core identity of Heartbroken, that emotional side. I'm happy they started producing tracks together; I’m sure you'll hear more from them soon."

Which artists are still on your wishlist?

"Many are! But we are very superstitious, so we can't say who! Fingers crossed, you'll find out soon."

What can we expect on the Valentine's edition next week?

"We're inviting the two founders of the Staycore label, Dinamarca and Ghazal, who have been a true inspiration to us. Their label is one of our favourites, and home to former Heartbroken headliners Mechatok and Mobilegirl. We're also very lucky to bring Orlando Volcano, a brilliant, promising producer based in New York that we've discovered through the Doom Dab and Mixpak compilations. It's gonna be a special Valentine edition at Universal Club, so we hope it will be flirty, sweaty and... emotional!"

All information on this Friday’s Heartbroken 'Valentine Edition' with the Staycore Crew can be found on the event page right here.

*Pictures by - in order of appearance - Christophe de Bethune, Guillaume Blondiau and Lara Gasparotto.