April 7–April 9, 2023
There are few festivals where all musics are equal. Big Ears (Knoxville) and Le Guess Who (Utrecht) might make good examples. In Brussels, BRDCST (Broadcast, or Breadcrust?) operates on an intimate level, still incorporating significant artists, but not overcrowding the adventurous Ancienne Belgique venue, which is itself a home for all styles, filling its calendar with rock, electronic, hip-hop, jazz, folk, and global sounds. BRDCST proclaims itself as “the ideal antidote for paranoia and hysteria.” This sixth edition spanned three days, utilizing the three variously-sized stages of AB, as well as Bonnefooi, a happening bar-cum-club, just across the sidestreet. Overlaps were intended, and palates were scorched afresh each time the stairs were taken to another space, another style.
In his choice of electronic acts, AB’s artistic director Kurt Overbergh aimed for the more extreme zone, with Kode9, Yeah You, Slumberland, James Holden, and Tim Hecker, although these last pair worked at the more commercial, anthemic end of their ranges. Even Kode9 closed his set with a run of more embraceable techno bangers, although his opening bulk revolved conceptually around 2022’s Escapology album, with accompanying futuroid kaleidostrobe visuals, stapling together a hybrid genre of speed-jungle, footwork, dubstep, and mechanoid techno. It’s as if he’s interbred all of the inflections that he’s ever worked with, kicked up into a rush of cerebral body twitching, distilled into a densely darkened dance floor eruptor. The last gush of “Lagrange Point” and “Torus” left Kode9 with his own hard act to follow, once the LP selections had climaxed, and he delivered his DJ set.
But this is Breadcrust, and we could cross over to Bonnefoi for an underground noisetronica set from the UK twosome Yeah You, a father and daughter in musical harmony, Elvin Brandhi vocalizing to make an Auto-Tune mangling surprisingly attractive, Gustav Thomas with his table-littering of small electronic devices, he too singing/howling at distorted times. Their set just about had a rhythmic momentum, although frequently hanging in abstraction, pulse often provided by the declamatory and/or incantatory voicings of Brandhi, as an unholy descendant of imagined vocoder-mayhem times. Lurking in the bar/club’s back space, it was a secret rendezvous with aural extremity.
Sometimes experimentation or improvisation can be led astray. This was the case with the Dwarfs Of East Agouza, back on the main stage. Their opening stretch, featuring entwined semi-acoustic guitars and electronics, established a sense of concentration, measured and refined, but when Sam Shalabi switched to saxophone the set immediately took on a meandering quality. The playing was neither melodic nor abrasive, just wandering inconclusively, never quite interlocking. Here is a group who have impressed in the past, but this set turned out to be a mediocre showing, even with its three significant artists present, the other two being Alan Bishop and Maurice Louca.
Brooklynite guitarist Steve Gunn performed in two settings, opening up the late afternoon of Saturday with pianist David Moore, the pair having recently released Let the Moon Be a Planet. Gunn played acoustic guitar, and the compositions had an insubstantial passivity that gently shaped an environment of calm contemplation. The melodies weren’t notably arresting, even after having already heard the album, but the duo provided a suitable way for the audience to ease into a long evening of highly varied music. Gunn’s second encounter happened hours later, with New York tenor saxophonist Zoh Amba, their audience now crammed into the upstairs club-space.
Amba has rapidly become a prolific recording artist, a prolific collaborator, and is seemingly set on a long European tour, cropping up at many festivals in varied company. Her attitude is always enquiring, her focus swift to alight on a compatible conduit, when improvising from scratch.
Several music critics have had difficulty grasping her openness, but maybe Amba’s assured explorations are most fruitfully witnessed live. Some folks have developed a fetish for music-school complexity, heartily transcribed solos and power-soloing chases. Amba is sensitized to listening, grasping, mulling over and absorbing, feeling the room, and her playing partners, allowing all of these factors to aid her improvising. She’s not aggressive, but her playing is commanding. Gunn might not be a seasoned improviser, and looked like he was following Amba, taking her melodic lead, her rough and robust flow. His playing matches perfectly, but he rarely forces an unpredictable turn. Even though Amba isn’t pushing for primacy, she has a way of radiating confidence, almost like some spiritual leader-figure. Even when she’s momentarily kneeling, in deep thought, silent, it’s Amba that we’re looking to, waiting for her next surprise.