Vuurwerk, the live electronica outfit now based in East London, has been around for some time, but they never ceased to turn heads with their striking conceptual and audio-visual approach. After recently releasing some serious firecrackers like ‘Face It’ (ft. Khazali) and ‘New Flow’ (ft. Glints), they’re about to commence some exciting months, including live gigs at Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop and Ancienne Belgique and the release of their long-awaited debut album. We met up with Jergan Callebaut and Thieu Seynaeve to have a talk on all things Vuurwerk.
We’ve been expecting a Vuurwerk album for quite some time now. How come the release was postponed?
Jergan: I think we were not ready yet. It was important for us to find our sound with some singles and EPs without the pressure that of a debut album.
Thieu: Yeah, it’s been a long-term process and we needed to give ourselves the freedom to experiment, to develop an aesthetic. The foundations for the album were laid in Molenbeek (Brussels), during six months of non-stop writing. It was a very intense period and at one point we got the feeling we got stuck, both in our personal lives as well as musically. We decided we needed a new flow and left Brussels for Morocco, where we wrote part of the record during a trip with Max Colombie and Marie Wynants.
Jergan: It gave us fresh air and fresh ideas and we realized that the environment in which we wrote and the impact on how it made us feel really translated into our music. Eventually we arrived in London, where we now live, work and produce the rest of the album.
Vuurwerk has been consistent in its conceptual approach of EPs, singles or videos. Was an album the logical next step?
Jergan: Call us melancholic or old-fashioned, but for us an album is the ultimate concept, an opportunity to tell a real story. We are huge fans of records like 'good Kid, m.A.A.d. City' that really draw you into their own world. The tracks relate to each other in a meaningful way.
Thieu: Certainly when the accompanying artwork and the videos are on point. A few months ago, we went to "The Infinite Mix", an exhibition about audio-visual artwork that focuses on the synergy between audio and video. We saw the film "m.A.A.d." by Kahlil Joseph. It was a short film on Kendrick Lamar's album filmed in Compton, where the album’s story is set. It was impressive to see how accurately that album actually depicts the city, and how the images of the neighbourhood merged with the music.
Your lineup has changed in recent years. Does Vuurwerk purely consists of the two of you?
Thieu: Vuurwerk now is Jergan and myself. Former member and friend Sjam Janssens decided to focus on his sailing career 8 months ago and is no longer active in the band. We write most the tracks and vocal lines, but we're very happy to work with other artists and do it constantly. We see Vuurwerk, and especially our Run Tell Secrecy collective, as a dynamic and greater whole, consisting of moving particles, members that interfere in an organic way. We mainly create the framework to make this possible.
Jergan: All guest musicians with whom we work contribute to the sound of VUURWERK. When playing live our drummer, Gert Malfliet (Delvaux), keyboardist Jens Paeyeneers (Seiren) and saxophonist Mathias Decraene (Nordman) play an important role. Also, Salem Khazali, a vocalist who we met in Peckham, South London, is a key player, both on our new album as live. And of course, there’s also long-time Run Tell boy Glints.
On your new single, ‘New Flow’, you work with Glints. You’ve been in the studio with him before. How do you explain the match?
Jergan: I produced Jan (Glints) his two EP's in our Run Tell Studio, and before that he was already on stage with us. We’re very good friends and there’s a creative match as well, so a feature was bound to happen. He’s very talented and we share a DIY attitude and love to go against the mainstream.
A large part of your music is based on collaborations. Do you feel your creativity is sparked by working with other people?
Jergan: We've always been fond of collaborating with other artist and we grew to love it even more over recent years. Initially, we mainly worked with vocalists, such as Max Colombie and Sylvie Kreusch, but for this album we wanted to challenge ourselves. We decided to write, play and sing the foundations of the tracks ourselves. Once we were satisfied with the rough versions, we started working with people of whom we thought they could contribute something we couldn’t.
Thieu: We then started to tweak everything around again until things fell into place. We constantly remix our own tracks so we end up with many alternative versions, on which we then rerecord and start the process all over again.
After writing part of the album in Molenbeek (Brussels), you got stuck at some point. How did that happen?
Thieu: When we started writing the record, Brussels and Molenbeek were hugely inspiring and stimulating. The multicultural, hectic and chaotic vibe initially helped us to percieve music in other ways and to experiment with sounds and structures. However, after six months of writing, we were so drained by that process that we lost track of our context, the bigger picture, reality and our social life.
Jergan: We can be quite obsessed with our music and it’s not always easy to look at things objectively. That's why we had to leave Brussels at a certain point to refresh our minds. London became our new home. The city of our musical heroes, like Caribou, Brian Eno, Four Tet, Jamie xx and so many others. Here we have been able to convert that dark, volatile element from the demo’s written in Molenbeek, into something that sounds more optimistic and hopeful. Maybe that’s because our daytime jobs have brought some balance and perspective into our musical lives.
So, London definitely coloured your album?
Thieu: Certainly. Jergan and I might not like to admit it, but we apparently are quite ‘emo’, the environment in which we live and what happens in our social life has a lot of influence on our music. Moving to London also meant discovering a new music scene, meeting new artists and being exposed to new and fresh ideas and that was very enriching. And, of course, some collaborations arose.
Jergan: Especially the one with Salem Khazali was an important one. Only when he sang some of our vocal lines, the song suddenly fell into place. Before we met him, we were considering an album without vocal features and to use my voice as the main vocal. It was not easy to face it, but I wasn’t convinced of myself as a singer. Therefore, it was important to find a vocalist who was on the same page as us, and could translate our ideas into the vocals.
You have a pretty impressive live setup, that you call The Beast (see picture above). Is that that rig a translation of your way of working in the studio?
Thieu: Absolutely. We realised that if we wanted to play our songs live in the same way as we recorded them in the studio, the only solution was to bring the entire studio to the stage.
Jergan: The beast is the beating heart of the live set. It's a lot of samplers, synths and effects, driven by a central midi sequencer, which is triggered by Thieu. This way, we can modulate everything and the possibilities are virtually endless because it's a gigantic modular workstation.
Thieu: It's just heavy as hell. Always somewhat unpredictable and difficult to control, hence the name.
What other things can we expect from you in 2017?
Thieu: We’re looking forward to a great summer including gigs at Werchter and Pukkelpop and we’ll release our debut at the end of October in the AB in Brussels.
Jergan: Also, our new single, New Flow, was just released and we’re currently finishing the album and preparing our next single.
You can follow all of Vuurwerk’s adventures on their Facebook page.