We can’t actually travel to Belgium right now, but it’s nice to dream.
Despite being known for its premium signature on our favourite foods – chocolate, waffles, fries and beer – the Kingdom of Belgium isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. There’s still a place for the spirit of punk, even if, like with Slow Crush, it comes in the package of abrasive shoegaze.
With the reissue of their 2018 full-length album Aurora out next month, we asked frontwoman Isa Holliday to give us the lowdown on the environment they’re releasing into. We may not be able to internationally travel yet, but we sure can plan for our trips.
How did you become a punk?
As far back as I remember, I’ve never really been interested or good at regular girly things. I preferred playing with Transformers to dolls. In fact, the only doll I ever had was a Jem doll complete with a Flying V guitar, glamrock make-up and purple hair. In high school, my friends and I would swap indie/alternative mixtapes with Bikini Kill, Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, Radiohead…. or random stuff played in the middle of the night on the local alternative radio station (Radio Scorpio). One of these mixtapes came from a friend’s older siblings and had some Snuff and Belgian Asociality on it which got me digging into some older punk like Sex Pistols and X-Ray Spex.
Growing up as a young punk in your hometown, what are some of the places you would hang out?
I went to a British school here in Belgium. A place intended for high turnaround, where kids would only stay a couple of years before moving back to the UK or somewhere else.
There wasn’t generally a lot of mingling with outsiders; everyone just hung out with other British school kids and went to the same pub across the road from school. But my friends and I would venture out to bars in Brussels, meeting up with kids from other schools. That’s how we found out about local hardcore and punk shows. Belgium’s got at least one youth centre (jeugdhuis) in every town, run by local kids, which never failed to host gigs week after week. It was through those punk gigs that I met the other members of Slow Crush, all those years ago. When we weren’t going to shows, we would hang out in a school’s playground – we named our little gang “the Playground Crew”.
Eventually, the neighbours didn’t like us hanging around all night so we got more involved in the local youth centres. We all used to help out and organise gigs, for local and international bands, at various youth centres close to where we grew up.
Jeugdhuis Sojo, in our hometown of Leuven, is pretty legendary and thankfully still running. We used to hang out there a lot and another club on the other side of Belgium (which is really small so anything on the other side of the country is only about an hour’s drive away) called the Lintfabriek, which unfortunately shut down. All the best touring hardcore/punk bands would play there: Cro-Mags, Sick of It All, Napalm Death…. the first show I remember going to there was either The Dillinger Escape Plan or Snapcase.
How would you describe your typical punk from your hometown?
I don’t think there’s really a typical “punk” look over here. What may have been considered an alternative look in the ’90s – hairstyles, piercings, tattoos – has become pretty mainstream now and is no longer directly linked with music taste. I guess the easiest way to spot alternative people is by what band t-shirt they’re wearing.
Are there any unwritten rules for punks in your hometown?
Not that I’m aware of. I feel that there’s heaps more openness and diversity in shows over the last few years. More mixed bills, switching it up with metal, hardcore, shoegaze and indie bands all playing the same night. But come to think of it, apart from early 2000s hardcore, there’s never really been any real rules or exclusivity “standards” in the Belgian alternative scene. Not enough to cause gang warfare, or anything like that, at least (laughs).
How does the general community in your hometown take to punks and punk music?
People’s ears and tolerance to “noise” have become mega sensitive. Not only for music – people living close to the airport bitched loud enough about the noise to get flight paths changed and night flights completely scrapped.
Alternative music venues faced the same criticism: neighbours complaining about the noise. I don’t think it really matters what kind of music is being played but a lot of venues have had to seriously up their soundproofing game for fear of being shut down.
What do you think is the biggest threat to the punk community in your city?
Frickin’ COVID! I’m really scared most clubs won’t make it through all these lockdowns. Government funding for culture was cut drastically pre-COVID and now with the restrictions, there’s no income to pay the bills.
All over the world politics and punk go hand in hand. What are some of the political issues that influence punks in your hometown?
Animal rights and climate change have been a big part of the scene over here for as long as I can remember. Ieper Hardcore Fest has been fully vegan since it started in 1992.
Are there any other locations in the city that are important to its punk community?
A good friend of ours and fellow old hardcore kid runs the coolest skate shop in town – ThrashLife. Yves is also the founder of clothing brand Death Shred, behind the “No Fucks Given” shirt sported by Slash and Duff from Guns N’ Roses.
ThrashLife doesn’t only sell clothes, spraycans and counterculture books. The shop rotates exhibitions from local artists and has even hosted some awesome surprise shows for Brutus and Stake.
Who are some great punks, or punk bands making moves from your hometown we can check out?
Brutus have moved away now but grew up in Leuven too. They were supposed to support the Foo Fighters last year, but then COVID happened. Stoop Kid, from nearby town Diest, released a really cool lo-fi jangly bedroom rock album a few weeks ago. Another band from Belgium you should check is Lost Century Kid. Belgium’s take on Drab Majesty. If ’80s synthwave is your thing, you’ll love this!
What are your tips for any punks travelling through your hometown?
Definitely check out ThrashLife! For great vegan food go to Life Bar – super fresh and healthy. For sustainable, zero waste groceries, go to Content.
When drinking at a bar becomes a thing again, the Rock Café will blast alternative music in your earholes while doing so. Gigs are held in the room upstairs. Just beyond the train station you have Stelplaats and the Sojo that host workshops and other alternative events. Stelplaats is an old bus depot repurposed with various projects, including a screen printing atelier and an indoor skate park.