“Grandiose, humble, sometimes chaotic”, “Open to the world”: Frànçois Marry (Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains) and Témé Tan on what makes Brussels creatively inspiring and fun to live in, illustrated by Frànçois’ own beautiful paintings.
Both Témé Tan and Frànçois Marry, leader of Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains, share a certain view. A certain philosophy of life, the World and of the music that brings to life the colours: global, universal and intimate at the same time. Open wide to all currents, welcoming vibes, and embracing poetries from both hemispheres. Through songs and words, in which it constantly invents new geographic and emotional cardinal points.
Both men, Témé and Frànçois, have another thing in common: they live in Brussels. Témé Tan is a Belgian native, while Frànçois moved there after growing up in the south-west of France and living in a few different places, such as Bristol. He later settled down in the Belgian capital, where two of the Atlas Mountains, Le Colisée and Amory Ranger / Archipel, also live.
As friends, they jam together, and it makes perfect sense. Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains recently released the stunning, visceral and politic Solide Mirage on the Domino label. Témé Tan already released a few colourful and inventive singles, which gathered careful and impressive attention accompanied by concerts which made audiences shiver to the bone.
Témé Tan and François & the Atlas Mountains recently shared a stage in Paris, during one of three Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains’ shows at La Maroquinerie: a perfect occasion to ask them a few questions about their affections, disgusts, and understanding of their favourite places in their now common hometown, Brussels.
It is also the right time to unearth the reasons for which François & the Atlas Mountains have been considered as one of the best, most poignant, versatile and efficient French pop bands in recent year, and to why Témé Tan will soon conquer millions of hearts that witness them at Le Printemps de Bourges, where they will both play on 21st April (Témé Tan) and on 26th April (Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains, in the middle of an extensive tour).
“Grandiose and humble”
Can you think of a place that defines Brussels?
Frànçois Marry: The Palais de Justice (Law Court of Brussels). The Palais de Justice is at the heart of Brussels, just like Brussels is at the heart of Europe. It is one of the first things you see when you arrive in the city by train from France. It is somehow a hidden splendour, a perfect representation of this complex and continuously disfigured city, with scaffolds that have been covering it for more than 20 years now. There’s such a surreal logic in Brussels, with lots of different communities, interests and governing bodies, the renovation has been ongoing for years, with constant disputes. At one point, they even had to renovate these scaffoldings that were supposed to be used to renovate the building, as they got rusted. It is a strange place, and has its charms. It kind of plays down things and brings them back to the universal commonality of human mistakes. Grandiose and humble.
Témé Tan: When friends who have never been in Brussels come and visit me, I usually take them to the Marolles. I don’t know if it’s the most representative part of the city, but it’s known to be a quite typical neighbourhood, which kept its old character. There’s still a famous flea market on the Place du Jeu de Balle, you can still find some old restaurants serving “traditional” Belgian meals. And it’s cute.
How would you define the People of Brussels, the spirit of the city?
Témé Tan: I consider myself as being part of a community of people who have a strong resourcefulness. I think we are also quite open to the World, we enjoy travelling, discovering other culture, other kinds of music.
Frànçois Marry: They’re humble. They’re curious, always craving for discovery. Brussels is in the middle of a lot of different currents, and it doesn’t scare its inhabitants. On the contrary: they accept these currents and build their collective spirit with them. There’s a great sense of humour in Brussels, too – I find it more subtle than the French one. They have a very healthy sense of self-mockery.
What is the most positive thing that Brussels can offer?
Frànçois Marry: Probably the laisser faire. It can make life sometimes chaotic, but it also allows the human initiatives to succeed. I like this permissiveness, it’s a freedom that doesn’t exist in many cities.
Témé Tan: What I love about Brussels is that it’s a big city where people can still afford a living, where a lot of different communities meet and coexist. It’s a very rich cultural melting pot.
Scary places and nice bars
What do you dislike about Brussels?
Frànçois Marry: It’s a city that doesn’t take good care of itself. Things are sometimes abandoned, they decline or collapse. The mood is great, the spirits are high, but the quality of life isn’t so great. There’s also the European Quarter in Brussels, as well as the NATO’s headquarters: these are scary places. It forms a sort of Kafkaesque bastion. The EU buildings seem to have landed here like UFOs, but they have been built by immigrants who then found themselves left aside and marginalised in Molenbeek.
Témé Tan: I hate these “Eurocrat quarters” too. They scare me. You’re in the city and, suddenly, everything becomes very clean, very clinic, everything’s expensive, you can’t even afford a coffee of a sandwich. Another negative thing about Brussels is the perpetual chaos of the city. It can be disturbing; the public transportation is horrible, the traffic jam is permanent, you can’t really use a bicycle.
Is there a bar you particularly enjoy?
Frànçois Marry: There are lots of them. I like Jour de Fête, on the boulevard Anspach. It’s a simple and welcoming place, and there’s a club below, where there often is nice after parties. I also like Kick tap’Ass, where people from Rebel Up! sometimes play music –they play cumbia, African, Arabic music, music from all over the world, they also have a small label. I also like Africa Moto, in Anderlecht, where I can listen to Congolese music.
Témé Tan: My favourite bar would be the Bonnefooi, behind the Ancienne Belgique. I spent a week there on a project with poets from all over the world and last Monday we could still dance and have fun at three in the morning.
Venues, squats, beer and fries
What venues do you go to?
Témé Tan: I love Le Botanique, I have a special relationship to them and saw lots of marvellous concerts there. But I also have a crush on the Beursschouwburg, just next to the Bourse, because I also have a close relationship with them. And I like the Atelier 210 too.
Frànçois Marry: There are lots of great squats, alternative places with lo-fi or very experimental concerts in Bruxelles – precisely the kind of things that the relative permissiveness of Bruxelles allows. Homeplugged or Trône are also places I like to visit, they organise small intimate home concerts but sometimes manage to attract bigger artists – Wand or Infinite Bisous have played there for instance, and it was pretty cool. Les Ateliers Claus is also an amazing venue, with an extremely cool, pure and upright philosophy, and with impressive guests: Thurston Moore or The Master Musicians of Jajouka played there. Some of these places disappear, but other reappears somewhere else: Brussels is a city that is in a constant regenerative process. As for more traditional venues, I love la Rotonde at Le Botanique, l’Ancienne Belgique or VK, in Molenbeek, a beautiful wooden place.
The best vibes?
Frànçois Marry: As I mentioned before, Afrika Moto is a great place to dance. Or Le Recyclart, where a lot of great DJs are invited, especially from the new afro-electro scene which I am very much into now. And it’s under the skate-park, which is cool.
Témé Tan: I would say Le Recyclart too. It’s not a club per se, but you often dance nonetheless.
Is there a restaurant or culinary speciality you would recommend?
Frànçois Marry: I must say that I haven’t really fallen in love yet with any speciality or restaurant in Bruxelles. There’s a place, though, near Area 42 in Schaerbeek, where we rehearse with the Atlas Mountains, which is quite nice: it’s called L’Estaminet, there’s a little garden, it’s extremely cute and they serve excellent food. I like Belgian beer too, there’s something truly special about it: it enlightens the mood. I think that the bacteria that they develop are unique. And when you visit the Brasserie Cantillon, which is close to the Gare du Midi and where they make a great Gueuze, they explain that the windows are wide open when the beer starts its fermentation process in its basins: it’s as if the city’s bacteria were giving the beer its character.
Témé Tan: Sorry for such a cliché, but I’m a huge fan of the Belgian fries. And I particularly enjoy the fries served by the Friterie de la Barrière Saint-Gilles, close to my place. These are real fries, made with real, unfrozen potatoes. There are plenty other places: I camped for years in front of the friterie of Flagey, in Ixelles, but now the wait is too long. Real Belgian fries are fried twice, in beef fat. As for drinks, it’s also a cliché but I’m very much into Belgian beers. I would suggest the Dulleteve. Very strong, but very good. But very strong.
Turn of the Century
A museum you enjoy visiting?
Témé Tan: A classic choice here too, but I really like the Palais des Beaux-Arts, and their section dedicated to Congo.
Frànçois Marry: I love the Musée Fin de siècle (Museum of the Turn of the Century). It’s situated on the Mont des Arts. It’s a wonderful place. It’s dedicated to arts of the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, the industrial revolution was blooming, it was the junction between an old world and a new one – and I have the feeling that we are living a somehow similar era. I enjoy exploring the creative momentum of this time, the destruction of something old and the beginning of something new.
A record store where you would spend your money?
Frànçois Marry: There are so many of them. I love them all, for their particularism. I feel close to the Boutiques Sonores, which is next to Le Botanique: it’s been opened by a friend of mine, Antoine, who used to live in Bordeaux, and who’s also a musician, playing as Monolithe Noir. I also like Caroline, which has been established a long time ago, or Veals N. Geeks. There’s another great one, Crevette, where you can listen to lots of records.
Témé Tan: I would also choose les Boutiques Sonores, they recently opened, they’re friends of friends, and the shop is great, with a good selection of records.
“Things come and go, change and evolve constantly”
Is there another place in Brussels, a garden, for instance, that is important to you?
Frànçois Marry: There’s a garden just next to my place, the Square des Six Jetons, where a lot of people come to take naps during the day. It’s quite amazing to see. There have been some excavations here and it was an interesting thing to witness, the garden seemed to be evolving like a living creature which was remodelled. They also demolished a small building and dismantled a basketball court: just like Brussels as a whole, things come and go, change and evolve constantly. There’s another park that I like, near Tour et Taxis, where they built small greenhouses, children are invited to learn gardening, it’s pretty cool. Looks a bit like a vacant lot, it’s also close to two other nice alternative venues, Barlok and the Magasin 4, in a neighbourhood in Molenbeek that’s quickly transforming – that feeling of an ever-evolving abstraction is something that I express in my album, Solide Mirage too. It’s a quiet place where I can go and meditate when I need to.
Témé Tan, which bands or artists from Bruxelles should we listen to?
Témé Tan: Tough question, there are so many good bands in Bruxelles… I’m going to forget some for sure. The one I prefer would be Alek et les Japonaises. They’re good friends of mine, they’re amazing and we have a band together, with Carl Roosens and Jérémy Atomik. I love Le Motel too, who produces Roméo Elvis. I’m a big fan of Roméo Elvis, I’m also a big fan of Caballero & JeanJass. The rap scene is incredible in Belgium right now: the music is good, the flow is good, the lyrics are good, people are driven and collaborative. I would also listen to Le Colisée. I appreciate a guitarist named Youri Botterman, who plays in various projects, or Scarlett O’Hanna, a Franco-Greek singer who’s been living in Bruxelles for some time now. I could also mention Noza, or Veence Hanao, a rapper, who is one of the most talented writers in Bruxelles. And I was humming a great tune by Faon Faon this morning, in the shower.