This weekend Schiev festival takes over Brussels Beursschouwburg for the 8th time, bringing together an exciting programme of both Belgian and international avant-garde pop music, a label market championing local initiatives, and conferences dealing with issues pertinent to cultural workers. Schiev not only innovates through its musical line-up, but also via its financial model: Every single artist receives the same paycheck. We talked to its curator, Guillaume Kidula, about it all, the fertile Brussels music scene, and self-exploitation.
It’s the 8th edition this weekend, and I can imagine over the years it’s been tons of work with no or little pay – how do you keep the motivation alive to do it all over again?
I’m a bit like a kid that needs to distract, destroy, and rebuild. Every year after the festival is over, I think about how to be different. There is a long process of rethinking that is not visible to the audience, and then the result looks quite similar in the end. We want to stay relevant and interesting. Working for Schiev is also an occasion to see a lot of people again that you usually don’t see during the year, and it’s all a bit like a boy scout experience: doing something together. It’s all positive stress. And for the first time, we’re paid a tiny bit now.
Schiev describes itself as having a “broad vision of avant-garde pop music”. What makes music avant-garde?
I find all this terminology difficult. We don’t want to scare the audience with complicated buzzwords. Everyone knows what Pop is, and avant-garde wants to add the idea of exploring new territories and pushing things further. Terms like underground and alternative don’t make sense anymore. We booked an act in the past who now works with Madonna – he’s still avant-garde and at the forefront of what can be done, but you can’t call him underground.
Schiev does come across as quite niche though. How do you keep it accessible for non-music nerds?
We want to provide a space open to everyone. It’s ok not to like what you’re listening to and express that. It’s supposed to be a place where you can discuss those emotions on a basic level. You don’t need special knowledge to express that. And we do want to foster discourse. The visuals we work with are also quite funny, and we hope that reveals that we don’t take ourselves and the festival too seriously. We do ask ourselves that question whether our approach is working. It would be interesting to ask people in the audience. The festival doesn’t have a huge capacity, so we haven’t tried to reach new audiences. We’ve been thinking about opening new timeslots in afternoons though, for kids for example.
How big is your team?
We’re about 20 during the event and six or seven for the preparations. There’s so much to do: All the technical stuff, ticketing, social media…
You’re the curator – does that mean you choose the music alone? How do you decide on the selection?
I constantly keep my ears and eyes open. I listen to a lot of music from a lot of different sources. There’s so much to digest. It’s inherently a collective effort because people who send me stuff have already processed it according to their sensitivities. There’s only that much time in a day for me to listen to music. And then I have to make it fit with the budget and create a narrative. One way to put it is that I build a story based on the chapters pitched to me by different people.
One thing that stands out this year is that you’re paying every artist the same amount, something that is rather rare…
Yes. We even had other organizations reach out to us interested in implementing the same model. We have been seeing the discourse about the importance of including more non-male, non-white, non-cis artists. We wanted to take it a bit further and do something concrete. It’s not 100% satisfying yet because there’s a difference between equality and equity: It doesn’t consider your identity or background or if your parents paid for a nice school. Fame often comes from structural money.
What has the reaction of the artists been? Or do you only deal with their booking agents?
Up until now, we had only been in contact with their agents. But then we noticed that sometimes artists would show up without having any information about the festival. Or we’d run into some that we reached out to, and the agent never showed them the proposal. So now we always keep the artists in the loop as well, and if they want to they can always refer us to their booker. Regarding the pay, we say ‘This is what we have, take it or leave it.’ It makes it very easy, and we don’t have to go through lengthy negotiations. Plus, the fee generally rises a bit when all the recalculations are done. Last year artists got 34% more than announced, and this year it’s 28%, which is always a nice surprise for them.
How does the financing work?
It’s a combination of ticketing, subsidies, and self-exploitation! At least Sophie who does the production and I are paid one day a week now, but we have to work much more than that. The biggest chunk of subsidies comes from the EU, more specifically the SHAPE program.
On the website it says Schiev also wants to put forward the local label scene – does Brussels provide a fertile ground for it?
It’s incredible. There are a lot of labels with super interesting content in lots of different styles. It’s so diverse and there are newcomers every year. Brussels is crazy for music, maybe the most fertile city in Europe at the moment. Because of its geographic position, it soaks up influences from the Netherlands, Germany, France, UK, … I think we just don’t advertise it enough. People from all over the world live here, adding their backgrounds and culture to the mix. And it’s a cheap city, where you can still find places to rehearse and survive by working in a restaurant and doing your project on the side. In a city like Paris, you have to be big in one year and blow the roof off, or you die. Brussels can make you a little lazy, but you can manage to survive. That’s the beauty of this city.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned as a festival organizer?
That it’s unimportant. We do it for fun, to feel good. If someone cancels, take it lightly. There’s no reason to get anxious. No one is going to die. Even if the audience doesn’t show up, it’s just money. There are wars happening, and I think the pandemic has taught us that everything can collapse at any moment. If you’re not doing it for pure joy and fun, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
10 to 12 February 2023