"I always feel some kind of whirl after a gig", said Gert. I knew what he meant, even if it was years ago since I occupied a stage. I told him about one of my first concerts, with a rock band named Reptilicus. Under the influence of that after-gig-whirl I ignored a red light. I just didn't see it. My then-girlfriend was pissed-off about it. Nothing bad happened, as the streets were completely empty, but it did scare me a bit. It made me rethink my abilities as a driver. I don't drive anymore and I'm not planning to either, certainly not in today's traffic. Luckily for me, I formed a band with two excellent chauffeurs. Just yesterday, Gert safely drove me to Ronald and Ronald safely drove all three of us to Neeritter. And back. So now, after some car rides, a debut performance and plenty of hours of sleep, the whirl is finally out of my head. Now I can look back once again and continue writing the journey of Synchyse. So far, it's been a great learning-experience but most of all it has been great fun. We laughed and laughed and grinned and smiled and in between we played a neat gig in The Netherlands.
The performance in JazzBlazzt was the exact reason why Synchyse had been formed in the first place. Ronald had been invited by Eric von B to play there. He wanted Distant Fires Burning and Misantronics to join him and so we did, be it in a form Ronald probably wasn't expecting. We're so full of surprises. We got together a few times. 'Aldo' was born during the first rehearsal and expanded to a twelve minutes lasting anthem during the next three. 'Rembrandt' saw the light of day on rehearsal two and evolved into a surprisingly different tune. By the end of the last rehearsal 'Katan' was a skeleton on which a body needed to be built. Eventually, we had composed three completely different tracks and prepared them for the stage, or better, the garage. JazzBlazzt is a converted garage with carpets and cloths and a flag with a lion with testicles. Limburg has balls, that's for damn sure. It was a perfect location for our first gig, cosy and intimate.
In the months leading to the performance, I started working with new software and unused equipment. After all, I was surrounded by two guys who know pretty much everything there is to know about the technical side of music production. There is such a thing as "gearporn", something most musicians are addicted to. It's closely related to the "gear acquisition syndrome", a severe itch in a musician's wallet when he sees a new guitar pedal or amplifier. These diseases are extremely hard to cure, only severe poverty can do that. On the way to Neeritter we drove by an Adams music store which was almost too tempting but Ronald was strong. He resisted the temptation of the shiny new equipment and firmly drove on. Anyway, to make a long story short: I have learned a lot in the past few months and I'm quite positive that all this new knowledge will eventually shine through when Misantronics awakes from its hibernation. Now on to the gig.
When we arrived at the scene, we were greeted by Eric and the guys from Minus Pilots. Eric offered us a coffee, which was just the first of a wide range of perfect music venue hosting. During the event, Eric and his wife and the cook treated us like megastars: great food (those meatballs were perfection), interesting conversations (certainly for a music journalist like me) and a loaded fridge (even though we spent the entire evening quite sober). Just the fact that I was able to drink a hot coffee on stage was amazing. Perhaps it could be interesting to know that I had been struck by the flu just a day before the gig. Hurray. I wasn't going to let that little detail get in the way of my first live performance in years but still, I wasn't feeling too well. On the other hand, I wasn't feeling nervous and that surprised me. I had expected to be shaking and shivering but none of that happened. Instead, I was focused.
We set up the sound, did a soundcheck, talked about music and about gear. We made jokes about Brexit, Alzheimer and being a dad, although I have absolutely no experience in the latter. Then something really cool happened. Adam asked Ronald if he was up for a little jam. Soon in, Gert joined in on the fun. Eric, Matt and I watched them play a neat ambient set. It wasn't recorded so it's now lost in memory, time and space but it was great, I can tell you that. I think I even dozed off for a moment, which was very welcome indeed. The atmosphere was right and the whole day had been so fucking sweet. When the audience walked in, we all knew that we were ready to kick off the very first Synchyse gig. We took our places, Eric introduced us as "Ronald and his friends", probably because nobody really knows how our bandname should be pronounced. Ronald then explained the whole idea to the audience and I started the radar noises.
'Aldo' went very well. I think it was even a bit longer than during most rehearsals. Yet, during 'Katan' a little panic bubbled up. "Shit, I forgot what I was supposed to do during this one. Let's see, what did I do during the soundcheck and the rehearsals? Oh, that's true, it was something different every time. I just haven't decided yet; Let's do this". I pushed a few buttons, activated some samples and from then on everything went smooth. I looked up and saw some heads nodding. Gert smiled. Ronald was in his zone. After about forty minutes, the sampled hindu chants and the drones faded away to be replaced by an applause. We had pulled it off. Whatever level of nervousness in our bodies was now replaced with the whirl as we cleared away our gear to make place for Minus Pilots. A quick smoke and a cold beer before we sat down again for the performance of the English duo.
Minus Pilots move in the area where ambient and jazz often meet. Armed with a six-string bass and a drumkit, these guys delivered a perfect cool down for me. Halfway through the set, Adam experienced some technical issues but aided by Ronald and by a decent dose of English humor, Minus Pilots played an excellent set. I closed my eyes, sat back and enjoyed every single second of it. Now that I was a spectator again, I could relax and rewind the day, prepare my memory for the journal I was about to write. Because yeah, I'm still a writer. One that observes things from a literal point of view. I'm also a reviewer and in that function Minus Pilots were good enough to rise to my top-10 gigs list this year so far. I was so disappointed when I heard that that Large shirt was the last one they had.
Slowly the event drove to its end and after a few more nice conversations it was time to get our gear and asses back into the car. I checked and doubled checked before we said our goodbyes. Shortly after, we were on the dark Dutch roads again, going back to our fatherland with a blissful smile on our faces. We didn't talk that much in the car. All of us were rather tired but we knew we did well. Some people might have disagreed but we heard some great compliments about Synchyse: "Really? That was forty minutes, it felt like ten?" or the more traditional "that was great". In any case, we were satisfied by our efforts and we now know some of the details to work on. Our next gig is in December, in a living room this time. That one will be a home-match for Synchyse. I'm really looking forward to that. There will also be short solo performance by the band's members so it will definitely be something to remember.
A short impression of Synchyse by Borita De Wolf.
While the drones, soundscapes and somwhat funky basslines of 'Aldo' gently float through my speakers, I look back at how all of this started. It was not long ago, a few months perhaps. Ronald had just thrown a wicked release party for his 'Collaborations' album, along with big ambient stars like Dirk Serries, Aidan Baker, Helmut Neidhard and Ashtoreth. That party was saw one of the most impressive gigs this genre had ever seen with all the invited artists jamming together for half an hour. It had a marvellous apotheosis, Ronald standing up, leading the legions of ambient into battle. But, as brilliant and fascinating as that album and that concert were, there was a sense of uneasiness. The "what's next?" question started appearing. I think we all felt that ambient and soundscapes are awesome but can only be stretched to a certain extent before it all starts sounding the same.
I definitely felt that. Misantronics wasn't really going anywhere and neither was its EDM anagram Mint Narcosis. My last album had some neat tunes but everything after that seemed uninspired and out of flow. The only exception was my remix for Distant Fires Burning. That was fun to do, even though it should actually have been a Mint Narcosis remix, with the dance beats and all. Gert loved it and apparently several other people too. From what I heard, 'I Would Move (Misantronics Remix)' is now a favorite for a bunch of DJ's, neat! Yet, still, there was clearly something wrong. It had also been a while since the much loved Antwerp Ambient festivals, organised by Sjaak Overgaauw (Premonition Factory). We all miss those. They were inspiration, mostly.
One day, Ronald invited me to a Stratosphere concert in The Netherlands. He invited Distant Fires Burning too. The three of us started talking, I was nervous already. I'm not a stage-animal anymore, on the very contrary. There haven't been any Misantronics gigs since years ago. Suddenly, someone in the facebook chatbox uttered the fabulous words: "why don't we do something together?". Synchyse was born, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Ronald wanted the cold, eerie electronics of Misantronics and Gert wanted to jam again. So we found a date and a place for our very first rehearsal: Gert's attic studio. During the soundcheck and installment, I played the base-track for what has become 'Aldo' and the strings-wizards added their sound. I also lost a tooth that day, but that's a whole different story.
It was a weird experience, that first rehearsal. There I was with my laptop and my drumpads, joining a duo of massively experienced class-artists. Yet, what surprised me the most, was the fact that they just ate up my contributions. "Play that again", they said, and "that sample fits in very well". Meanwhile, I was simply star-struck and fascinated by their technical knowledge. I was still nervous but at least now that nervousness seemed to go anywhere. We recorded a first version of 'Aldo' that day and played around with a base-track titled '1New'. I think we were all satisfied with the result, even though we also realized that Synchyse still had a long way to go. Today, 'Aldo' has almost doubled in length, contains a strange story that only I know. Today, 'Aldo' heralds the Antwerp Ambient 2.0 scene.
Why 2.0? Well, looking back at all those amazing ambient acts from in and around Antwerp, there is one thing they have in common: they're pretty much all solo acts. On that Stratosphere party, all of them learned that working together is the way of the future. Around that time I also got involved in a second project: Valavond Ensemble, mixing ambient with dark jazz. For now that project is on hold so I can focus fully on Synchyse. I have to learn, experience and absorb our new ways, and 'Aldo' really is just the beginning. We recently had our third rehearsal and there is 'Rembrandt', a dark, mystifying piece of industrially driven drone-ambient. There is 'Drobe', another base-track driving on absolute strangeness. In my head, all is coming together. Up there I have a 45 minutes lasting gig with two talented artists and a freelance sampler.
I don't really know how the other two think about Synchyse but for me it is definitely a fresh start. I use a notebook now. I write down the samples, the base-tracks and the atmospheres for each and every song. I prepare for rehearsals and I listen closely to every bit of advice. I suffer from stage-fear. Gert and Ronald didn't know that until they read this column. But at least now I know that I will not be alone up there. I have two skilled buddies by my side, capable of pushing me and themselves to the next level. Synchyse is coming and Synchyse has a story to tell. We're probably not going to be the next big thing on the billboards, not in this genre, but we will have fun and we will be ready to take on stages everywhere. Synchyse means "bewildering" and that's exactly how I have been feeling these past three jam sessions.
We will have new music coming up soon while we work towards our debut gig at JazzBlazzt. For now however, have a good listen to that first recording of 'Aldo' and prepare to be bewildered when you hear us play the full live version at a theatre near you. For those who wonder: we have not discussed an album yet, that'll come at a later date, maybe. First we want to become the best possible version of Synchyse, loyal to the band's name. Everything after that will be readable in future columns about my experiences with this band. They do have a writer among them so they will have a diary about them. That's simply how things go in this life. For now, I can only end this column with a very lame joke. For me, Misantronics, Synchyse is Winchyse. I'm very sorry...