The Best Kind of Trip: Touring in Belgium with three hard rock bands (Part 1)

When Elisa Fernandez-Arias offered to draft us a tour diary of her hop around Belgium as part of the BEUK / Redwire / Sofasonic road trip, we leapt at the chance. Elisa is a writer and performer and this was quite the trip to be going on. Here’s part one with the second to follow tomorrow.

We’re standing there, on the beach, looking out at the North Sea glimmering in front of us. The sun shines hard, brighter than what we’re accustomed to back in England. And after having come all the way from London to Folkstone, from Folkstone to Calais through the Chunnel, from Calais to this small coastal town in Belgium, the sun is exactly what we need, replenishing us with the energy we need for our European Tour.

As Aimee and D, the bassist and guitarist for Redwire, head out toward the sea, not caring at all that the waves are lapping at their leather boots, I sit back on the sand and think about what it’s like, touring with three hard rock bands. I’ve never been on tour before, and I’ve only had a handful of gigs. And my music style is totally different, too, than the rest of the bands playing these two jam-packed nights in Belgium. Can an acoustic singer-songwriter rock out just as hard as Redwire, Sofasonic, and BEUK?

It turns out she can. Drink enough shots of rum with the band, dance in the mosh pit hard enough, scream loud enough as everyone plays so hard that the music can be heard several streets away in the heart of a charming Belgian town, and you can be a rock star too. The excellent Belgian beer doesn’t hurt, either, does it?

Before we know it, the sun is setting, and it’s time to get back into Aimee’s motorhome, Drifter, to head over to our first gig. We have a ‘bomb’ before heading out – a rum version of the Jägerbomb, which we seem to drink every half hour in honour of either the tour or music or anything else we can think of toasting to – and then we’re back on the road. Half an hour later we’ve arrived at Uzuz Gistel, and our hosts immediately greet each of us with a hug and a bottle of Belgian beer. It’s time, as it always is, to drink.

We meet up with the other bands, the members of Sofasonic, who’ve come from England too, and BEUK, a Belgian-based band, and spend the next few hours talking about music, Belgian culture, what it’s like for English people to have to suddenly drive on the right side of the road. We eat a plethora of frites and other fried specialties, on the house, and then it’s time for the show to begin. The venue is suddenly full of people, ready to rock.

I’m on first, and I start off with a few of my comedy songs, garnering laughs from English people and Belgians alike. “Rejected”; a song about a guy rejecting your advances after he’s sent you a dick pic, is a hit, as is “The Best Sex I’ve Ever Had” which explores the problem of the best lay ever (at least for me) being a guy who is a racist and misogynist. It’s thrilling, to be up there in front of musicians who have so quickly become my friends, and in front of an international audience, but at the end of my set I find myself relieved that I got to be the opening act. Because now, I can drink as much as I want, rock out as much as I want, and watch the show.

Redwire’s on next. The band includes Aimee and D, my closest friends on the tour, Marios, the frontman of the band, and Elias, the drummer. With influences like Guns N’ Roses for instrumentation (especially Slash’s awesome licks and solos and Duff’s bass lines) and Green Day for vocals, their sound is loud and provocative. As the first song begins, D’s guitar screaming and Elias killing it on the drums, everyone around us starts to whoop and cheer and bang their heads to the rhythm. It’s hard rock. It’s here.

D’s guitar is smooth yet powerful, Aimee’s bass lines and husky back-up vocals buzz beneath it all, and Elias’ intensity, amplified with each next song, revs up the audience. A cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Nightrain” takes us back in time; the originals remind us that we’re in the here and now. “We were born to lose,” Marios sings into the mic on the song of the same name, his voice sliding easily from the low, guttural notes to the high cries which pierce the night. “But watch us as we make our way to the top.”

We celebrate the end of the set with more beer, more cigarettes, and dancing to the next band: Sofasonic. The frontman, Mike, was the one who’d invited me on the tour in the first place, the night both me and his band had performed at Aimee and D’s open mic in Camden; when I’d fallen in love with his music and he’d fallen in love with my lyrics. Sofasonic is “blues rock riff-driven music” and with influences ranging from Led Zeppelin to Third Eye Blind to Queens of the Stone Age, it’s the kind of sound that makes you feel fired up and feverish with every song you dance to. Mike sings the catchy melody, Niall plays riffs and solos on the guitar that capture the jagged energy of the band, Elliot’s rhythm builds on the drums as the energy grows, SJ’s bass lines glue all of it together.

I lock eyes with Aimee, then D. The three of us smile, in an unspoken agreement that the music is beautiful and that ending up here in Belgium, at the beginning of their European tour, is right where we belong. It’s a moment that lasts just seconds, that then becomes another feeling: pure enjoyment of the music as we dance.

After Sofasonic’s set, it’s BEUK’s turn to get on the stage. BEUK, a Belgium-based band that’s all “loud and sexy rock and roll” is the perfect act to finish the night with. And by finish, I mean begin. There’s a real darkness to the sound, as if the Devil himself has crawled into singer and bassist Roel’s throat, scratching his way out. It doesn’t matter that the lyrics are in Dutch, everyone in the audience, Belgians and English alike (and me, the sole American), dances violently, thrashing together. The beer we’ve been drinking all night doesn’t hurt, either.

Meyke, the guitarist, jumps up onto of the amps, towering over us as his guitar riffs reel us in, and the drummer Larry is playing so hard that he’s covered in a sheen of sweat only a couple songs in. They finish their set, everyone screaming for more, and there’s an encore, and then another, and then another, as if the night will never end

We pour out into the night, drunkenly chatting away, all the musicians congratulating each other on their sets, the audience members asking us about England, our tour so far and what we think of Belgium. Soon it’s time to decide where the rest of the night will take us so we drive back to the Airbnb, have another bomb shot, and then another, and then another; watching the footage from the night. All of us on a bed, Elias and Aimee and D and Marios listening to the entirety of their set, analysing what sounds good and what needs work; reliving it all.

Part 2 tomorrow

Elisa Fernandez-Arias: wordpress | instagram | soundcloud

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