Home Is Where The House Is 2. FlemFest @ Onzin, Antwerp 02/02/2018-04/02/2018
Monday 5th February 2018
FlemFest @ Onzin, Antwerp - Friday 2nd - Sunday 4th February 2018
World War One, terrible shoes, a flag that looks like Germany's flag fell asleep in an armchair... To most right-minded human beings the idea of spending a weekend in Belgium, the International community's answer to Ryvita, is enough to make one sick.
Sorry...let me rephrase that: is enough to make one sick weekend.
Earlier this week, having spent upwards of sixty hours staring at my ceiling and thinking about all the reasons that me and my ex-girlfriend weren't together anymore and recovering from last weekend, I received a Snapchat from Belgian trance pioneer and old acquaintance Jan (the 'J' pronounced like a 'y') Peiremans. I've been asked by JP not to display the image, and frankly I don't want to, but irrespective of the satanic ceremonies that Jan and (what I later found out to be) his step-family were engaging in, I made out the Snapchat's text to be:
'Ce weekend - Antwerp?'
It was a text that I had been waiting for from Jan since he first launched what is now disputably the most biggest festival of Belgian electronica, design and necromancy in Northern Belgium. I knew Jan was only talking about one thing that weekend - FlemFest.
Friday, early eve, I got myself down to the relatively newly revamped St. Pancras International for a Eurostar to Antwerp. £35 each way. I booked a one-way ticket, for two reasons: 1) There is no set end time to FlemFest, so it has always been highly recommended that FlemFest goers never book a return trip. In 2010, FlemFest ended twenty six months later in April 2012 with French DJ and Producer Martin Solveig having completed a ten month headline slot in the catacombs of Antwerp's Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of our Lady). Solveig tearfully confessed in an interview with Canal + earlier this month that he still hasn't even been paid for his time at the festival. 2) I thought I might want to take in Bruges or Brussels while I was in Belgium.
Following a Pret Á Manger sandwich (Crayfish & Avocado - keeping an eye on the pounds so the pennies will take care of themselves) and a 13.5% ABV dark ale from legendary brewery Brouwerij Van Steenberge, I sensed the scent of sesh in my nostrils and the caressing taste of fest tickling my tongue. To complete the sensual three-way, I soothed my ears with the sound of synth. I tried to do some research on some of FlemFest's potential acts on the train to Antwerp. Jan, you see, does not reveal the acts until they appear on stage (even the acts themselves will not know if they are playing the gig until Jan may or may not call them out, often Belgian DJs from farming communities will come to FlemFest and stay awake at the venue for 36 hours just to try and get a gig with Jan).
I decided to delve back into Delft acid-trap duo Sarandon and their emotionally disconcerting 2006 concept album with Claude The Hoarder: 'is happiness just sadness's ugly cousin?'. All aboard the Bi-Polar Express.
No accommodation booked. No Lonely Planet guide. No inhibitions. Antwerp was upon me like a bout of eczema (I arrived). And I knew where to get the ointment.
FlemFest has been known to generate crowds of up to 815,000 electronica and necromancy enthusiasts on any one night of the festival. I had to get to the venue early if I wanted to assure my night's maximum juice from the fruit of chill. Jan had decided that this year's offerings to the EM gods of this life and the next were to be held in semi-fabled Antwerp dance hall Onzin (which roughly translates as "nonsense" into English from dutch).
The venue, then, was as the name suggests - nonsense. There was no sense in the layout. There was no sense in the décor of the venue (walls lined with ghoul costumes and Vermeer originals). There was no sense in the way that transactions took place at the bar even, drinks exchanged for a haiku or an item of clothing rather than money with all proceeds from the night kept by Jan for his Gent based 'Museum of Electronica and The Occult'.
Onzin was absolute nonsense. It was nothing short of brilliant.
My personal Top 5 things about Onzin:
1. The Eddy Merckx Mural - famously the backdrop to Urethra's 1994 comeback gig - the mural to the five time Tour de France Winner spans thirty feet and was created by neo-conceptual dreamweaver Wim Delvoye as a mausoleum to the not yet dead Merckx.
2. No parking
3. BYOB - Onzin has a license that means you can still bring your own Baklava.
4. The Beer - they serve draught, bottled, canned, jarred, tupperwared and clingfilmed beer 24 hours a day at Onzin.
5. The Cloakroom - very simple, no queue, €1 per item, put your coat/bag in, and then one of Onzin's trained cloakroom ferrets gives you your ticket and you're away!
FlemFest was not just a raw, aural celebration of dance and trance beats and necromancy, it was that, but it was also about bringing people together. The visible elation worn on the faces of the rave-folk of Flanders, after all their independence qualms and national purgatorial nightmares, was warming to the soul. And when Jan came out to announce Antwerp's very own Low C**try were about to emerge on stage, I couldn't help but want this tiny part of Belgium to be independent from the rest of the nation despite my deep-set contempt for nationalistic upstarts.
Low C*try played for what felt like a few hours but turned out to be something closer to two and a half. In between dub-jungle-house standards, Low C*try's keyboardist Manoelle Verheyen promised to bring back Keith Chegwin's spirit from the dead, a pledge which went down very well with the 60,000 strong necromancer crowd.
As Low C**try wrapped up an abysmally superb set. I couldn't quite believe my eyes. Standing at the fruit beer and cornichon bar was my godmother's son, Jake. I know he was a budding enthusiast of Northern European techno and trash, but house and necromancy? Well I never...
We celebrated the realisation that the middle portion of our interests' Venn diagram was growing in front of our eyes as we tucked into some extra-large cornichons (I think they were just pickles) and Rhubarb Brown Ale. After our silly snacks, Jan bellowed out the name of FlemFest's headline act, the name all of Onzin and indeed, most global alternative/electronic music fans, had been waiting for: 9 Danke.
Wrongly convicted of battery in 2003, 9 Danke is an Austrian post-structuralist cottage-techno producer and DJ. Despite Billboard referring to 9 Danke as: "the most offensive artist creating on earth at any one time", 9 Danke was the highest earning cottage-techno artist in Europe last year earning over €12 million and even playing the Prince of Luxembourg's 14th birthday party to guests that included Princess Eugenie and John Motson. His first album 'Just A Funker In A Bunker' has still not been released from investigation by INTERPOL.
Before we hit the tiles with style, I asked Jake for a stick of Wrigley's Tutti-frutti, my breath still rancid from the beer and cornichons mingling in my mouth. He offered me Tic-Tacs instead, I took them gladly. Despite a salty, chemically almost wrong tasting residue that filled my mouth upon biting down on the Tic-Tacs, I was hopeful a minty or, at the very least, refreshing taste would come thereafter... it never did.
I asked the man I used to trust what the mint he had given me was, thinking that maybe he had brought some mints with him for his customary after-after-rave Philly Cheese Steak.
"No man, it was drugs. I bought it off my mate."
Now...I don't take drugs anymore. After a bad night out in Inverness while I was at University I won't take them, especially not at gigs. Drugs completely cloud my judgement. I don't mind people who take drugs, whatever kind, but I just prefer to experience music sober.
Having said that...
It turns out what I had taken was an altered form of the popular party drug ecstasy, called 'Waddle'. I had never heard of it before, but after about 28 minutes with the recreational pill in my system I was beginning to feel its effects in full flow. It transpires that 'Waddle' has a lot of the same effects as ecstasy, and generally I was in extremely happy and forgetful spirits, but the principal side-effect of the high was that I started to believe I, and everyone else in the venue, was a penguin on a long march away from harsh climes for the winter, and that Onzin was a giant iceberg that was floating away from the rest of Antarctica because of extensive global warming.
I continued to lead the group towards safety for what felt like weeks while I flipped cornichons into my mouth like sardines. I asked Jake to be my penguin life-partner. He agreed.
When my fears of high-speed blizzards subsided, I enjoyed 9 Danke once again with a slightly milder high.
I asked Jake what his name was. He told me.
There was a humility to Antwerp's beat-seeking missiles (club goers). Even the embellished rhythms of 9 Danke's twelve minute techno cover of 'Landslide' by Fleetwood Mac had the crowd muted and a collective empathy spread through the room like a collection of morning commuters' fragrances competing for nasal attention spreads through a District (or any other) Line carriage.
The reality of Onzin was that of pure contentedness. I told Jake that I wanted to walk back to the train station, one night's entertainment was enough. Once Jake pulled himself away from the 45 year old man that he was telling "he loved from the moment he walked into Belgium", he agreed to return to London with me.
When we surfaced at street level, we both realised it had been three days since we had arrived in Belgium.
*the majority of this blog post was written today between 6.25am and 7:00am, with edits made at 7:30am to 9:00am. I don't know what Jake was playing at with those Tic-Tacs, but I've just edited this, called my Aunt in Fife and made myself some porridge.
[posted at 01:54...probably drunk or high]