Live Footage: Whispering Sons Perform “Satantango” and “Surgery”

Initially started in 2013 as a hobby for its then Leuven, Belgium-based founding members Kobe Linjen (guitar), Sander Hermans (synths), Lander Paesan (bass) and Sander Pelsmaekers (drums), the rising Brussels-based post punk act Whispering Sons have evolved a great deal. As the story goes, in search of a singer they recruited Fenne Kuppens, who at that point had been uploading covers of bands like Slowdive to Soundcloud. Already fostering deep ambition, she rigorously prepared. “I’d always wanted to sing in a band, but I never had friends who made music, they weren’t in my surroundings,” Kuppens recalls in press notes. “They were talking about this post-punk thing that I’d never heard of before, so I had to read into it. I could see myself in it, I felt the music.”

Leuven is a quiet, European university town and its mainstream-leaning music scene didn’t connect with Kuppens. But after a year studying abroad in Prague, where she immersed herself in the city’s DIY scene, Kuppens was galvanized — and inspired. “I made friends there who did things with their lives! There was a guy who had a DIY record label and who made music, all from his bedroom. I thought, if they can do this, why can’t we at least try?” Kuppens recalls. As soon as she returned, she relocated to Brussels. The remaining members of the band — Linjin, Hermans, Pelsmaekers and Paesan — later joined her. And immediately, the band quickly began honing their live show and sound. 

Inspired by Xiu Xiu and Chinawoman, Kuppens distinctive, low register vocal style emerged early. “I started to feel more comfortable on stage, to express myself more rather than just singing a song,” she says. “I started feeling the music more, identifying more with the sounds and what I was doing.” Kuppens stage presence became known for being transfixing and trancelike, defined by compulsive and movements. “People have said it looks like I’m fighting my demons onstage, I guess there’s some truth in that,” she says.

During the summer of 2015, the band went into the studio to record material. “Fenne was really pushing us saying ‘We have to go for it, not just make another demo,” Whispering Sons’ Kobe Linjen recalls in press notes. The result was their goth-inspired debut EP, 2015’s Endless Party EP. Just a few months after its initial release through  Wool-E-Tapes, the Brussels-based post-punk act won Humo’s Rock Rally, one of Belgium’s most prestigious music competitions. With the increased attention and accolades came bigger shows, bigger tours across Europe and larger crowds. “People started to expect things from us. We had to adapt quickly,” Linjen adds. 

With the demands of a growing profile, the band began setting new, more ambitions targets for themselves. While writing new material for the increasingly longer sets their increased status required, they began to grow tired of the limits of post-punk and eagerly sought ways to push past them as much as possible. “We wanted to evolve, we wanted to attract larger audiences and not just play in one scene,” Kobe continues.

The Belgian post-punk quintet released two 7 inches, 2016’s “Performance”/”Strange Identities” and  2017’s “White Noise” — while going through a lineup change: the band’s friend Tuur Vanderborne replaced Paesan on bass. The band’s Micha Volders and Bert Vliegen-produced 2018 full-length debut Image was released through  Cleopatra Records here in the States and Smile Records throughout the rest of the world. Recorded over a ten day period at Waimes, Belgium’GAM StudiosImage found the band crafting a dark, brooding blend of experimental and frenetic post-punk that expressed the alienation, loneliness and anxiety that each individual member felt when they relocated to Brussels, Belgium’s largest city. 

Image garnered praise from music press across the globe — and it amassed millions of streams across digital service providers. Before pandemic-related quarantines, lockdowns and restrictions, the Brussels-based post punk quintet was establishing themselves for a ferocious, must-see live show while sharing stages with the likes of The Murder CapitalPatti Smith, The Soft MoonCroatian Armor and Editors. “We were very happy with Image, and at that point it was the best thing we could have made,” Fenne Kuppens says. “But from the moment we finished it we started to look at it in a critical way. ‘This is something we should do again. This is something we don’t like.’ So very quickly we found the direction we wanted to go in for the next album.”

Last summer, the members of Whispering Sons retreated to the Ardennes to work on new material. And in those writing sessions, the band took what they believed were the strongest part of their earliest work and refined them even further, with a focus on their greatest strength — sheer, unpretentious intensity. “We tried to create an album that’s more direct and more dynamic. More in your face,” Kuppens says. 

Interestingly, Kuppens can trace the origins of the lyrics for the band’s highly-anticipated sophomore album  Several Others from one sentence she’d scribbled in a notebook “Always be someone else instead of yourself.” “It’s terrible advice,” Kuppens says in press notes. “But it resonated with me and my personal ambitions.” She stared writing about her uncompromising perfectionism that although was partly responsible for the band’s initial success, was becoming stifling and overwhelming. “I was at a stage where it was becoming unhealthy. You always think things have to be better, that you can always do more.”

Recently, the band released two companion singles “Satantango” and “Surgery” off the forthcoming single. Both tracks see the band ambitiously pushing the ferocious drive and intensity that helped win them international attention to the limits — while delicately balancing fragility and vulnerability. Centered around anxious and propulsive instrumentation, both songs evokes the unease of someone hopelessly trapped in stasis, possibly of their own making — and the slow-burning, creeping unease of someone struggling with their own role with their misery. Hell is often other people; but hell can be your own mind, too. 

Along with the record, which is slated for a June 18, 2021 release through [PIAS] Recordings, the band will be releasing each single with a corresponding live session to be compiled and released as a live film. The band’s latest live session features the anxious “Satantango” and “Surgery.” Featuring the members of Whispering Sons in a circle, the frenetically shot visual easily captures the musical connection and conversations between each member, while allowing Kuppens and company to stomp about freely. Towards the end of the footage, Kuppens looks directly into the camera — and through the viewer, as though offering both intimate connection and a condemnation of herself and the viewer.