It all started in the schoolyard of St. Andrew’s College in Dublin, among four friends obsessed with The Cure, The Stone Roses and The Strokes. One hot summer, they came up with the blueprint for Inhaler. Key words are ‘energy’ and ‘youthfulness’. Frontman Elijah writes lyrics “about the fun of living and the annoying things that go with it”. Things took off when they came fifth on the BBC Sound of 2020 list. With the assistance of Douglas Hart (The Jesus And Mary Chain) they recorded ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ in 2021. The album entered the British and Irish charts at no. 1, and it was the fastest-selling debut this century in both countries. The follow-up, ‘Cuts & Bruises’ (2023) scores highly in terms of thumping rhythms, fat basslines and infectious melodies.
Dermot Kennedy likes to go in search of extremes. The Irish singer-songwriter’s lyrics juxtapose love and pain in a rather brutal manner. In his music, romantic folk pop collides with rap and R&B. For example, his first album ‘Doves & Ravens’ (2017) sounds like a collaboration between Bon Iver and Frank Ocean. Kennedy’s career took off like a rocket. After the mega hits ‘Outnumbered’, ‘Power Over Me’ and ‘Giants’, he won the ears of the entire world. Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift declared themselves fans. He presented his second album ‘Sonder’ (2022) on the main stage of Forest National. The title is a word that has recently come into usage. It refers to the realisation that every random passer-by is likely to lead just as complex and vibrant a life as one’s own.
The Lumineers are the most cheerful folk rock band on the planet. That was abundantly clear last year during their first headline show at the Antwerp Lotto Arena. The Americans follow the same path as Mumford & Sons and Nathaniel Rateliff. In 2012, they conquered hearts with ‘Ho Hey’, a musical stimulant. The song spent over a year on the Billboard Hot 100, one of the longest ever spells on the chart. There is also depth to their cheerful banjo pop. The brother of drummer Jeremiah Fraites was the best friend of guitarist Wesley Schutz. JoshFraites died from an overdose in 2002. Those he left behind found consolation in music. At home in the States, they are a regular fixture. Jack White is a fan. Their new LP ‘BRIGHTSIDE’ (2022) takes them to Werchter for the third time after one appearance at Pukkelpop and two at a sold-out AB.
‘Old Town Road’ (2019) was an amazing hybrid. Lil Nas X chucked a banjo in among the beats and rapped about a “cowboy hat from Gucci”. The song even made it into the country charts, although that later turned out to be an accident. Billboard banned it from the chart as it wasn’t country enough. No problem. In the meantime ‘Old Town Road’ ended up occupying #1 for the longest spell - 19 weeks - in the history of the Hot 100… which is run by Billboard. The supposed one-hit-wonder turned out to be a stayer that took off like a rocket and caused quite a stir along the way with his lyrical outing – the line “I don’t fuck bitches, I’m queer” in ‘Industrial Baby’ (2021) – or a controversial video – see ‘Montero’ (2020) – in which he twerks with the devil. According to Lil Nas X this is just the end of the beginning. Superior showbusiness.
Queens of the Stone Age will have a big anniversary to celebrate this autumn. It was on 20 November 1997 that the “American rock band born in the desert” gave its first-ever concert, at the OK Hotel in Seattle. This alternative supergroup initially had a flexible line-up that featured members of legendary groups such as Dinosaur Jr., Kyuss, Monster Magnet and Soundgarden. Almost a quarter of a century later, QOTSA has become a solid fixture, with lead vocalist Josh Homme at its core. The group made its worldwide breakthrough in 2002 with “Songs for the Deaf”, which included the hits “No One Knows” and “Go with the Flow”. It is considered to be one of the best albums of the 21st century. The bar and the tempo both remain high. Homme keeps things fresh with (sometimes surprising) guest appearances. For example, Elton John contributed to “…Like Clockwork” (2013), while “Villains” (2018) was produced by Mark Ronson, the creator of “Uptown Funk”. “Queens of the Stone Age grips Rock Werchter with its magnificent set,” stated the headline of Het Nieuwsblad after the show at Rock Werchter 2018. Who will be the first to shout “The evil has landed!” next summer?
Arctic Monkeys are Alex Turner, Jamie Cook, Nick O’Malley and Matt Helders. The band formed in 2002 in Sheffield, England. In 2006 they wrote music history with their impressive debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. The release of five further albums has consolidated their position as one of the most successful British bands of recent years. They have amassed staggering streaming figures, a cabinet filled with the most prestigious awards, and a digital fanbase of over 30 million followers. Their seventh album, The Car, will be released on Friday 21 October, 2022.
Josh and Sam Teskey love Otis Redding so much that you’d barely hear the difference in a blindfold test. The Australian brothers have spent their lives working away at their weathered combination of soul and southern rock. They followed up their copies with their own high quality songs. Their debut ‘Half Mile Harvest’ (2018) was (re-) released in the rest of the world and compared to the early days of The Black Crowes. In Europe, they went directly from small clubs to the larger venues. ‘So Caught Up’ was a radio hit in America, where they made their TV debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. The American Songwriter magazine claims that ‘Live At The Forum’ (2020) is almost the perfect live album. They bring their brand-new ‘The Winding Way’ (2023) to Werchter. Welcome to the craftsmen.
Amenra are more easily explained in terms of ideas rather than genre. They were originally a metal band but today they are so much more. The soul of the band is in the tendency towards mystical symbolism. Spirituality and religion are at the core. For example, take the name: a portmanteau of the Biblical ‘amen’ and the Egyptian god Ra. The band from Kortrijk goes deep into everything. They talk about pain and suffering and looking those things straight in the eye. Every album represents processing a trauma. Hence ‘Mass’ in the title, again and again. ‘De Doorn’ (2021) is a turning point. Its point of departure is a broader sense of grief and sorrow, and it is also their first fully Dutch-language album. That’s a daring move for their first release on the American Relapse Records. However, Amenra’s rituals are universal. The band has dedicated fans from Saint Petersburg to Rio de Janeiro.
Director Ryan Hope and multi-instrumentalist Ari Balouzian were looking for a choir for an advert in 2016. Along the way they got to know Jacob Lusk: choir leader and owner of a heavenly soul voice. He had been a backing singer for Beck and Diana Ross and came fifth in American Idol 2011. The trio started cooking up gospel, jazz and R&B and created one wondrous song after the other. Standouts like ‘Blame’ and ‘Love and Hate in a Different Time’ are exuberant in a restrained way. Less with more. Gabriels came up with the label ‘future soul’. ‘Salve for the soul’ is another way to describe it. On the album ‘Angels & Queens’ (2022), producer Sounwave (Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar) has pulled out a surprising number of stops. But even with this lavish sonic backdrop, the magic works perfectly. The revelation of the year…
Maynard James Keenan really needs an extra hour in his day. Aside from Tool and Perfect Circle, he performs in a third band. He calls Puscifer “a playground for the various voices in my head”. As the name suggests, there is humour involved. The band’s first album is tellingly titled ‘“V” is for Vagina’ (2007). As well as music, he also sold coffee, clothes and art. It looked a lot like an attempt to let off some steam, but the story quickly gained gravity and structure. The fictional electro-rock band becomes a steady trio, with Keenan, British singer-songwriter Carina Round and good friend Mat Mitchell (Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle). A Puscifer show lies somewhere between a concert, a circus performance and a theatre play. A life-changing experience.
It’s not often that a song gets played on every radio station these days. ‘Christine’ (2014) by Christine and The Queens was an exception to this. The band name is the public face of Héloïse Letissier, a theatre student who encountered some musical transvestites in London in 2010. The result is accessible freak pop that blends music, performance, video and dance. Christine became Chris and in 2022 he requested to be addressed as he/him from then on. His new stage name is Redcar. The name of the musical project Christine and the Queens remains the same and the artistic line was extended on the third album ‘Redcar les Adorables Étoiles’ (2022). The 13 songs were written in as many days and, according to their creator, they sound “splashy with an eighties sound”.
Her songs have been streamed billions of times. She’s got every major music prize on her mantelpiece. The Spanish/Catalan Rosalía is one of the most popular and celebrated artists of our time. Trained in flamenco, mistress of experimentation. She brings different genres and styles together in her exciting signature style. She unites elements of traditional flamenco with hard beats, electro, pop and R&B. Occasionally, she sneaks in some experimental jazz… or Japanese cuisine (Chicken Teriyaki). She stunned the world with El Mal Querer (2018). On its magnificent successor Motomami (2022), she redefined pop music. Rosalía is a phenomenon. In 2019 she delivered an impressive performance at Rock Werchter - and it looks like she’ll do so again in 2023.
Pip Millett, from Manchester, discovered music’s power to connect and unite at a young age. She was in charge of the music when her parents met up with friends on Friday evenings, after a busy week at work. Millett hand-picked YouTube videos from artists such as Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder. She took these influences with her to London, where she studied Creative Musicianship. The ball got rolling in 2019. Millett released her debut single ‘Make Me Cry’ on COLORS, a platform for young talent on…. YouTube. Her mix of R&B and Soul unleashed a small Millet craze among her five million subscribers. Covid-19 threatened to stifle this hype, but also gave the singer time to work on her magnificent opening gambit ‘When Everything is Better, I’ll Let You Know’ (2022).
MEROL, born Merel Baldé, hit the ground running. ‘Hou Je Bek en Bef Me’ (Shut Up and Eat Me Out) (2019) was unprecedented in these parts, even from the mouth of a Dutchwoman. She wrote the song in response to the explicit attitudes of many male rappers. It won MEROL the 3voor12 Song van het Jaar Award and gained the attention of Studio Brussel and MNM. Plans of becoming a serious actor fell by the wayside. She enjoyed making songs more, though she also does this in a theatrical way. Flanders passed up on the singles ‘Krijg Er Het Geil Van’ and ‘Foefsafari’, but ‘Vol’ was an immediate hit. Her coming second in De Slimste Mens in November 2021 undoubtedly helped. Her debut ‘Troostprijs’ (2022) actually reached a higher chart position in Flanders than in the Netherlands.
Portland was born at PXL Music, the rock college in Hasselt. Jente Pironet and Sarah Pepels found that their voices matched perfectly and that they shared a love for the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. He lived in the American city of Portland for many years, hence the name. Their 2019 debut ‘Your Colours Will Stain’ opened all the doors right away. ‘Killer’s Mind’ and ‘You Misread Me’ were made for radio, and the same year the band caused chills on a boiling hot day in The Barn at Werchter. They were lauded by De Mens for their great cover of ‘Ergens Onderweg’ and by Joost Zweegers (Novastar) for their backing vocals on ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ during a TV show. Just prior to the release of ‘Departures’ (2023), Sarah announced her departure after seven years. The story continues with Jente.
No one seems better suited to the label ‘the new Kendrick Lamar’ than J.I.D. The thirty-year-old has some miles on the clock and a trunk full of talent. Destin Route became a member of Spillage Village, a collective from his home city of Atlanta in 2010. His stage name was given to him by his grandmother. She thought him somewhat “jittery”. That’s also a trademark of his rapping style. J.I.D. is one of the fastest rappers around. J. Cole picked him up in 2017 for his Dreamville label. Just in time, as trap was dominating the Atlanta scene, and that wasn’t to J.I.D.’s liking. He wanted more content and fewer beats. Everything blew up when he lent his voice to ‘Enemy’ (2021) by Imagine Dragons. The song has had a billion streams and was the perfect boost for ‘The Forever Story’ (2022), J.I.D.’s third album which also made the Belgian chart.
Jacob Collier’s talent didn’t come out of the blue. His mother and grandmother travelled the world as violinists. They sang Bach chorals at family parties. At an early age, Jacob started posting videos of cover versions on YouTube. None other than Quincy Jones - of Michael Jackson fame - got in touch. “I’ve never seen such talent. An absolute genius.” Collier has been praised for the way he blends genres and periods. It’s effective. At home in his music room in London, he recorded an album that immediately won a Grammy Award. |The follow-up to ‘In My Room’ (2016) is a four-part series in which he deploys choirs, orchestras and drum bands. Each part of ‘Djesse’ stands for a quarter of a day. It seems complicated on paper but it sounds wonderful. In the meantime, Collier has also worked with Coldplay, Stormzy and Pharrell Williams.
The hottest dance machine in the southern hemisphere. RÜFÜS DU SOL is the brainchild of three Sydney youths who wanted to manifest their shared love for The Chemical Brothers and Röysksopp. Not just in the studio but also live. RÜFÜS’ debut ‘Atlas’ (2013) went straight to #1 on the Australian charts and was also nominated for album of the year. Unfortunately, their export plans hit an unexpected setback. The name RÜFÜS was copyrighted in North America, so they added DU SOL. That bit of sunshine suited their atmospheric dance pop perfectly, and last year they won a Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Recording.
Wunderkind turns TikTok star. That’s how Ethan Bortnick’s biography might describe his first twenty years. The pianist/vocalist/songwriter was a mere nine years old when he performed live on American TV in 2009. Two years later, he became the youngest headliner ever in Las Vegas and also entered the Guinness Book as the youngest solo musician with his own tour. At that point, Ethan had clearly had enough and decided he just wanted to enjoy being young like his contemporaries. Music was still important to him, but he swapped his status as an entertainer for the role of contemporary songwriter. His look saw a 180-degree makeover and his taste veered towards Phoebe Bridgers and Kendrick Lamar. Songs like ‘engravings’, ‘prom’ and ‘arsonists’ have true meaning and occupy a sweet spot between Mozart and hip-hop.
It’s all about the music for Kid Kapichi. After all, the bands that make it are the ones that never give up. The quartet from the British coastal town of Hastings survived on casual jobs in construction and hospitality for nearly ten years. But their goal drew ever closer, and they got their first real break from fellow Hastings man Frank Carter, who took them on a European tour. They recorded their self-financed debut ‘This Time Next Year’ (2021) with guitarist Dom Craik of Nothing But Thieves, Dave Grohl’s favourite band and a familiar name at Rock Werchter. Kid Kapichi tackles all of the demons that haunt British society: poverty, narrow-mindedness, racism and so on, all while sounding like a cross between IDLES and Queens Of The Stone Age. Avid fan Liam Gallagher is full of praise for ‘New England’, the opener of their latest album, ‘Here’s What You Could Have Won’ (2022): “Like Noel, when he was good”.
‘Who Are The Girls?’ (2022) is the title of the first album from Nova Twins. The question answers itself: the loudest and most exciting rock band in the UK. Loud because a rock band has to make a lot of noise in order to be good. And exciting because women of colour Amy Love and Georgia South have thrown a bomb into an overwhelmingly white scene. Guitarist Tom Morello of Audioslave and Rage Against The Machine, a great admirer of the pair, has a good tale to tell about that. A lot of fans still refuse to believe that he’s black, despite having mentioned hundreds of times that his father is Kenyan. Nova Twins’ urban punk sounds like a marriage between RATM and The Prodigy, with another important reference in Skunk Anansie. Meet the future.
Arabella Latham was prepared to do anything to make it in show business. She moved from South Africa to London at the age of 18 and started networking frantically. Latham found a job with Rough Trade Records, the best record shop in the city, and worked as a server at the Brit Awards. Her mission was a success. She signed a decent contract to record as Baby Queen. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this high point in her life took place over Zoom. Her grungy songs about online dating, internet addiction and mental fatigue were a hit with Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012). They are satirical, funny and painfully honest. She calls it anti-pop. Or pop music for people who hate pop music. “The melody and structure are very pop but I shake it up with the lyrics and concepts.”
Tor Maries had given up on music after a few failed projects. A Sleaford Mods gig in her hometown of Leicester encouraged her to give it another go. Her stage name is derived from the time she went alone to a concert and someone addressed her as Billy Nomates. Her untitled 2020 debut stood out for multiple reasons. It was produced by Geoff Barrow, the mastermind behind Portishead. She speaks more than sings and her lyrics are improbably direct. Nomates dissects the great inequalities in British society in a sharp and dry manner. ‘Cacti’ (2023) is her artistic revelation. The album is much less prickly than the title suggests. Her focus has shifted from the political to the personal, the slogans have developed into songs and she has traded in the punk of the early days for synthpop.
William Gold is an internet phenomenon. He’s known online by the name Wilbur Soot. His channels on YouTube and Twitch have millions of followers. The young man is also a talented gamer. There are few who are better at Minecraft. But most of all William likes making songs. In 2020, he had a solid indie hit with ‘Your New Boyfriend’. However, he still found himself alone so he formed a band with his pal Joe Goldsmith. Their first name was Hang The DJ but they ultimately became Lovejoy. After Benedict Lovejoy, the bloke who was always hanging around until the small hours of the morning while they wrote songs. Their points of reference are Arctic Monkeys and Two Door Cinema Club. And they jokingly advertise themselves as ‘the only indie rock band with a double kick drum’. Fun is guaranteed!