Songs In The Key Of… Ghent
Belgian singer-songwriter Ian Clement takes us inside the music scene of his country’s third-biggest city. Free waffles are not provided.
My hometown might not be Belgium’s most notorious destination, but I’m here to tell you: it packs quite the punch. Being Belgium’s third “biggest” city right after Brussels and Antwerp, Ghent has a nice way of flying under the radar. That’s a good thing in some cases (the town is not getting swallowed whole by tourism or globalization) and a bit of a bummer in others (some of the local talent goes unnoticed) but I have to say I truly love living here.
It’s quiet and quaint when you need it to be and explosive and loud at exactly the right times. Musically, artistically, gastronomically, touristically… Ghent has something to offer everyone. Whether you’re a tourist with a big-ass camera looking to eat delicious waffles and take pictures of a medieval castle or a steampunk obsessed metalhead, you’ll have a good time here.
The nice people at Songwriting Magazine have asked me to take you on a little 12-song-trip through the town, so for those that don’t know who I am: Ian Clement’s the name, songwriting’s the game. I have a band called Wallace Vanborn and I’ve just released a second solo album entitled See Me In Synchronicity. I’ll be your guide today (tip of the hat emoji).
A little disclaimer before we depart: keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times and be advised… I have quite the eclectic taste in music so let’s keep the mind and body clean whilst we’re on this trip. I don’t want you ending up on uppers when we’re down and downers when we’re up… unless that’s your jam. In any case, I bear no responsibility.
All-righty. All aboard! Choo-choo…
MISERABLE GIRL BY SOULWAX
Let’s start with the basics. You can’t say the words “Ghent music” and “scene” without saying “Soulwax” and “2manydjs” or as we call them “de gebroeders Dewaele”. I propose we start this train with Miserable Girl (Any Minute Now version). The track offers a great display of what I’ve always found very intriguing and original about their sound: a mixture of groove rock with deep synths. There’s a little indie, a dash of rock ’n’ roll and breakbeat but it’s also a little… Tiga. Awesome lyrics, awesome vibe, some surprising chords in there for good measure… it’s an “oldie” I guess, but still a banger.
ULTRA PLUS ULTRA BY ELEFANT
Fast forward to 2020. Elefant is one of those bands that I consider to be criminally obscure. Sporting a krauty feel and often presenting lyrical weirdness, some of their stuff seems a little DEVO-esque at times. If you want to go off into the deep end you should check out their music as some of it gets quite… abstract if you will, but this track named Ultra Plus Ultra, my favourite Elefant song, is pure riffage spielerei.
CHEESE IS CHRIST BY KAPITAN KORSAKOV
“De Kapitan” is a household name in Ghent’s underground scene. Live shows tend to get hectic and sweaty with some occasional nudity and they’ve struck online gold with In The Shade Of The Sun on Spotify. I, however, like the band when they’re doing what they do best: sloppy lo-fi wobble noise rock with a drunken feel. If they were Californians, they’d be on Sub Pop and endlessly touring. Also, I love me a dumb but awesome song title like Cheese Is Christ.
PATTERNS BY THE ANTLER KING
Now let’s take it down a notch. Patterns is one of those vibey tracks I always reach for when I want to sit in that sort of mood. I really enjoy how this track offers both spookiness and a bit of choppy “stank” on the drums. Great guitar melodies on this track as well. The band, a duo of lovers, are both multi-instrumentalists worthy to fill thine eardrums with, and their records generally have a sense of warmth. It’s not all spooky, Patterns might be a bit of an outlier.
SOME WOULD SAY BY IAN CLEMENT
This might be a good time to segue into some of my stuff. This track entitled Some Would Say opens up my new record and is an attempt at clarifying how an otherwise unmemorable sunny day, like any other day, can suddenly turn dark. It’s a song about the good and the bad, accepting they both are ever-present and intertwined and the constant need for perspective to readjust your state of mind.
SOFT SPOKEN WORDS BY TRIXIE WHITLEY
Let’s pick up the tempo again with this great track by Trixie Whitley. Whitley is both New Yorkian and Gantoise so the city of Ghent gets to “claim” her as well. As I’ve got to share many a stage with Trixie as a supporting act, I feel like I’ve learned a lot from her delivery as an artist on stage. As far as dynamics are concerned, Trixie’s able to go all over the place, but I really dig her material when there’s a bit of a tribal feel going on, a sense of urgency like in Soft Spoken Words.
SHOT BY THE GERMANS
So, there’s a band from Ghent, Belgium called The Germans… and none of their albums sound the same. If you’re looking for a one-track record that feels like the longest jam you’ve ever heard or tracks that feel like they’re part of an avant-garde art installation look no further. Back in the day, however, The Germans released an album called Elf Shot Lame Witch that was comprised of compact – dare I say digestible – tracks like Shot. This used to be one of my regular “play it loud in the car” tracks.
DE OLIFANT IS GRIJS BY GORKI
This song by Gorki is obviously written and sung in Dutch so most of you might get a little lost here. Gorki was the band of legendary Ghentian Luc De Vos (RIP). They wrote a song (Mia) that became one of Belgium’s most “timeless” and recognized tracks, but they’ve released a lot of great stuff throughout the years. De Olifant Is Grijs would translate to “The Elephant is Grey”. I once played this melancholic track for a British friend (Laura-Mary Carter of Blood Red Shoes) and although she had no way of understanding the lyrics… the track still connected. Goes to show that good songs transcend language.
ROZANNE BY WIM DE CRAENE
Whilst we’re in this O.G. Flemish zone, Rozanne by Wim De Craene is another song I have to throw your way. If you’re into songwriting and vintage mood Wim De Craene is definitely for you. Some of his work reminds me of a British great that never really made “the big time” named Brian Protheroe. Folky songs with a hint of cabaret.
REGENERATING MANTRA BY WALLACE VANBORN
360 degree turn for this one. When I’m not working on solo albums or working productions, Wallace Vanborn is my main squeeze. Regenerating Mantra, a track about “the all” or Om if you will, is the pièce de résistance of our record The Orb We Absorb. A song about the eternal spirit. We recorded the album in the infamous Rancho De La Luna studio (Joshua Tree, California) with Chris Goss.
NEW DROOGS BY THE VAN JETS
Up-tempo and smiling again! The Van Jets originally hailed from Ostend, but made their way to Ghent to settle down with their girlfriends and children (on fertile Ghentian soil) so they’re generally acknowledged to be Ghentians. The Van Jets get close to the old poppy (Dandy) Bowie-sound. Usually, their tracks are very snappy and upbeat… I’ve always found it strange this band never “made it big” internationally as they’ve made some modern hits as far as I’m concerned. Here’s New Droogs, one of their more “shady” tracks.
HANUMAN BY DIJF SANDERS
To round it all off, here’s Dijf Sanders’ tribute to the monkey god Hanuman. His recently released album Puja truly is a masterpiece. Sanders travelled to Nepal, made field recordings, sampled what he could use and created some amazingly beautiful (and psychedelic) compositions. A good track to end our little road-trip with.
Thanks for taking this little dive with me. It’s been a pleasure to be your tour guide. Obviously, there’s much more Ghentian goodness around the corner, but this train stops here. At least now you have some references or a place to start if you want to hunt for more.