Twan van Steenhoven (Big 2) is tall and white while Willem de Bruin (Willy) is a short person of colour. Hence The Opposites. Other than that they have everything in common. They are natives of North Holland’s polder but their sound is that of the street. It all started at school when Willem had to write a rap as a punishment and Twan came to his aid. They started out rapping in English but that didn’t work out, while Dutch did, including in Flanders. ‘Broodje Bakpao’ (2009) was their breakthrough thanks to the support of radio presenter Sam De Bruyn. They stopped in 2014, but a reunion show was such a hit that the pair decided to continue, bit by bit. That’s a good thing, as Willy and Big 2 are hilarious when joking about their cultural differences. Foul-mouthed and politically correct at the same time.
Interpol intelligently interprets Joy Division for contemporary ears. The trio originated from the campus of New York University. They first gained attention in the UK. In April 2001 the ever-vigilant (late) John Peel invited them to record a session for his trend-setting BBC radio show. A year later, Interpol were picked up by the American Matador label (Pavement, Spoon, Yo La Tengo). The album ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ was one of the musical sensations of 2002 and they were soon seen as the Next Big Thing. The song ‘Evil’ topped the Studio Brussel Eindafrekening in 2005. Their latest album, ‘The Other Side of Make-Believe’ (2022) was recorded with top producers Alan Moulder and Flood. It’s good to see them again. After all, Interpol have already performed at Werchter four times (2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014).
A Scotsman with Italian roots and an intergalactic soul voice. Nutini’s great-grandfather fled Tuscany during WWI and opened a fish & chips shop near Glasgow. The Castelvecchi institution was ready to be taken over by Paolo, but his grandfather Giovanni was such a big fan of the Scottish folk band The Corries that he encouraged his grandson to foster his musical talent. Paolo moved to London, where he gained renown playing in pubs. His breakout album ‘These Streets’ (2006) sold no fewer than 1.5 million copies in the United Kingdom. Then followed ‘Iron Sky’ (2014), a six-minute epic that transformed Nutini into the most-played Scottish artist this century. After an eight-year hiatus, he’s returned in force with ‘Last Night in the Bittersweet’ (2022).
Colson Baker chose his stage name well. The American delivers his lyrics with the speed of a... machine gun. He entered the world of music as a rapper. His performance at the showcase festival South By Southwest (SXSW) in 2011 led to a meeting with Sean Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy. That night he signed with his label, Bad Boy. Critics praised Machine Gun Kelly (MGK) for his clever use of rap and rock in telling his introspective stories. He loves Eminem and Guns N’ Roses in equal measure. Recently, his music has been more punk than hip-hop. In the last few years, Baker has been working closely with Travis Barker, of blink-182 fame. Tellingly, he appears on the covers of ‘Tickets to my Downfall’ (2020) and ‘Mainstream Sellout’ (2022) with a guitar around his neck.
Straight from hell into heaven. That’s what happened to Oscar and the Wolf last summer. In June, Max Colombie had to postpone part of his European tour because of mental health issues, but a few weeks later, he gave majestic performances at Lowlands and Pukkelpop. The arrangements. The comprehensive accompaniment. The integration of songs from the new ‘The shimmer’ (2022), which Max himself called a “stroll through four seasons”. All of it was of the highest quality; an Olympic-level achievement. The concerts were brought to a close with a new song: ‘Warrior’ can be heard as far as the offices of the Royal Belgian Football Association in Brussels. An overflowing Sportpaleis in November is proof that Oscar and the Wolf has found the perfect balance between electronica and emotion. At least, insofar as it didn’t exist yet…
Muse are Matt Bellamy, Dominic Howard and Chris Wolstenholme. Since forming in 1994, Muse have released nine studio albums, selling over 30 million units worldwide. Their latest album ‘Will of the People” debuted at #1 in multiple territories including, UK, Austria, France, Finland, Italy and Switzerland. In Belgium, the album immediately positioned itself comfortably in the upper echelons - at #2 in Flanders, at #1 in Wallonia. Muse is an absolute hit. Muse have won numerous music awards including two Grammy Awards, an American Music Award, five MTV Europe Music Awards, two Brit Awards, eleven NME Awards and seven Q Awards, amongst others. Muse and Rock Werchter go "way back”. The Brits played the festival for the first time in 2000 and have become absolute crowd favorites.
Vintage Trouble are four men in suits who mix rhythm & blues with soul and sharp guitar licks. Think Sam Cooke jamming with the Steve Miller Band. Or, closer to home: Selah Sue collaborating with Triggerfinger. ‘Live-wired, straight-shootin’, dirty-mouth'd pelvis-pushin' juke music’, as they themselves call it. Vintage Trouble was brought into the world in 2011 from Hollywood by Doc McGhee, the man behind the careers of Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe. His masterplan was to launch the band in Europe before introducing them at home in the United States. A performance on the BBC’s Later… with Jools Holland put wind in their sails on this side of the ocean. Back home, they’ve toured with The Who and AC/DC.
Dallas Green is an eminent figure in the Canadian music scene. Hardcore fans have already known him for 20 years from Alexisonfire. Since 2005 he’s been combining that successful band with City and Colour, a parallel project for his introspective material, influenced by Bon Iver and Bright Eyes. The name comes from Dallas (City) and Green (Colour). His first album ‘Sometimes’ (2005) won the Juno – the top Canadian music award – for best alternative album. He was joined on ‘Bring Me Your Love’ (2008) by the late Gordon Downie of The Tragically Hip. His seventh album is imminent on his own Still Records label. Workhorse Green has also prepared new material for You+Me, his surprising collaboration with P!NK. The American singer also took City and Colour along on a European tour in 2010 as support.
blackwave. create tapestries of sound you can sink deep into. Vocalist/producer Willem Ardui and rapper Jean-Valéry Atohoun take an open-minded view of hip-hop and mix it with funk, jazz and soul. Tempos are low, the delivery is mildly nonchalant and the vibe alternates between chill and exuberant. Think The Roots or Mos Def. For their third album, ‘no sleep in LA’ (2022), the duo from Antwerp and Ghent rejuvenated themselves in the City of Angels. After three weeks they returned, holding thirty demos that they enriched at home with horns and strings. This has put them on a larger playing field. The song ‘a-okay’ has even made it onto the soundtrack of the popular FIFA 23 football game. Live, Ardui and Atohoun are backed by a well-oiled jazz band who have already proven their worth at Montreux Jazz, North Sea Jazz and Werchter.
The language they sing in is barely comprehensible. The titles of their records are impossible to pronounce. They live at the end of the world. Sigur Rós is proof that you can make it even if you’re from Iceland, but, as Björk learned, you do have to be extra original. The group makes classical music for rock ears. Touring with Radiohead brought them renown beyond the connoisseurs. Lars Ulrich (Metallica) was an early fan. ‘Með Suð I Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust’ (2008) was the album that put Sigur Rós on the big stage, but things went foggy after ‘Kveikur’ (2013) as keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson and drummer Orri Páll Dýrason left the band. It seemed the ship had gone adrift, but since last year it’s been back on course. Sigur Rós travelled the world with new material and, ten years on, Sveinsson is back on board.
Xavier Rudd is a musical globetrotter. The spiritual singer-songwriter considers it his mission to bring music from Australia to every corner of the world. That seems doable. The man is a one-man band, and travels light as a result. On stage, Rudd combines acoustic guitar with percussion, keyboard, didgeridoo and all kinds of effect pedals. Just like Ben Harper, he plays a Weissenborn, an unusual guitar that lies on the player’s lap. In his suitcase he carries stories about a better world, veganism, surfing and long evenings by a campfire on a summery beach. Rudd is a sustainable entertainer who has been relevant for over 20 years and makes a point of always leaving his audience slightly bewildered but with a broad smile.
Fred again.. is inescapable these days; a true phenomenon in modern electronic music. For several years, Fred Gibson (that’s the name he was born with) worked in the shadows as a producer and songwriter. He was the driving force behind many hit songs. His work has featured collaborations with George Ezra, Ed Sheeran, Charli XCX, Stormzy, Underworld, and The xx. He stepped into the limelight during the COVID-19 pandemic with his Actual Life series, of which the third installment is released today. The often emotional songs start behind the piano and are mixed with beats, sounds he gathers from social media, voice clips, and other samples. This is top-level digital bricolage. With nightlife in lockdown, the single “Marea (We’ve lost dancing)” becomes the soundtrack to the loss we have experienced, a floor-filler when the world reopens. “Sweat in our shoes, tears in our eyes,” headlined in the weekly HUMO magazine after his performance at the Pukkelpop Festival this summer. Fred again.. is exactly what electronic dance music needed, and the success story continues. In December he will perform a sold-out show at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels. Next summer, Rock Werchter awaits.
Late bloomer Danielle Ponder is making her great dream a reality. The pastor’s daughter from Upstate New York has loved singing since an early age. When her brother received a lengthy prison sentence, she decided on a career in the judiciary. Ponder made it to district attorney but decided in 2018 to take a big leap into the unknown by dedicating herself full-time to music. She skirted the top 40 with her debut ‘Some Of Us Are Brave’ (2022), a collection of eight songs about personal freedom, heartache and courage, in an original mix of styles. Her hypnotic voice adds a touch of melancholy. She’s had an auspicious start to her second career. She has already travelled the US with Leon Bridges and shares a booking agent with Billie Eilish.
It was abundantly clear from childhood what direction Mimi Webb would take. She had the same artistic education as Adele, Sam Smith and Amy Winehouse and signed an international record contract at the age of eighteen. Her first testing of the water predicted that things were going to work out. An improvised a capella version of ‘Before I Go’ saw 20 million views on TikTok. ‘House on Fire’ and ‘Good Without’ brought her to the attention of Dua Lipa. She had also had two hits in the British top 15 before her first album was out. That debut was ‘Amelia’ (2023); her actual first name. “I wrote songs for Amelia, the country girl who likes to stay at home with her family, and for the pop star Mimi who wants to explore the world. Because they are both me.”
A worldly duo. She was born in Germany, grew up in Canada and the US and studied in Italy. In New York she met an American on his way to a professional career in basketball. This ambition was ended by illness. Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern became SOFI TUKKER, a dance duo with hits in Portuguese with lyrics by the Brazilian poet Chacal. Their first single ‘Drinkee’ (2016) was immediately nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Dance Recording category. They took their first steps on the path to their dreams. Their jungle-pop has not only done well in terms of streams but is also regularly used in commercials and series. It’s little wonder that their latest album ‘WET TENNIS’ (2022) has its own fashion line. The title is an abbreviation of ‘When Everyone Tries To Evolve, Nothing Negative Is Safe’.
Dope Lemon is an old acquaintance’s project. Angus Stone and his sister Julia have played at Rock Werchter three times before (2014, 2015 and 2018). Their blend of folk and indie rock made waves here. Neither dis the two Australians have any trouble filling Forest National. Angus has also been doing his own thing under his own name and as Dope Lemon. Under this pseudonym he creates laid-back atmospheric music for sunny days and distant beaches. Soulful grooves, strong beats, spacey synthesizers and a healthy dose of kitsch. By the way, one of his best songs is largely Belgian in origin. The popular ‘Home Soon’ (2017) is based on ‘Stories’, a 1972 song by The Chakachas.
Adekunle Gold divides his time between Los Angeles and Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, where he was born. That says a lot about the current status of afrobeats. This blend of African pop with hip-hop and R&B is taking the world of music by storm with crown jewels such as Burna Boy, Divido and Wizkid. This is only going to gather pace now that Spotify is, from 2021, available in 38 African countries. Adekunle Gold is in the driving seat. He grew up with old Nigerian masters such as King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey and made his debut in 2014 with 'Sade', a remodelling of 'Story of my Life' by One Direction. He is gradually evolving from traditional pop to a more sophisticated sound, and the status of export product. His great dream? To collaborate with Bruno Mars.
Dean Lewis from Sydney spent five years meticulously studying every Oasis video. “Noel Gallagher taught me how to write songs.” His music publisher sent the young man to London to learn from producers Nick Atkinson and Ed Holloway, renowned for their work with Lewis Capaldi. The initial results changed Lewis’ life in a stroke. The song ‘Waves’ was the second biggest hit of 2017 down under. Its follow-up, ‘Be Alright’ (2018) conquered the world. The tale of a breakup symbolises everything that Lewis wants to be. He wants to talk about the real things that happen to real people. The man is now on his second album - ‘The Hardest Love’ (2022) – and the world awaits his every word. Belgium, by the way, was the first country along with Australia where he reached number one.
Helena Mayorga Paredes is half Chilean, half Campine. She was destined to become a guitarist from the age of three. She graduated from the KASK Conservatory in Ghent in 2020, as the first woman in the history of the Jazz, Music Production and Pop course. She gained her first stage experience with Aarde aan Daan and Manngold, but then went in search of independence. She formed Mayorga with three friends of hers who were fellow Masters of Music. The band revolves around the writings of its namesake. They are clearly influenced by the indie pop style of Courtney Barnett and Phoebe Bridgers. Mayorga gained attention with the singles ‘Weekend Lover’ and ‘Girlcrush’ and won De Nieuwe Lichting at the start of the year. It makes sense: organisers Studio Brussel say “how can a fan of guitars not have a girlcrush on her?”
Dead Poet Society has to be one of the most highly-educated bands of all time. After all, the four members are distinguished alumni of Berklee College of Music in Boston. Upon graduation, they relocated to California to work out what to do with the profusion of influences from their education. That musical puzzle resolved itself. On their 2022 debut ‘!’ (pronounced ‘the exclamation album’), Dead Poet Society served up rugged rock with hefty nods to Muse and Royal Blood. After touring the United States with Biffy Clyro, the band headed to Europe last summer with a new generation of punk rockers. And they made quite an impression.
STONE are keen for you to know that they are from Liverpool. The city of Echo & The Bunnymen, OMD, The La’s, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Beatles, of course. The band’s exciting noise shows influences from the whole timeline. It has traces of rock, punk, techno and Britpop. The group existed as The Bohos for a number of years but decided to change their name in 2019. Just before lockdown, bassist Sarah Surrage joined the newly-coined STONE. She turned out to be the missing piece of the puzzle. Their isolation came to an end in 2021 with the adrenaline bomb ‘Let’s Dance To The Real Thing’. The follow-ups ‘Waste’ and ‘Money (Hope Ain’t Gone)’ made them one of the most promising acts of the time. They have since explored foreign lands as a support act to The Kooks and YUNGBLUD.
Just Mustard’s inspirations include My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive. These figureheads of the shoegaze genre created thick walls of sound that concealed dreamlike music, performed by people who, well, gazed at their shoes. Shoegaze developed during the 1990s. Just Mustard make a modern version that incorporates trip-hop and electro. The five from Dundalk in Ireland self-financed the album ‘Wednesday’ (2018), which was nominated for the Choice Music Prize, the annual award for the best Irish album. This has led to a contract with the American Partisan Records, the label of IDLES and Fontaines D.C. ‘Heart Under’ (2022) was their first collaboration. In the meantime, they’ve gained their first famous fan: Robert Smith of The Cure.
They sound French but they come from Los Angeles. Touché Amoré is often mentioned in the same breath as their contemporaries La Dispute, Defeater and Pianos Become The Teeth as figureheads of The Wave, a loose alliance of Californian post-hardcore bands. What connects them is high intensity and an experimental urge. The first albums by Touché Amoré tend towards despondency with such themes as anxiety, alienation and death. Their latest, ‘Lament’ (2020), is presented as the light at the end of that dark tunnel. Musically, however, it’s still a rugged affair. As well as post-punk, indie and post-rock, some surprising influences have crept in such as Leonard Cohen and The National. It’s this desire to do things a little differently that connoisseurs and fans say keeps the quintet head and shoulders above the rest.
‘Ireland is the new home of punk’. That’s the claim the UK music site NME makes. There certainly is a lot going on in Dublin at the moment. The Murder Capital is in the same musical tradition as their friends Fontaines D.C. and is growing just as quickly. Their debut ‘When I Have Fears’ (2019) was a beautiful but somewhat directionless firework. The fun and the fury were a little too explosive. On ‘Gigi’s Recovery’ (2023), everything is much more in its place. The sound is more muscular and the quintet sound exceptionally self-assured. To the critics it is a serious candidate for album of the year. The Murder Capital is really looking forward to Werchter. They say that their previous visit in 2019 was one of their best shows yet. And they got to meet Florence Welch backstage! (Not very) fun fact: the world’s ‘murder capital’ is the Mexican city of Tijuana.