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, the band then-in search of a singer, recruited Fenne Kuppens, who at that point had been uploading covers of bands like Slowdive to SoundCloud.
Already fostering deep ambition, Kuppens rigorously prepared for the gig. “I’d always wanted to sing in a band, but I never had friends who made music, they weren’t in my surroundings,” Kuppens recalled 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 from Prague, 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 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. The demands of a growing profile and the attention brought onto the band, saw the band setting new, more ambitious 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. Their Micha Folders and Bert Vliegen co-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’s GAM Studios, Image 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 Capital, Patti Smith, The Soft Moon, Croatian 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.”
During the summer of 2020, 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.
Kuppens can trace the origins of the lyrics for the band’s 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 was partially responsible for the band’s success and yet 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.”
The album, which featured “Satantango” and “Surgery,” went straight to #1 on the Belgian album charts and was released to critical acclaimed across Europe. Their dark and brooding blend of experimental and frenetic post punk paired with their ferocious live shows have helped to cement the Belgian post-punk band’s reputation as one of Europe’s most exciting new bands.
The Belgian act’s latest single “Tilt” was written during the Several Others sessions but was eventually cut from the album because the band felt it didn’t fit in with the rest of the tracks. “Tilt” is a slow-burning and brooding song centered around a sparse arrangement of metronomic-like drumming, twinkling bursts of keys, atmospheric synths, a propulsive and sinuous bass line paired with Kuppens distinctive, baritone-like vocals. With the freneticism dialed down, the introspection behind the lyrics come to the forefront.
“Tilt’ was really a group effort. We had all been working on the song for a long time, trying out different arrangements and different parts, before eventually settling on its final form,” Whispering Sons’ Kuppens says in press notes. “When we went to the studio to record our second album Several Others the track quickly became the odd one out. It became a more intimate and stripped-down version of what we initially intended. We felt that it didn’t fit with the rest of the album, but that it still deserved a release on its own.”
Directed by Jonas Hollevoet, the recently released video for “Tilt” features Whispering Sons’ Fenne Kuppens in a white blouse with extraordinarily long sleeves in a bare room in which the light rapidly changes from luminous to brooding. During all of this, we see Kuppens being turned around, so that the sleeves begin to wrap around her. The visual manages to be delicate and hauntingly beautiful.