Honestly, when I first heard of the band School is Cool, I found its name ridiculous. But, as it goes with silly band names (The Beatles, anyone?), once you like the music, you forget the meaning of the words and connect them solely to the sound. “School is Cool has proven to be a catchy name,” Genard admits. “Once you’ve heard it, it seems to stick with you.”
The Antwerp fivesome rose to fame in the spring of 2010 when it won the Humo Rock Rally, Flanders’ most influential rock‘n’roll contest. In the past, this biennial has launched the careers of Das Pop, Goose and The Van Jets.
School is Cool immediately became a favourite of top rock and pop radio station Studio Brussel: It saw three songs topping De Afrekening (The Reckoning), the top songs chart voted by the station’s listeners. Two months ago, School is Cool released its debut album Entropology, which went gold within a few weeks.
How would Genard, 23, have reacted when someone predicted all this two years ago? “I’d have taken the Mickey out of them.” Though he clarifies: “Of course, I hoped for all of it. But it sounded utterly impossible.”
Dreams do come true, the band proves. But their realisation comes with a price: Genard (airborne in the photo, right) has had no time in the past year to follow his philosophy studies. “I fear that at one point in the near future, I’ll have to choose. That’s gonna be hard,” he sighs.
But really, he’s already made the decision. “Music! It has the best outlook. Not that I started making music because I wanted to earn money with it. Nor did I choose philosophy for that reason. But I admit that in the end, that economic aspect does play a small role.”
“Entropology” is a concept that pops up in thermodynamics as well as in philosophy. It was coined by the French structuralist Claude Lévi-Strauss. Genard, of course, is aware of this, but he had chosen the title “before I discovered its meaning. I like the sound of the word. And the inherent link with anthropology, since as a songwriter I feel like an anthropologist: I describe the world around me.”
That’s an interesting view, considering that most songwriters get inspired by what happens to them personally. “I am not one of them,” the headmaster of School is Cool stresses. “I don’t think my life is enthralling enough to write about. Look at Tom Waits – not that I want to compare me to him, mind you! But he’s a prime example that a wild imagination is a much richer source for great songs than one’s autobiography.”
Strikingly, School is Cool combines mostly upbeat, carefree music with, in general, fairly dark lyrics. “That grew naturally,” clarifies Genard, who’s the lyricist of the band and writes the music with his cohorts. “But now I’d like to stick to that. I like the contrast. Especially when during concerts people joyfully sing along with bleak lyrics.” He ponders for a moment. “Or maybe they do realise what they’re singing, which makes it even cooler.”
Entropology is one of those albums still worth buying physically, since the 32-page booklet contains some amazing, gloomy etchings made by Antwerp art and design collective Afreux. They look mysterious, but Genard explains that the mostly surrealistic images “were inspired by the songs on the album. Though I still have to meet the person who understands all the hidden meanings.”
The next edition of the Rock Rally starts its cycle in January. Has Genard some swinging advice for the freshly selected competitors? “I’ve heard people comment that you only have to prove that you’re a good live band to win the contest. Not! The jury first and foremost weighs the quality of the songs. Of course, you shouldn’t mess them up live. But believe me: It’s all about the songs.
Bootstraat 9, Hasselt
Kraankindersstraat 2, Ghent
See website for a complete schedule of shows
If Neil Young wasn’t still alive and kicking, I’d swear he was reincarnated as Admiral Freebee. In songs like “Living for the Weekend” and “Ever Present”, the Antwerp musician sounds eerily like The Loner. The Admiral (Tom Van Laere) has released four albums so far, filled with both jagged rock songs and intimate ballads. All of them topped the Flemish album charts, quite a feat for a domestic rock artist. Wreck Collection brings together 13 singles, plus “Coming of the Knight”, the 2006 duet with queen of country Emmylou Harris. Apart from Neil Young we also hear Bob Dylan’s influence (the mouth harp!) and the proto-Americana cult band Giant Sand. And of course just some great songs like “There’s a Road (Noorderlaan)” and “Rags ‘n’ Run”. ➟➟ www.admiralfreebee.be
Finitude reigns on De laatste rit (The Last Ride), the new album by Flemish singer Raymond van het Groenewoud, whose impressive career spans four decades. The feeling results in a few melancholic songs, but RvhG (as his name is commonly abbreviated) likes loads of different tunes: He rocks and swings, even injects a song with some funk, but also adopts chanson and folk. The idea of this being a last hurrah is infused with both acceptance and humour. And he doesn’t shy away, in the amazing “Moedertaal” (Mother Tongue), from self-mockery. Let’s hope it’s not Raymond’s last ride, but if so, he’s reached a glorious acme. ➟➟ www.raymondvanhetgroenewoud.be
After reworking about 20 of his songs for Simple a year ago, Daan toured with an acoustic trio: he himself on guitar and piano, cellist Jean François Assy and Isolde Lasoen, who played drums, percussion and a Moog synth. Their concerts in Flagey last April and May have been compiled on the DVD and album Concert. But Daan isn’t just repeating himself: The arrangements have been toned down even more, and the set list of those concerts wasn’t just the track list of Simple. All in all, a vulnerable and bold release, but I hope 2012 will finally bring an album with new songs by the Flemish singer. ➟➟ www.daan.be
Puerto Rican singer Gabriel Rios launched his career when he was based in Ghent, though nowadays he’s commuting between Flanders and Brooklyn. Two Compilations is – you guessed correctly – a double album. The first CD is composed of 17 singles Rios has released since 2004: from the still infectious “Broad Daylight” to “Tidal Wave”, a song influenced by both Ravel and Bizet. They document him changing focus from exotic pop songs to ambitious compositions. The second disc contains odds and ends: Outtakes, unreleased tracks from a Radio 1 session and loads of covers, ranging from Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman to Jimi Hendrix and even American punk rockers The Dead Kennedys. A charming extra to an interesting compilation. ➟➟ www.gabrielrios.be