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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Three lines making a knot, a fitting image

No Dans Dans show is identical, even when we play the same songs every night.

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Anton Coene (B&W), Diederik Decroix

The roots of Dans Dans lie with Bert Dockx and Fred 'Lyenn' Jacques. Together with Ivo Sans they formed the acoustic jazz trio Dans Dans, mostly playing covers of jazz compositions. As time passed, rock influences became more and more important, and they found the perfect jazz/rock drummer in Steven Cassiers. During their first show together it just clicked, so right after Bert and Fred asked Steven if he wanted to record an album together. Dans Dans as we know it was born, and the rest is history. 

It just clicked. And right after our first show, Fred and Bert asked me to record an album together!

The members of Dans Dans play in loads of other bands (Bert in Flying Horsemen, Fred in the Mark Lanegan Band and solo project Lyenn, and Steven in Dez Mona), so scheduling rehearsals is a real jigsaw puzzle. The guys got efficient though. So much that in June 2015, after no more than one month of rehearsals, they managed to record their fourth album, live and with no overdubs, in four days. They have to thank producer Koen Gisen for the pure sound.

Aside from the title (an anagram of Dans), the cover also depicts the kind of music you’ll find on the record: three lines converge in a knot and form a rope, a symbol for a band that got stronger with every record. The artwork was made by Philippe Werkers, who is also responsible for the video for ‘Close Your Eyes’

Now that the record is done, the journey starts. After five or six shows Bert, Fred and Steven know the songs inside out. And that’s when the magic happens. They will start interpreting the tracks more freely, with amazing live performances as a result.

That’s why when on stage the band huddles together. They want to be able to see, smell and feel each other when improvising. Adapting the songs live demands confidence, making it an intense but also fragile experience. That's why the audience plays a very important role. Little connection makes it harder for Dans Dans to detach themselves from their music. Interacting is crucial. 

The audience’s mindset is crucial. If they are just there to check us out, it’s much harder to detach and improvise.

For the first time, the album features mostly own songs. Only a cover of Ennio Morricone’s Chi Mai made the record. “And the term cover is debatable,” says Bert. “In the jazz world it’s more than normal to play each other’s music. After about 15 minutes of jamming, we know if a songs has potential or not.” Lack of time forces them to work efficiently. Only those songs all three of them like make the cut. Sometimes songs get thrown out, only to resurface later. Like a song by Herbie Nichols Bert heard at an IPC Orchestra show. “When Fred’s back, we have to jam on that one some more,” it sounds.

The most awesome reaction on a cover they ever had was by Robert Wyatt. “Robert Wyatt let us know we could cover his song East Timor if we sent him a record, so we did. A couple of weeks later we got a framed piece of the packaging in which we sent him our record. He had scribbled ‘thank you’ on it.” Since then, Dans Dans always sends Robert Wyatt a new release. “That reminds me, we have to send him a copy of Sand,” says Bert. 

Although Cassiers grew up in a musical family, he only started studying music when he was 17. Those studies helped him find his own sound. Bert, who had played guitar ever since he could hold one, signed up for the conservatory when he was 18. He was in doubt due to his passion for cinema, but the fact that he had never shot a second of film, made the choice a lot easier. Bert likes to point out that him studying music helped him overcome his fear of playing in front of other people. Still, he struggles with the difference between experience and education, and a schooled versus an amateur musician. He has a problem with people with no live experience teaching others how to play. Steven, a teacher himself, stands by that theory. Students should always learn from people who play live themselves. “It’s difficult to combine teaching and making and playing music live, though,” he adds.

The best compliment I can get, is when people say they can’t hear I went to a conservatory. But sometimes it’s the opposite, and they say they can hear I studied music. Bummer!

Teaching made Steven a better musician. It made him analyse his own way of playing before teaching it to others. Getting to know his instrument better, makes him play more freely on stage. It’s the one thing that makes Bert consider teaching too. But then again, he’s kind of nervous to do so.

Music aside, Steven has an important role in the group. “He’s the quiet we need,” explains Bert. “Sometimes there’s a lot of tension. Last week we found a picture of the most turbulent show we ever did. We almost split up that night. We found the picture in the backstage of the Kölner Philharmonie in Cologne. They used it as the poster for our show there. Very confronting, but almost a year and a half later we’re more tight than ever before.”

Three lines making a knot. A fitting image.

MUSICIANS:
Bert Dockx: Guitar, Cassettes
Fred 'Lyenn' Jacques: Bass, Synth
Steven Cassiers: Drums, Synth (on Rumour)

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