Belgian three-piece BLOW are one of several bands currently redefining the look and sound of “street” and “festival” bands. Whether you see them as slimmed-down marching bands, beefed-up jazz trios, street artists or a totally new and unnamed entities: BLOW, Moon Hooch and Too Many Zooz are showing how a cacophonous, danceable sound, honed on the streets and subways, can translate to stage, venues and festivals the world over.
Inspired by and involving a wide variety of musical forms, the energy and liveliness of BLOW’s music and performance is incredible to behold. Ahead of their first live performance in Manchester, which takes place during the Manchester Jazz Festival, we spoke to the band about how they shaped their sound and aesthetic, where they see themselves within today’s musical landscape and the niche of the street band movement.
How was the group formed and your approach to music-making realised?
BLOW trio started busking in the streets of Belgium. They played electronic inspired music with acoustic instruments only: two tenor saxophones and drum set. Now we have evolved into a festival band, blending influences of from jazz, hip-hop, rock and drum ‘n’ bass. On stage we use effect pedals that provide the finishing touch to give the whole just that extra punch.
You choose to keep your identities concealed and wear distinctive black boiler suits and white masks; what inspired this decision and how early into the life of the band was it decided?
As street performers, our mission was to surprise people and make people feel good, with unexpected music in unexpected places. The masks and black clothes were a big part of that from day one.
Your music video for Joker, directed by Niko Himschoot, is fantastic! Who devised the concept and how was it decided that Frank Focketyn was the man for the lead role? How important is for you as a band that a music video reflect something within the music?
Our music is instrumental, so we thought it would be cool to deliver a message through our first music video. During the brainstorm sessions to define the story, we believed Frank was the best actor for the role and he was definitely number one on our wishlist. We were thrilled he immediately agreed to the part. But at that time he didn’t know he would be dancing all the way!
There seems to be a rich crop of saxophone-led groups making an international impact at present: yourselves, Moon Hooch, Too Many Zooz and Melt Yourself Down are all making incredible, brass-focussed music. Who or what do you feel is driving this movement and what is it that audiences are hearing from these groups that hasn’t been heard or provided before?
Almost everything you hear on the radio the last years, is programmed, auto-tuned, cut up and corrected. And now even a lot of the live performances are fake. Music shouldn’t be dead like that. We believe the crowd can feel the energy of a live band and appreciate something different than the “perfect” music they hear all day every day. And what’s more real than only brass and drums? Also we believe there’s a role for brass that, until recently, hadn’t been played yet. What we and those other bands are doing, is exploring the possibilities of saxophones/brass in a rather unusual context. And it works! People tell us things like: “I thought I didn’t like saxophone music, but… I just love what you guys are doing!”.
Street performance is a big element of what bands like yourselves and the aforementioned groups do. What opportunity does street performance afford you and given that your audience is transient, as apposed to a ticket-buying audience, how does that change the performance dynamic?
Playing so close to your audience makes it extra special. People are so honest when you give them a free experience like that. Some people walk past without paying attention, other people dance their ass’ off during lunch time. The energy we get – from the latter – is amazing. It’s give and take. It’s genuine good vibes. It’s awesome.
Also, it’s astonishing to see what a huge variety of people dig our music. Old grannies, hip youngsters, little children, muslim women in hijab, Chinese tourists, office workers,… you can see the whole world go by and even have this special little connection with them, in just one song! That’s different when you’re playing on stage, obviously.
There is some incredible music coming out of Belgium at the moment from groups like yourselves, STUFF. and Soulwax. What is Ghent’s music scene like and who/what should we be listening out for in Belgian music?
Ghent has a great music scene indeed, with nice music venues, original bands and a music loving audience. But Belgium is so small that often musicians from different cities collaborate. Bands connected to Ghent you should listen to? Gabriel Rios, The Van Jets, Black Flower, Balthazar, Nordmann… Also check out Belgian bands Delv!s, Pomrad, Selah Sue… We are also working on some new music. So keep an eye on us too 😉
Aside from music, what are your chief interests and what keeps you motivated to keep doing what you’re doing?
Hot chicks, good food and tasty Belgian beers. And of course, the flemish dice game ‘roedelen’!