It is not often you come across a band from Belgium but earlier this month we saw one in the shape of School Is Cool wow the Borderline in London as part of the HMV's Next Big Thing event. As soon as the band returned back home after their way too brief 2 gig "tour" of London we had a chat with the lead singer and one of the creative forces from the band, Johannes Genard.

R13: First of all thank you for the show at Borderline on Sunday. This is the first time I have seen you, guys and it was absolutely amazing, absolutely loved it.
JG: Thank you. We played another show on the Monday at Bull and Gate.

R13: How did the trip go overall for you? I know it was only a short trip...
JG: It went pretty well was alright. It usually means couple of days or at least 24 hours without sleep. We had to take ferry back home, and it's not one of the most comfortable places to lie down for a nap, but it was fun. We visited Tate Modern and we saw a bit of the city as well, so that was cool.

R13: How did you get involved with HMV Next Big Thing?
JG: Well, we have an agent from the Agency Group, and he sort of represents us and he got us this gig for us, I don't know how exactly he got it but he did and we were happy to come over. We don't have HMV in Belgium but it's a pretty cool store and we got vouchers.
R13: Well done. I must say that other three bands on the line up were all local London bands, so it's completely different to you guys as well.
JG: Yes, the first band I think were called The Supernovas, they were pretty cool. I felt sorry for IC1s, they lent the other bands their drum kit and the first thing I heard from the first band was really loud drums, the first band were going at it so fiercely, they sounded like a punk version of Arctic Monkeys.
R13: That is a very good description of them actually.
JG: Well, I liked I.R.O.K. as well, pretty cool. They share the same concept of having two drummers.
R13: They are completely different to what you hear normally.
JG: Yeah, pretty special. They sounded more sort of rap sound but it was more like spoken word I don't really know what the singer was doing but it was pretty cool.

R13: I know it's not the first time you have been over here, but have you found the reaction of public in the UK?
JG: Well, we have played in several European countries now, and it's not like there is this general feeling of audiences in every country, like the French are arrogant, but if I had to compare English audience with one other nationality, it would be Belgians. Generally Belgians are very timid as an audience, I mean they listen very intimately, they applaud generously but they are not shouting during the songs or whooping or something similar, I don't know but you get the idea that they listen pretty concentrated. They are pretty concentrated on the music so it's nice to know
R13: When you compare us with Belgium, how is the music scene over there. Obviously, over here we know about Pukkelpop and those sorts of festivals, but day-to-day music scene we don't really know too much about.
JG: That's probably because usually important bands come from Anglo-Saxon countries, like America and the United Kingdom, and it's pretty hard to get into the market for other European bands and certainly Belgium which is a tiny tiny country. We have got a pretty cool music scene. I listen to American and English bands more than to Belgian bands, but the weird thing about Belgian music scene is that it's completely divided, split in two as there are two language communities, Flemings and Walloons. Flemish speak Dutch and Walloons speak French and we are from the Dutch side so from the North and playing in the South part of Belgium is like playing in another country. Nobody knows us over there while in Flanders we have got thousands of fans and we sign CDs after every gig for like an hour, and we play for crowds of thousands and in Wallonia in the South, nobody has ever heard of us. It's a pretty weird thing but we play more in France and in the UK and in Holland than we have ever played in the South of Belgium. It doesn't mean we dislike the South of Belgium, it's a really cool place but there is sort of cultural divide that I don't really get it but we will get there eventually.

R13: Are there any other bands from Belgium that we should be checking out as well?
JG: Well, bands from Belgium...There are some pretty cool bands. One cool band is called Amatoshki, that's Polish for Amateur, they are a post-rock band, they are pretty cool. Soulwax, have you ever heard of them? There is a pop band called Too Many DJs, they are pretty good. Millionaire is a really good band but they split up.

R13: What sort of music do you listen to? What are your influences?
JG: Well some people compare us to the same genre as Arcade Fire. We are huge fans of Arcade Fire. The Dodos is one of our favourite bands as well, it's an American band, like a folk punk, I don't know, doesn't sound like either of those genres but it's a good name for the genre they play. They are pretty cool. We listen to a lot of Kate Bush, especially The Dreaming and Hounds of Love albums, they are really awesome albums. I listen to Bruce Springsteen, a lot of classical music, I really love classical music but it's hard to hear it in the songs.

R13: Going back two years you won Humo's Rock Rally...
JG: yeah, yeah. It's a Belgian magazine. It's a sort of satirical magazine and it hosts this Rock Rally competition which is a guarantee for success or something if you win it, it's a pretty big thing. We got on the national news coverage the day we won it so pretty cool.
R13: ok, cool. How did you feel then when you found out that you'd won?
JG: It was pretty crazy, you really react like a crazy person even though it's not like winning an Oscar, it is sort of a confirmation of the fact that you have got a pretty cool future career coming your way, you know. You get a chance of becoming a big artist in Belgium, so it's a good confirmation.
R13: Well done for winning that. I'm not surprised now that I have heard you, guys.
JG: Well, winning it was our 8th gig so we've improved a lot.

R13: How would you describe your sound to those who haven't heard you before?
JG: Well, I should describe as an adjective as rhythmical. Rhythm is very important to us, that's why we have got two drummers. We have got sort of the typical instruments; we use an accordion, violins and lots of synths. We like 80's, that's not very original at this time but we seriously like the 80's, and we like classical music, so that's gonna seep in anytime and we are like Arcade Fire on a sunny day or something. We have got some pretty serious and pretty depressive or dark lyrics but the music should make you dance or something. I mean music is pretty happy or up tempo and the most of the lyrics are about the end of the world and all sorts of exciting stuff.

R13: I did enjoy your introduction 'this song is about a surfer and he dies...'
JG: Yes, that song is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, have you heard of him? He is a Japanese writer. He wrote a collection of short stories called 'Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman', it's a pretty cool book, and there is one story about an old lady who loses her son who was a surfer in Hawaii, and it's about her coping with the death of her son. I changed the song to fit into a pop structure. Well, this is about a surfer and he dies, and one of my other introductions into another song is that it is written in a Belgian tradition is about murdering a prostitute in a parking lot. I like to emphasize those kind of things as it is sort of cynical way to introduce these pretty happy songs, and it is a contrast that I like to emphasize.

R13: I also enjoyed Andrew's dancing during the set...
JG: (Laughs) Well, it's not choreographed or anything. You can see that we are really big fans of Arcade Fire in the way that we really go for it when we sing or when we play. We really like to go all out on all the songs, we say to each other before we go on stage "jump real high and shout" .
R13: I did see the similarity between you and Arcade Fire but obviously with less members of the band
JG: (Laughs) Yeah, we are more into multi-tasking.

R13: Which actually comes into the next question that I had: Do you actually feel guilty that you only play the guitar whilst Nele seems to play so many different instruments including two at the same time?
JG: (Laughs) Well, when I started the band I did of course sort of scan my friends' list on facebook and tried to find the right kind of people that played as many instrument types as possible and most of us only play half on stage of what we can really play. Our bassist can also play the piano and keyboard and he plays the trombone as well, he doesn't do that live and I usually play kick drums, bass drum in some of the songs but I didn't do it in England because it was a pretty small stage, and I do usually when there is enough space on stage, like the guy from Mumford and Sons, he plays bass drum as well, it's a pretty easy instrument but it helps us multi-tasking. At best I play three instruments at the same time and at worst I am just play guitar, that's all. Everybody plays at least three instruments.
R13: I'm very impressed. I can't even play one, so I can't complain.
JG: It's not that impressive, once you have got the hang of playing one instrument, we don't necessarily have to play them well. I mean the songs are based on the principle sort of complexity and simplicity, or something. Nele plays the violin and keyboards, she usually grumbles at me when I bring another song to the rehearsal, because she thinks it's too easy the things I give her to play. So we are not all Mozarts or something. We do have lot of instrument knowledge

R13: How did the band start, how did you all get together?
JG: Well, we played together in other bands, not all at the same time but I went to the university with our drummer, I did high school with Andrew, so I have known him for ten years, I played in a folk band with Nele, and we knew our bassist, so I knew everybody. I played in many bands before but I never really got to make my own songs and get them on stage. I sort of registered in a competition where I live in Antwerp, it's a small scale competition for bands but I realised a week before I had to do first round that I needed more than one person to be on stage as I had strings, huge amounts of drums and bass and four part harmony, so I needed other people to play the songs that I had so I just invited everybody over. We had two days to rehearse and we won the competition so that was nice. It was sort of a stressing story in the sense that we are a bad rehearsal band, we don't rehearse at all ever. It's a very stupid thing that we do but we don't really have time and knowing the songs is enough I guess. We do lots of live shows so that's kind of a rehearsal in a way but we do so many gigs that we don't really have time to rehears so we look at the gigs as a very useful way to keep on it and keep our edge and we really like playing.

R13: What does the future hold for School if Cool?
JG: We are going to do lots of gigs now in Belgium, we released our debut album in October last year, and we are going to release it in France and Holland, and hopefully we will release it in England, and we put lot of time in recording the album, and making the video clips for the singles and everything, and we look at all the gigs we are going to do from now on until the album dies out, or something like we are doing a sort of play about the album, like we are going on tour to play the album, so that's what we are going to do for the next year, I guess. We are just going to play as many gigs as possible. In Belgium it means lots and lots of festivals as Belgium is one of those countries where every little village has its own festival. That means we are going to get organised, and then go to Germany and France and England and Holland, everything, and do lots of live shows.
R13: So, you are coming back over here sometime soon then?
JG: The soonest planned is hopefully in May, 5th or 6th of May we are going to do Camden Crawl festival, so we will be over in the beginning of May but hopefully sooner.

R13: Was your school cool?
JG: (Laughs) Well, it's a sort of a cynical, sort of an ironic band name. We like really stupid band names, I mean one of my favourite band names is Dananananaykroyd, really cool band name, I love it. We got lot of flak in Belgium for choosing that band name. First I thought it would be a funny name for MySpace when I started the band, MySpace is dead so there was no reason to keep it but we won that Rock Rally competition and that meant that we really couldn't change our name because it would undo everything we did prior to that. So, we stuck with the band name but we sort of grew to love it immensely because it's a very catchy name. When you see that on the poster, the fact of the ridiculousness of the band name is about the same as to have put it in fat letters in red with underlining and everything. People just remember the name because it is so silly. But I meant it more in a cynical way. When I thought of the name I imagined this government propaganda cartoon of this dog with a saxophone in sunglasses going like: 'yo, kid! School is cool!' like a very stupid add campaign for the educational system. I thought it was a very thought provoking title actually, so we stuck with that. But my school is pretty cool but that's not the reason I chose the band name.

R13: and finally, can you give us a cool fact about Belgium which we wouldn't know over here in the UK?
JG: Well, one of the widely known facts about Belgium is that there are no cool facts about Belgium but I'll try to think of one. Oh, yeah. It's a very lame thing but actually it's true. Julius Caesar during Gallic Wars described the Belgians as being the bravest and the most daring and bold tribes of the Celts. But he also described them as being very unhygienic and that the reason that they were brave is that they were stupid and so far removed from Roman Influence that they were horribly barbaric. So that's a fact. I don't know if it's cool but it's just a fact. It's sort of Belgians were the craziest of the Gaels, and Julius Caesar had a lot of trouble with them, we take pride in that.

R13: Thank you very much for your time, good luck and hope to see you over here very soon.
JG: Thank you.

Our thanks to Johannes for taking the time to chat to us. School Of Cool's album Entropology is currently available via their website at and is well worth a try, especially if you are a fan of Arcade Fire and the like.

We look forward to May when they are due back over here and hope they spread their wings to cover more of the UK this time. If they do, make sure you go and see them, you will not be disappointed.