Welcome to the Unplugged Dancehall (webzine Electric Light #3)

TO THOSE who still think that electricity is necessary to play good music, I would give but one advise: listen to Venus, which is certainly the most original band I've been listening to lately. This quintet from Brussels that formed three years ago, decided to start from scratch again after their former album's project failed because of the record company and showbiz system with unplugged instruments, according to the violinist. They released their first album, "Welcome to the modern dance hall", on October 19th last year. Their first goal is to have fun and to enjoy themselves, which they obviously do. At least Walter Janssens, the bassist of the band does: with his grimaces, yelling into the mike like a madman desperately calling for help, sometimes kneeling to sing into the drum of the bass, sometimes riding his instrument the way a witch does her broom, or hitting it to mark the rhythm, he could make a one-man show!

While many young people take a part-time job while waiting impatiently to become famous with their music, Venus seem to play music waiting for recognition as comedians. Talking to Walter, probably the nicest and funniest professional musician I've ever talked to (though I must have met four or five in my entire life), I found out that they didn't mean to become a famous pop rock band, but would rather have liked to act in a play.

As opposed to other bands, that seem to have calculated their success and weighed up the consequences, Venus don't seem to understand what's happening to them. Indeed, don't ask Christian Schreurs, the violinist, if you can take a picture of him, unless you want to be considered a fanatic groupie. Walter can't conceive that one day he might be recognised in the street. The band don't feel at ease when playing in front of some fifteen-year-old girls who know the lyrics by heart. However, I am not sure that they would appreciate that someone yawns at their concert.

At the beginning of the show, the atmosphere created by the tracks was quite tensed, as the double bass and the violin, the only instruments used in the first song "Out of breath", principally played jerky notes, notes played in staccato. But one of the most crucial element that give to the songs their dramatic size, is the voice of singer Marc Huyghens, whose singing aims to raise the dead, and can only be calmed down by the magic sound of the xylophone ("Don't say you need Love" and "Beyond Time"). The combination of all this reminds me of the soundtrack to 'Nightmare before Christmas' by the great Danny Elfman, and rarely have I heard a music that expresses such frustration, as if there were some feelings that even the strident cry and incisive part of the violin still couldn't express.

They apparently decided to take turns in playing sweet songs and "forceful songs". They performed the lullaby of the album, "Don't say you need Love", just after what might be the most desperate song of the EP, "White Star Line", and sung "Ball Room", definitely my fave track on the CD, after "Pop song", which was the only song during which you could perceive a smile on Marc's face? "She's so disco", the track that could naught but please the audience, not only because it was probably the only song everybody in the place knew, but also because Thomas van Cottom, the drummer, left the drums at that moment to install himself and to dance behind a kind of mixing panel, was played after a gentle waltz called "Dizzy".

Apart from their own songs, they also made a cover version of "Venus in Furs" by the Velvet underground, and an English version of " Le port d'Amsterdam" from Jacques Brel, a song for which Christian and Walter also played guitar. Though I didn't pay attention to the lyrics, I thought that it couldn't be worse than some translations of songs that have been done lately.

The audience just had to see the show to realise that there had been kind of a staging work. Christian, the violinist of Venus explained that they had worked hard on it, especially to keep concentrated during the whole show. For instance there is a break in the middle of the song "Royal sucker". During their live performance, not only did they cease playing, they also ceased moving. Maybe the rehearsal helped them not to be disturbed by the audience laughing. Indeed, how can one repress a smile in front of stock-still musicians? It made me laugh all the more that Walter felt compelled to talk to the audience, since on radio, no silence is allowed, he says. In spite of this, they didn't hesitate to make a one-minute long break in the middle of their song. Apparently, the audience were not the only ones to be surprised, because the radio station on which the show was broadcast started to play some other songs thinking that there were technical troubles.

Apart from the musicians, a hidden fifth member of the band also do work to entertain the audience: Patric Carpentier is the producer, supervising all the sound machines that can be used for the show, setting the lights and the setting of stage that can be different from one show to an other according to the songs performed or the countries where Venus play. At this radio show, the back front of the setting was a metal-coloured sheet that was chosen to match the current single they played twice - the second version of it, which was played on the curtain call was a very sweet version that could but charm the crowd.

At the very end of the show, the bassist came back on stage to say when they will be back for their France tour (from the 25th of January to the 15th of March) and invited us to take our family with us to their show if we liked this one, as if they were scared to have to play in an empty place. So, a question came to my mind: are they modest people? Do they lack self confidence? Or do they simply want to be treated like common people and not like stars? Well, I can't tell. Anyway, here's another band who felt welcome in France and when it pays the French audience back with a two-month long tour, how can it possibly prevent the popularity from coming to it?

Words by Tinh-di Tang

Read this article at the French webzine Electric Light.
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