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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Men in masks and something to do with a murder

All of this served as inspiration for our first record, and it still does. That pounding sound, which at first was based on a single note, has evolved into a sort of mantra that emanates from this ludicrous story.

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs David Colman

Arriving at our meeting place, I find myself alone on the stairs of some church in Antwerp. I shuffle around, accost a hesitating passer-by. “Briqueville?” I mutter. No, he’s just waiting for a friend.

A silhouette appears in a door opening across the street. No mask in sight. Would I actually get a glimpse of the band behind the costume? I am led into a picturesque old house. It’s dusky, but I can make out all sorts of art and paintings on the walls. I follow the man into a slightly more structured room upstairs. There’s a sofa and a coffee table, but still more darkness and art. In the back, a few candles light the contours of a dark, masked figure seated in an armchair. Tough luck: the man without a mask was just the resident photographer.

And so Briqueville keeps it secrets well locked away. Live, the band consists of five musicians with unknown faces. However, the band counts more members than those who play their part in the studio. Just like Manngold, Briqueville selects from a larger pool of musicians, depending on their availability. With Manngold, Rodrigo Fuentealba is the main man and all-around fixer. Briqueville has a masked man performing the same function.

The masks make it much easier to switch the line-up without anyone noticing. Briqueville: “What’s fascinating is that we all have different backgrounds. We have members from the jazz, metal and electro scene.” Everyone plays in other bands besides Briqueville. The challenge consists in gathering all creative input with the five core members, and start building from there.

“This may not be the fastest route, but for us, it’s the most effective way to create an organic set of new songs. Later, we involve the whole group, which often leads us to shift the emphasis within tracks. The band consists of two guitar players, one bass player, a drummer and one person handling synths and percussion. The few vocals you’ll hear are sung by several members of the collective.”

And then we had the crazy idea to organise a cross-band jam session around a single note.

“Briqueville is a reference to a small village called Steendorp, a municipal district of Temse, bordering the shores of the river Scheldt. About ten years ago, we rehearsed in an old school building there. We were all in different bands at the time. By chance, we were all scheduled to play at the same festival. That’s when we had the crazy idea to organise a cross-band jam session around a single note. In order to do this anonymously and have the audience concentrate on the music, we decided to play with masks.”

“The idea was to do this more often, but getting everyone in the same room was sheer impossible, so we never got past this one gig. Until six years later, when a concert venue named De Casino asked us to do another jam session to open for Amenra. That’s when the idea to start a collective and record an album took hold. From the jam session, we’ve evolved to music that has more structures and layers. The masks, however, are still the same ones we wore ten years ago.”

Someone was murdered right at the entrance of this school.

“Ten years ago, when leaving the school building after rehearsal, we ran into an old man. He must have been in his late eighties and started telling us about this murder story. ‘Someone was murdered right at the entrance of this school’, he said. When he saw us looking a bit surprised and reluctant, he produced a faded, crumpled newspaper clipping from his wallet. It read: ‘Son bludgeons father with hammer.’ Then he was on his way, telling us he was off to rehearse with his marching band.”

“That story stuck with us. We kept asking ourselves why someone would keep an article recounting a patricide in their wallets for seventy years. We couldn’t help but conclude this man we’d met must have been the son. Maybe our imagination was just doing overtime, so we decided to look into it. The grandparents of one of our band members confirmed the murder had happened, but we were unable to trace the old man.”

“All of this served as inspiration for our first record, and it still does. That pounding sound, which at first was based on a single note, has evolved into a sort of mantra that emanates from this ludicrous story.”

Every band that takes itself seriously, even a little, is concerned with how everything looks.”

“So the masks have stayed. But that’s all there’s to it. Actually, they make a lot of things a bit more complex. We miss out on every form of non-verbal communication during the show. Whereas other bands use facial expressions or eye contact, with us, it’s the drummer who decides when we move on to another part of a song. We rehearse with the masks, so the drummer can take the lead. The uniformity of these masks is important to us, though. The masks help us to align our music and play in the same direction.”

“We’re sometimes dissed for these masks being just a gimmick, but to us, they’re not. Just like any other band, we take our image into consideration. Some bands have certain tattoos are similar haircuts. With us, it’s the masks. Every band that takes itself seriously, even a little, is concerned with how everything looks. As a small band in a niche genre, we’re very proud of our roadies who prepare and sound check all our gear. Without these guys, there’s no way we could walk through our musical careers bearing masks and living under the cover of anonymity.”

“The record is released on our own label, Brisk, and distributed by N.E.W.S. That way, we’re in full control of the creative and musical process and we can rely on N.E.W.S.’s expertise and network, allowing the band to explore the whole world out there. We recorded at Number Nine Studios in Gent, with Sebastiaan Omerson (Pornorama, Starfighter). We recorded the whole thing in just three days. Robin Aerts, Het Zesde Metaal’s bass player, led us through the recording process. We played almost everything live, except for a few electronic tracks we added in overdub.”

“The cover is a work of art by herman de vries. (He typically stylises his name in lower-case on his artwork 'to avoid hierarchy'). It’s part of the collection of Verbeke Foundation in Stekene. A lot of our imagery was recorded there. On one of our journeys throughout the site, we took a picture of this work. It must have been about a year and a half ago. In the meantime, the installation has been completely overtaken by other greenery.”

“We got in touch with herman de vries, who is an 86-year-old Dutchman. We sent him our music and asked him if we could use the picture of his work on the cover. He was very enthusiastic, wanting only to be credited on the back cover. We’re quite proud, actually. We didn’t know the man before we became enthralled with his work, but he appears to have quite an impressive cv. We’ve never met him, though. He lives somewhere in Germany, close to the Austrian border, somewhere secluded. We only had contact with his manager, as de vries himself does not have a phone or an internet connection.”

The record is released as a gatefold with de vries’ art on the cover and a close-up of it on the inside. A bone white coloured vinyl makes this a real beauty. Next to this, a limited edition will be sold exclusively at the shows. It’s a 7-inch containing an acoustic song in the same electronic style. The band considers this track to be an overture for the three Aktes on the album.

As with the previous album, the band will bury twenty copies in random locations, which as of yet remain a secret. “This time, we’re going to bury records in Belgium and The Netherlands. We’ve been working on this for a while, as it requires quite some coordinating. We’re taking turns digging after dark. Just like last time, we’ll divulge one location at a time through Google Maps.”

If you’re serious about digging for black gold, the Google coordinates on the Briqueville website will tell you where to go. Good luck. Be careful though: band members have already run into police officers on of their digging sprees. If you’d prefer not getting your hands dirty but still want to get a hold of something golden, keep in mind a limited edition custom fuzz pedal is on its way, allowing you to listen to the album on your computer.