When Rosas met Zita
It can be hard to tell that Zita Swoon the pop group is on hiatus for two years (see sidebar) since mainstay Stef Kamil Carlens and his cohorts are more active than ever. Ten years after their first foray into the world of contemporary dance with Plage Tattoo/ Circumstances, they return with Dancing with the Sound Hobbyist, a coproduction with Rosas, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's highly praised dance company.
Brussels’ cutting-edge dance and Antwerp’s funky pop collide on stage
“Doing a show where I'm not the centre of the attention, where music that's deemed too ‘difficult’ for a normal gig could be played and where instrumental music has its place – that was my goal with Dancing with the Sound Hobbyist,” says Carlens. So they're not playing, he stresses, their well-known songs.
“To give this music a context, it seemed like a good idea to combine it with dance and movement,” Carlens continues. “I like to call it a danced concert. It's about the music and the movements, and it doesn't have a narrative.”
This is a big difference from Plage Tattoo. “That piece grew out of my admiration for the work of Alain Platel and his Ballets C de la B. It told the story of two lovers, and the music was inspired by the choreography.”
Dancing with the Sound Hobbyist is more of a collaboration. “I contacted Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker to find some dancers. Not only because of Rosas, but also because she's linked to the dance school PARTS. Eventually, she got much more involved, visiting the rehearsals and giving advice.”
Central to the performances is Rosas dancer Simon Mayer and Zita Swoon singers Kapinga and Eva Tshiela Gysel. “Anne Teresa drew a spatial schedule according to which the dancers move. But the dancers choreographed their own movements,” explains Carlens.
If you've ever seen a Zita Swoon concert, you know that Carlens likes to move around and dance. A lot. "That's purely on intuition," he says. You will see him dance here, too, but he stresses that he's mainly focusing on the music.
“We're using some instruments that we found or that we made ourselves and that couldn't be used in a normal show. I replaced the punching bag on a spring with a tin filled with metal. The result is a percussion instrument that you'd more likely associate with [German experimental rock band] Einstürzende Neubauten than with us.”
Will the music be released at any point? Carlens sighs heavily. “I'd like to, but it has become more and more difficult to release an album. The music of Plage Tattoo, quite an experimental album, sold some 5,000 copies. That's unthinkable nowadays. So I don't think it will be easy to convince a record company."
He could put the music on his website for free. "I have no problem with the principle, but I work with professional musicians; it's their livelihood, and I pay them for every rehearsal and recording session. So either it would cost me a lot of money, or they wouldn’t make anything. Neither is a good idea.” He pauses. “But let's first concentrate on the shows.”
Dancing with the
At the end of 2009, Zita Swoon celebrated 15 years of existence with concerts in Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. The group announced that they wouldn't be playing normal rock shows nor making albums for the next two years. But please, don't call it a sabbatical, or Stef Kamil Carlens raises his voice. He and his musicians are working as hard as ever.
Dancing with the Sound Hobbyist will be touring internationally, and Carlens is just back from a three-week journey to Burkina Fasso and Mali. He teamed up with a singer and a percussionist who plays the balafon, the African version of the marimba. "It was an exploring trip. I'll go back later this year. It should result in a real collaboration."
A third project he has in store is the Zita Swoon Orchestra, “concerts with solely instrumental music. No singing at all. And without dancing. It's a real concert.” Carlens has just finished the first piece, sharing writing credits with drummer Aarich Jespers, the only surviving musician (besides Carlens) from Zita Swoon's original 1994 line-up.
The orchestra will play all original music “from the first to the last note,” says Carlens. So far, the orchestra is composed of Zita Swoon (two guitars, piano, bass and drums) and three string players. The first public performance is planned for 2012, leaving plenty of time to consider more musicians.
But one thing is as certain as death and taxes: we'll still have a lot of fun with Zita Swoon, even if they’re not playing rock & roll.