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Capital vibes: the Brussels Summer Festival
This year’s National Day military parade drew more attention to Brussels’ Place des Palais than usual, and understandably so: it’s not every day that Belgium has a new king. But there is another occasion which puts the cobbled doorstep of the Royal Palace on the map, for a very different reason: the Brussels Summer Festival, now twelve years young, and gaining in strength and stature with each edition.
The BSF began as the Eu’ritmix festival in 2001, when it was held on the Grand’ Place and featured music and culture from various regions of Europe. Now relocated to the Brussels’ ‘Royal Quarter’, the BSF is now an international festival with an unmistakable Brussels feel, taking place not only on the Place des Palais but also the Mont des Arts and the more intimate Magic Mirrors stage (behind the Magritte museum).
For ten days, the BSF, which begins this Friday, will feature a healthy mix of international artists (Madness, Amy Macdonald, The Dandy Warhols, Martha Wainwright…) and local acts ranging from budding (Billions Of Comrades) to established (Puggy) to ‘cult’ (Arno, Channel Zero).
Whereas Eu’ritmix was free, the BSF isn’t – but with day tickets costing €15 or €25 in presale, it’s an unashamedly affordable festival. Better still, 10-day tickets will set you back a mere €40. Or rather did set you back a mere €40 – they’re all gone. Day tickets will be available on the door though, costing either €22.50 or €33.50, which is still, pretty decent by today’s standards. “What’s the catch?” we asked artistic director Denis Gérardy.
Were there any long-established European festivals you took your inspiration from for the BSF?
If there was once festival which inspired me, it’s the Paléo Festival in Nyon, Switzerland. Maybe not for its location – it’s not in the centre of town – but for the diversity of the artists on the bill. They will happily have, say, Bruce Springsteen on the same bill as Charles Aznavour. There are way too many music ‘ghettos’ - I find it a great idea to ‘mix and match’.
How important is it for you to promote Belgian artists through the BSF?
It’s not the primary aim of the festival, but by the same token, we thought it would be nice to ‘use’ the big international headliners to showcase Belgian bands. This being Brussels, we try to have a fairly even number of artists from the north and the south of the country.
Do you want the BSF to become one of the heavyweights of the European festival scene?
No, I think it’s important that we remain grounded. In the long run, I want the BSF to feature in the list of ‘things to do in Brussels’. Yes, we do have big names, but we are not in the same league as Rock Werchter, for example. If we started booking a lengthy list of artists of the same calibre as those on the bill at Werchter, we certainly couldn’t offer ten-day tickets for €40! (laughs) What we offer is basically different. It’s in the middle of the city for a start, it takes place as the festival season draws to a close, and we have interesting tie-ins such as the possibility for pass holders to go to museums or the Atomium for €1, for instance.
Speaking of partnerships, will buses be running late than usual?
Yes, that’s something we sought – and got – right away. STIB buses will run an hour and a half later than normal.
Finally, Madness, who headline this Sunday, famously played live on the roof of Buckingham Palace last year for the Queen’s Jubilee. What are the chances of them doing the same in Brussels?
Ha! The guys from Madness laughed when I told them they’d be playing in front of the Royal Palace, but no, that’s not going to happen. I’m afraid the typically British sense of humour that allowed them to perform such a stunt in London might not translate to the Belgian royal family! (laughs)