The French word “Divagation” stands for the act of straying off course. Franck Limonier (32), who runs the music project with the same name, has been wandering about the Brussels music scene for six years now. The Etterbeek native first discovered his love for music as a child, “during violin lessons under the loving eyes of my grandmother”. Later, he was a regular at the PointCulture, renting countless records, and discovered the alternative electronic party scene in Brussels at age 18. Today, he splits his time between his day job in public health and concert programming at night or on weekends. Limonier sums it up with the name of Eric Kinny’s local label: Santé Loisirs. “One is just as important as the other!” We spoke to the music passionate on the occasion of Brussels concert series Divagation’s 6th birthday, which you’re invited to celebrate this week.
When you started out, did you think the project would still be alive and kicking six years later?
When we set out with our first café concerts at the L’Harmonium and Kumiko, I was thinking in months rather than years. Fanny Ruwet, with whom I launched it initially, and I weren’t even sure if we’d do more than three.
What was your motivation in the beginning? What goal did you have in mind when you founded the project?
The desire to organize something like that had already been sparked during my days as promo boy of the Libertine Supersport nights. The care and attention to detail that Lorenzo Serra, who was at the helm of the project, showed, and the special atmosphere those nights conveyed as a result, made me want to recreate these electric moments, but on a much smaller scale and much more DIY. I admit that when I started writing for online mag La Vague Parallèle at the time, I already had the idea in the back of my head to suggest organizing small events. When Fanny left, I didn’t hesitate for long and Divagation became a project in its own right.
How has Divagation changed over the years?
In the beginning, we focused on the café concert format, once a month. But then new locations and collaborations opened up new horizons, such as an evening at what used to be Le Tipi or an event in a tattoo parlor, together with Gilles Vanneste. When Lorenzo Serra offered me to occupy a disregarded area at See U with a temporary concert club project, that was a big turning point. The rhythm got more frequent, and even though we had to stop because of Covid, the pleasure never ceased, and it showed what was possible. Lately, the acquisition of a small autonomous sound system makes it possible to consider locations that are not equipped with sound.
How do you approach programming? How do you select the artists?
Let’s be honest, it means hours and hours spent online with, on average, 50 tabs open at the same time! But over the years, the contacts and network I was able to establish have become very important as well. And in the end, it’s this somewhat mystical moment when music resonates within you that is decisive. Plus, a favorable response from the artist of course!
What has been the biggest highlight so far?
The opening of the concert club at See U was very emotional for me, a moment in between the surreal excitement of opening a new concert space and the immense frustration when it had to be closed down twice due to Covid. Nights in unlikely places such as a night shop or a kebab joint are also great memories. And the recent collab with Maison Verte is a personal favorite.
What were the biggest obstacles to overcome?
Organizing events means that you’ll be confronted with quite a lot of unforeseen things. Neighbors that call the police, a bar that doesn’t cooperate well, an artist that booked two gigs on the same night (yes, yes)… It can turn into a lot of stress that you need to learn to deal with.
What lessons have you learned?
When an obstacle arises, it’s not always the best way to resist and try to eliminate it. Sometimes it’s better to take it as a new element with which you have to work and adapt your plans accordingly, go with the flow so to speak.
Sound systems, band fees, renting locations – hosting concerts can be costly. How did you figure that out? How does the financing work?
Unfortunately, this is a reality shared by many: organizing events on a small scale doesn’t bring in money. The goal is to not lose any and to pay the artists correctly, at least a bit. Either the venue wants to keep admission free and therefore offers an artistic budget, or we remunerate the artists with an entry fee.
What’s your impression of the Brussels music scene?
After Covid, I had the impression the scene reemerged in abundance. Sometimes, there’s an event I find interesting every day of the week. The only downside is that the underground scene too often still operates in small niches, revolving around certain locations, groups of friends, or specific labels, which all remain rather separate. As I’m not an artist myself, I don’t belong in any of those niches, and for me, it’s better that way: Divagation also wants to blur boundaries.
Would you say it’s a good breeding ground for bands and musicians?
Brussels is making a name for itself as a city that offers a good balance between dynamism and a pace of life that isn’t frantic. Plus, it’s well-connected with Paris, Amsterdam, and London. The number of French artists moving to Brussels speaks for its appeal.
It’s Divagation’s 6th birthday this week and you’re planning a big birthday bash. Can you tell us a little more about it?
The idea is to offer a series of concerts in a defined area based on a location or collaboration that marked the season: This time the Maison Verte in Flagey. There’ll be four evenings in four unusual venues that let you rediscover the Ixelles neighborhood differently. After the opening at Maison Verte in collaboration with D-Festival and a visit to the cocktail bar Chez Ta Mère we will transform La Centrale Volta, a former printing house connected to a disused power station, into a one-night concert club, with no less than 5 concerts. And then we’ll bring it to a close with acidic electronic goodies and a party in…a climbing gym!
Are there any goals left for the future? Something specific you’re dreaming of doing with Divagation?
I’ve come to understand that I prefer to work on a scale of a few months or seasons. Constantly changing venues keeps a certain unpredictability alive that allows you to do new things and remain curious. At the same time, developing collabs that go further than just one date also makes it possible to go a bit further in what we offer and explore different aspects of a place. I also want to continue to mix artistic practices more (performances, exhibitions, video projections, ….), as we’re doing during the collaboration with Garage29 this season. That will shine through in a new series in the spring at Maison Verte, and maybe also during the summer program at Illegall and Camping58. And also when I will take over the programming of a rather emblematic location of the Brussels underground, which I recently was asked to do. Stay tuned!
Divagation turns 6: Ixelles mini festival
From 6 to 17 February
All info here
Cover art by Adèle Grégoire