Kiosk Radio and The Brussels Music Scene

Brussels, Saturday January 16, 2021On probably the first, last and only snowy day of 2021, I’m walking through the historic ‘Parc Royal’ on my way home.

Words & photography by Daan Stoop

Near a kind of wooden shack covered with string lights, a group of people, mostly in duos, is listening to music in the freezing cold. For the first time in about three or so months a feeling of nostalgia creeps over me, for loud music in a dimly lit room. I feel homesick for a smoking area – where you accidentally bump into someone and then end up talking to them all night long. Around the tiny building people talk, discuss, laugh and even dance a little. The responsible entity: a wooden shack called Kiosk Radio.

During the pandemic, which has almost lasted a year now, bars, clubs and all the other places where music is played out loud had to close. But unlike other places, Kiosk Radio could regroup rather quickly and continue sending underground music into the airwaves. As a result, it became a beacon of light in somewhat darker times musically. A meeting point for music freaks from Brussels and beyond. The sheer fact that people could go somewhere to listen to music offered guidance, grip and perspective. That dedication to the scene deserves attention and praise. In the months of January and February I visited the radio station several times a week to listen to new music, talk to people and secretly learn to dance again. This profile is the result of those visits.

The added value of (online) radio

Before the pandemic, local online radio was already on the rise, but the shutdown of practically everything else related to music accelerated this trend. Since then, these stations have become an integral part of the music scenes. Both online and offline, they grew into meeting points where people come together and where ideas are exchanged. This is exactly the case for Kiosk Radio. Many local Belgian DJs, promoters and organizations (such as the guys from Gayhaze, pictured below, or Jean Biche’s Midnight Kiosk) have a monthly residency, a set time on a set day to showcase their visions of underground music. “This way, we try to offer them some sort of a home when they can’t organize their regular parties”, says Jim Becker, one of the guys that runs Kiosk. “Before the pandemic, we sought a mix of 30 percent international DJ’s and 70 percent locals”, says Michael Bursztejn, another driving force behind Kiosk. “Now that number is almost 100, with a few exemptions. “This way, a lot of talent comes our way – almost all Belgian. We offer them a place where they can showcase their music, ideas and identities”, he adds.

What becomes clear is that Kiosk Radio approaches music with a ‘boxes are for broomsticks’-mentality, almost everything is possible and ‘genres’ are just bulky outdated terms. The monthly or occasional shows provide a reason to continue engaging with music and records on a daily basis. When I spoke to Mexican-born, yet Amsterdam based, selector Coco Maria shortly before she played this B2B set with Lefto, she elaborated to me: “preparing for a show feels a little bit like preparing for a gig, a feeling that I really miss”.

A tighter BX scene

“In recent months there was simply not much to do in the city”, says Mickey, while he is busy running the daily operations at the Kiosk. Together with a team of volunteers they ensure that the station is running smoothly every day, the DJ’s are well received, and that everyone has a good time. “Because of all those closed places in the city, the scene came to us much more frequently”, Mickey continues. “You notice that DJ’s and musicians need a chat, and that’s why they sometimes spend hours at ‘the shack’. I myself notice that I also really need this from time to time. It sometimes happens that I go to Crevette (a record store in ‘De Marollen’, red.) and accidentally stay there for half a day. I tell myself that I go there for the records, but actually it is mainly for the people – and the good coffee”.

And while the Brussels/Belgian scene, after years of slight fragmentation, now seems to be a lot closer, the (future) stars resulting from this process start to shine brighter and stronger. One of those local DJs who is increasingly conquering the hearts of beat lovers is Alyah Rivière aka AliA. “Kiosk is indeed really the living heart in Brussels in the field of music where all different types of music genres and identities intersect, enormously fascinating”, AliA says via e-mail, even before I first meet her.

AliA has been playing frequently at Kiosk since 2018, but for about three months she has a regular show, each second Thursday of the month. “The big difference with many other radio stations is that you can come here with many people to enjoy the music” she adds. “It is really part of the public space. Even if you don’t know anyone in town but love to listen to decent records, you can come here with a good feeling. The chances that you get to talk to someone are very high. Even as a DJ it is nice to come here, to discover other DJs and thus further discover your own music scene. That can also be done online, but in real life it is simply way more fun.”

More about AliA, her musical roots and how she got into dj’ing can be found here.

“Even as a DJ it is nice to come here, to discover other DJs and thus discover your own music scene better and better. That can also be done online, but in real life it is simply way more fun.” – AliA

Besides her monthly radio show, AliA is also involved in other projects. At the end of this month, on March 27, a joint compilation album with ten tracks will be released on DTM Funk’s label San-kofa Rhythms Records, featuring upcoming artists like Pippin and Chery Moya. Black Gravity Rhythms is the name, inspired by the 2001 compilation of Herbie Hancock and A Guy Called Gerald. “It has become a record with ten young artists, all with a certain groovy-ness in their music”, AliA elaborates. “Very soulful, with a focus on broken beat. This way we want to put great new producers in the spotlight.”

But it won’t stop at just releasing the record if it’s up to AliA. “As soon as it’s possible, we want to bring all the artists on the record to Belgium for a live show. In Brussels, for example, a metro stop has been empty for a long time. The idea is curate a whole night together with Kiosk and to put on a sick evening with three artists from the record. To have that live-virtual connection with the record is really important to me, just releasing isn’t enough. We really believe in the artists; they deserve a proper stage to play on.”

Collaborations and crossovers

Part of the closer Brussels scene also stems from outings and trips that Kiosk sometimes does and the collaborations they enter into with art museums (like ARGOS), labels and clubs from the city and beyond. A central actor in Brussels nightlife is C12, a club on the Grasmarkt that first opened its doors in 2019. Last New Year’s Eve, they organized a virtual NYE rave and a virtual night club, both together with Kiosk.

One of the DJs spinning that night was Koen Galle, aka Kong DJ. It is difficult to find someone who is deeper and more invested into the Brussels scene than Galle. He works as a label owner, DJ, podcast host and communications manager at the infamous C12. And just when you thought a person can’t be more versatile, there’s also a book in the pipeline, called Missing the Club, which released the 3rd of march via the website of Koen’s newly founded publishing house, After Club.

“It’s not about the best, the largest or the most impressive collection. I wanted to show how all kinds of people are involved with music in their own way.” – Kong DJ

“The club is the ideal place where people come together, and where unexpected things can happen,” says Koen with his 10-days-old baby on his lap. “I miss it enormously,” he adds. Missing the Club is a collection of various texts by Koen’s hand, a collection of work that he wrote before the pandemic, between 2017 and 2020, supplemented with new texts, interviews and photo-essays. In one of the texts, part of the Brusselier Digger exhibition, Koen dives into the minds of several music collectors in the Flemish capital. “It’s not about the best, the largest or the most impressive collection. I wanted to show how all kinds of people are involved with music in their own way”, he says. And so you will find the most beautiful stories from collectors who are completely crazy about Egyptian singers or Peruvian music. “Not necessarily people who are well-known, but ordinary people with a passion and a special story”.

He supplemented his own brainchild about club culture with a mix, which can be heard below, and which has the longing for the club as a central theme.

“The role of places like Kiosk and C12 in Brussels is gigantic,” says Koen. “For years, Fuse was the only nightclub option, so they somehow operated on autopilot modus. Since the rise of C12, but also of Kiosk, the club landscape has broadened, and you notice that the youth has claimed a place again. Places like that, all run by a relatively newer generation, are now on the rise again. That was different a few years ago. Places like Crevette make the ecosystem more complete and better.”

In his role as label boss, Koen tries to contribute to this as well. Through a friend he came across new music by Dirk Eggermont, a Belgian who moved to India decades ago but still makes music there. Eggermont, better known by many as producer Mantris, disappeared from the Belgian dance scene map in the 90s. But now he’s back. Koen Galle started a new label, Souvenirs from imaginary cities, and now releases Eggermont’s music. “It quickly became clear that it had to be a new label. Ensemble, my other label, is really housy on 12-inch dance floor records. Mantris’ music is different, and also deserved appropriate artwork” says Koen. “When I heard Dirk’s music I was immediately overwhelmed. And now we go on, soon there will be a release with two Britons who were on Andrew Weatherall’s label The Sabers of Paradise in the 90s, but I will keep the rest a secret for now.”

Besides Brussel-based organizations like C12, Kiosk also reaches out to the world. The newest collaboration, which is still ongoing as we speak is run by the third Kiosk co-founder Nicolas Boochie, based in Jakarta. The project is called ‘Outsiders’, a daily program that features music labels from around the world. The list of labels includes Yes No Wave Music, Nyege Nyege, Invisible City Editions, Calypso Records, Mannequin Records, Invisible Inc and many many more.

JazzDee, a DJ that played last year at Rhythmic Culture’s Keilecafe event, helps out with this new project. “The variety is enormous”, he says. “Labels from Indonesia to New York get the chance to show what they got. That is quite progressive. In this way, Kiosk brings the whole world to Belgium” he adds. ‘I noticed that all the labels involved are super driven and enthusiastic. We ask for an audio file and photo, but some labels send very extensive descriptions and interviews about how the mix came about. That passion is contagious. Kiosk is going to renew the website, so that it becomes more of a platform on which this type of content can also find a place.”

“I noticed that all the labels involved are super driven and enthusiastic. We ask for an audio file and photo, but some labels send very extensive descriptions and interviews about how the mix came about. That passion is contagious.” – JazzDee

JazzDee’s own show, Sound Panorama, is on every second Monday of the month. “That has actually been the case almost from the start,” he says. “At first it was on an infrequent basis, now it is a fixed day. For a long time my show was just called JazzDee, but recently it was called Sound Panorama. That way I can also invite guests and it really becomes a full show.”

In addition to great music, the chat box tool the Kiosk Radio has on its website is of great importance for the identity of the station. “We used to be somewhat dependent on Facebook, but fortunately we now have a healthy base of active listeners who make themselves heard in the chat window”, JazzDee adds. “Contrary to the algorithms that dominate other websites, each vote is equally valuable to us. During my show I regularly take the time to respond and have a nice conversation with people.”

In the beginning, JazzDee sometimes overplayed his hand by building his sets like a real DJ set. “But in the end you should not forget that you are a radio station. It’s not about the tightest mix, but about sending beautiful music.”

Think Outside The Kiosk

Sunday, January 24, again in the Parc Royal, just after six o’clock – All corners of the park are awfully quiet, except for one. At the Kiosk, about fifty people with a coffee or beer are listening to ‘Runs Out, the new single by the British producer Alfa Mist. Normally a flag with the Kiosk logo is always waving proudly when the cabin is open, but not this time. There’s a new flag this week, freshly printed with the Bernie Sanders meme on it. It turns out the flag is printed by Brussels-based DJ Lefto. There is a scent of incense around the Kiosk. Inside, Lefto is behind the turntables, providing context and shoutouts with every new record he puts on.

His weekly show, Think Outside The Kiosk, is by far the most well-known Kiosk-show. Every Sunday from 6 ‘til 8, Lefto shares his favorite new and old gems with the people both on- and offline. And at the same time, his show is also streamed via Worldwide FM (London) and The Lot Radio (New York City).

“I spoke with Gilles Peterson about the connection I saw between Kiosk and Worldwide FM, the station where he works. That could be stronger, I thought” says Lefto. “The same actually applies to The Lot. We also know the people who run it quite well. And when I was in New York I often played there.” And so TOTK can now be heard worldwide in three places at once. The special thing about it is that Brussels residents dance at the same time to the same music that New Yorkers turn on with their Sunday cup of coffee. “I do take that into account in my sets” explains Lefto. “I like to start calmly and work towards the more heavy stuff. A two-hour story between 60 and 160 BPM.”

At government level, Kiosk sometimes has to fight for support, a discussion in which Lefto often gets involved. “We are increasingly successful in raising the importance of Kiosk with the city of Brussels. About 150 artists perform every month, and another 40 Outsiders radio shows. Those are enormous numbers. Once in a while I grab a coffee with some key political figures to emphasize that added value.”

“That’s something that might change post-corona, that the focus will shift from artist to experience. We have not been allowed to hug for so long, that’s something we need to do first.” – Lefto

In addition to his own show, Lefto regularly invites people to come and play for or with him. “I do that to keep learning myself. That is very important, to always keep an open mind and to keep discovering new music.” The great thing about Lefto’s shows is that he supports a lot of new artists, and always posts his set lists on his Instagram or Mixcloud. This way he is transparent, and he passes on some of the credits to the ‘real’ musicians – something that other DJ’s sometimes tend to forget.

Looking ahead

I asked everyone I spoke to the question: if the clubs were allowed to open tonight, who would you book and why? “I would go 100 percent Belgian”, Koen kicks off. “For sure!” says AliA. “Before corona, our own talent was pushed aside far too much. The Netherlands is much further in this regard. Places like De School and Doka booked many locals and provided them with a kind of quality label. That launched the careers of many good DJs and they are now reaping the benefits.”

Lefto also thinks of locals for the best party. “That’s something that might change post-corona, that the focus will shift from artist to experience. We have not been allowed to hug for so long, that’s something we need to do first.” Lefto also proclaims this message when he talks to Belgian festivals about the upcoming summer. “Just book locals is my advice to them! There are a lot of good new Belgian bands and jazz artists.” “I would ask Kreshik and AliA to play B2B2B all night long,” JazzDee concludes. “We used to do that sometimes years ago. That friendship behind the DJ booth is special. Especially the first night I just want to share that experience with my very best friends.”