New music: Madensuyu do it themselves


After 21 intense years together, Ghent duo Madensuyu are still coming up with hard-hitting yet occasionally intimate music that confirms them as one of Flanders’ finest bands

Photo: Christina Vandekerckhove

In pursuit of perfection

I don’t often get served sparkling water when I visit musicians, but in the case of Madensuyu, it’s no coincidence. Their name means sparkling water in Turkish, and indeed, it says so on the bottle.

The duo from Afsnee, a hamlet in southwest Ghent, have just released their third album, Stabat Mater, filled with their characteristic hard-hitting, noisy music in which a manic guitar, hyperkinetic drums and primal screams are firmly intertwined. They also cover new ground: Some tracks are really intimate and in almost half the songs they have integrated young voices from the Sint-Niklaas boys’ choir In Dulci Jubilo. This album confirms Madensuyu’s status as one of the best and most uncompromising Flemish bands.

“It’s possible that we know each other better than our partners,” admits Pieterjan Vervondel, the 36-year-old who formed the band with Stijn De Gezelle, 35. The two started playing together 21 years ago, and it’s been 21 intense years. The two met at school. Vervondel recalls: “Stijn had bought a guitar and I told him I’d like to drum. Afterwards, he literally asked me every day if I had bought a drum kit. The day I finally did he immediately came over with his guitar and we’ve been playing together ever since.”

They never played in other bands; they tried out some bass players in the beginning, but that never lasted long. “One of them left after one day,” smiles Vervondel. “We made him extremely nervous. He was used to a situation of coming up with three new songs every rehearsal, whereas we spend three months on one song.” De Gezelle adds: “We want our music to sound very spontaneous, but we need to labour a lot to achieve that.”

Going live

It took Madensuyu a dozen years of playing together before they entered the public eye. In 2004 they grabbed the bronze medal in Humo’s Rock Rally, Flanders’ most important rock competition. Before that, they almost hadn’t played live. But the urge to play live must have been huge, surely?

He literally asked me every day if I had bought a drum kit

- Pieterjan Vervondel

“Not at all,” says De Gezelle. “At that time I preferred making songs to climbing on a stage.” Vervondel, though, says: “It was different with me. I was convinced we were creating something worthwhile and wanted to show that to other people. Since we got hardly any concerts, we organised a festival by ourselves, Rock André.” With a broad grin he adds: “With Madensuyu as opener and headliner.” De Gezelle says: “We played for 20 people. But the second edition was more successful and we weren’t the only band on the line-up anymore.”

Madensuyu released their first EP, Adjust We, in 2005. It immediately became clear that this was an exceptional band, and not just in terms of the music. The CD came in a self-constructed jewel case containing a piece of steel bar in the spine. Their three full-length albums got a similar treatment: A Field Between (2006) contained a palm branch, and 2008’s D Is Done a mirror instead of a CD booklet and an electrical fuse.

Stabat Mater has a small wooden board instead of a CD booklet and its back cover is also made from wood. De Gezelle explains: “It’s the most personal way to turn a mass product into something unique.” They assemble their CDs themselves and self-release them, on their own Suyu Makinesi label, named after the Turkish word for juice maker. Much to my surprise, Vervondel mentions that they now have “a sort of manager”. The phrasing shows he has difficulty believing it himself.

A tribute to women

As the title suggests, the new album draws its inspiration from “Stabat Mater”, a 13th-century hymn about the pain of the Virgin Mary during the crucifixion of Jesus. In the classical world, it has been put to music often, most famously by Italian composer Pergolesi. It’s almost uncharted territory in the rock field, though. And Madensuyu didn’t use the original Latin text. Lyricist De Gezelle wrote his own words and doesn’t refer literally to the Holy Mother of the Catholics. 

I was convinced we were creating something worthwhile and wanted to show that to other people

- Pieterjan Vervondel

He explains: “I was mostly intrigued by the stabat: The fact that a mother who has to bear the most gruesome pain imaginable – losing her child – refuses to break under all this strain and stays standing. It’s not an album about the Virgin Mary, but a tribute to women. It’s born out of the desire to honour my mother. Meanwhile, my girlfriend got pregnant, so it’s also dedicated to her.”

Since all the work on the CD is done, Madensuyu are preparing for their upcoming shows and they do it with as much dedication as they make their albums. You might even use the word manic, if you know that on stage the position of the instruments has to be, to the centimetre, exactly as in their rehearsal space.

Vervondel, without irony, says: “I feel it if Stijn’s amplifier is standing one centimetre too much to the left. Really!” De Gezelle adds: “Details are important. If I don’t warm up my guitar strings two days before a show, the instrument doesn’t sound as I want it to.” Vervondel: “He’s not lying! And the night before a show I sleep with my cymbals.” They laugh, and Vervondel says: “Just kidding. That last remark was a joke.” But only that last one.

Live dates

28 November: Ancienne Belgique, Anspachlaan 110, Brussels
29 November: Handelsbeurs, Kouter 29, Ghent
6 December: 4AD, Kleine Dijk 57, Diksmuide

More dates in 2014; see the website for details

CD reviews

Guy Van Nueten
Pacman • Dunk!
Though Guy Van Nueten made, in the mid 1990s, two interesting albums with the guitar pop combo The Sands, his biggest claim to fame might be his 2003 album with dEUS singer Tom Barman. For the past decade he’s focused on instrumental music, working for film and theatre. Sporadically, he releases an album like Pacman on which he only plays a classical piano. The album opens with Bach’s “Inventio 13”. The rest are Van Nueten’s compositions: mostly impressionistic piano melodies in which he caresses the keys; sometimes manic outings in which the instrument is treated less gently. Beautiful in an inconspicuous way.

De Piepkes
De Piepkes • Rough Trade
Three years after De Piepkes (The Fledglings) saw the light of day for a track on a compilation, they have made their first album. This time the original Piepkes – Pieter-Jan De Smet and Frederik Sioen – joined forces with Roland Van Campenhout, one of the godfathers of roots music in Flanders. They sing in Dutch, unusual for all of them, and this is first and foremost a children’s project. It’s a musically varied album, ranging from angular blues to endearing folk. It’s always nice, yet the music lacks the cutting-edge quality of the three Piepkes’ best solo work. But the music functions well as the conveyor for the stories and fairy-tales they sing.

Sky Hits Ground • Gentle Recordings
They’re rare, bands that get better with every album, but Mintzkov certainly do. On their fourth CD, they stay true to their noisy pop style, but the songs are even more intense than we’re used from them. And more melancholic, too. It might be related to the death of Bert Van den Roye, to whom the album is dedicated. He played in the band for seven years, but he had to leave after the release of their debut, because his addiction troubled the group’s relationship. His death hit them hard, though the record isn’t exclusively marinated in grief. At the end of the album dawns a glimmer of hope and optimism.

New music: Madensuyu do it themselves

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