Post-rock meets cult cinema meets classical music.
“Chopin + Pink Floyd + Explosions In The Sky”“We Stood Like Kings have taken post-rock to a level we didn’t know existed”, stated Rotation 11 a few years ago. It probably is even more relevant today. Piano-based neoclassical post-rock quartet WE STOOD LIKE KINGS from Brussels played 250 shows in 20 European countries while releasing 4 albums on the German high-standard label Kapitän Platte. From live soundtracks for silent cult movies to new arrangements of classical music works, every project is yet another opportunity for We Stood Like Kings to design new ways of blending their refined, textural, epic and intense music with other art forms. A band in a class of its own.
Judith Hoorens, piano
Philip Bolten, guitar
Colin Delloye, bass
Mathieu Waterkeyn, drums
We Stood Like Kings thrives to become one of the most unique instrumental acts around the globe. Their relentless use of the piano as a leading instrument is a bold achievement in the scene.
– Post-Rock Essentials
POST-ROCK MEETS CULT CINEMA
A reference act in live rock soundtracks to silent cinema, We Stood Like Kings composed new scores for the cult movies Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, USA 1982), Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Walther Ruttmann, BERLIN 1927), A Sixth Part of the World (Dziga Vertov, USSR 1926), performing everywhere around Europe in pocket-sized cinemas, rock clubs or prestigious venues like BOZAR in Brussels. Together, these three projects form a vibrant trilogy portraying two fallen empires and a third one that seems to be running headlong towards its own destruction: pre-World War II Germany, Soviet Union, modern day United States symbolizing today’s consumerist society.
A perfect eruption of emotion.
“How to watch a film like ‘Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis’? It offers us a literal ‘day in the life of’, bringing us into Berlin by train as the sun rises, and following the life of the city as it wakes, goes to work through the morning and into the afternoon, moves from work to play, to sport and dancing and drinking deep into the night. It leaps swiftly from rich to poor, from man to machine and back again, from the grandeur of the city-scape to the sewers beneath, and always movement, movement in every way that can be found. Trains, crowds, spinning wheels and fairground rides, boat races, horse races, dog races, dancing and pounding machines, always we see the dynamism of a city in motion.”
— ALLAN JAMES THOMAS
Conceived as a new soundtrack to Walther Ruttmann’s celebrated avant-garde montage film Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, We Stood Like Kings’ first project BERLIN 1927 premiered in 2012 at the Royal Institute for Theatre, Cinema & Sound in Brussels and was released in 2014 on the German alternative label Kapitän Platte. In five acts depicting one day in Berlin in between both World Wars, the movie takes you on a journey inside a city crawling with energy, “a complex machine which can only work if even the smallest of its parts fits with maximum precision with the others” (Ruttmann). We Stood Like Kings’ music manages to render not only the pounding energy of the capital but also the deeper emotions linked to the dark war that would soon deploy its wings. The release of BERLIN 1927 was followed by a 50-show European tour with highlights at Dunk! festival (Zottegem, Belgium), Murnau Film Festival (Bielefeld, Germany), Theater Aan Zee (Oostende, Belgium), UT Connewitz (Leipzig, Germany).
Masterpiece, incredible, consuming, tumultuous, visceral, and inspiring. How We Stood Like Kings were able to produce such an extraordinary opus is beyond me.
– Echoes And Dust
“The films of Dziga Vertov display a persistent fascination with travel. Movement across vast spaces is perhaps the most recurrent motif in his oeuvre, and the cine-race — a genre developed by Vertov’s group of filmmakers, the Kinoks — stands as an encompassing metaphor for Vertov’s own work. His cinematographic journeys transported viewers to the most remote as well as to the most advanced sites of the Soviet universe, creating a heterogeneous cine-world stretching from the desert to the icy tundra and featuring customs, costumes, and cultural practices unfamiliar to most of his audience.”
— OKSANA SARKISOVA
USSR 1926, a new soundtrack to Dziga Vertov’s forgotten Soviet gem A Sixth Part of the World, was released in 2015. Famous for his masterpiece The Man with a Movie Camera, Vertov stated that “all citizens of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics from 10 to 100 years old must see this work”. However, there’s much more to it than the prima facie manifesto it appears to be: with its original footage of Kirghiz, Samoyeds, Buryats, Mongols, A Sixth Part of the World comes forward as a fantastic anthropological travelogue across the extended territories of the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. We Stood Like Kings delivers a deeply romantic album, whose raw power and emotions mingled with Chopinesque melodies draws the listener in. About 70 performances were given all across Europe, notably at Beat the Silence Festival (Düsseldorf, Germany), p.m.k, (Innsbruck, Austria), Cinemateket (Copenhagen, Denmark), A38 (Budapest, Hungary) and many more.
The highs seem higher and the lows seem lower, as the band discovers new emotional heights and depths. We Stood Like Kings seems set for a long career of accumulating acclaim.
– A Closer Listen
“Koyaanisqatsi attempts to reveal the beauty of the beast! We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive. If one lives in this world, the globalized world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon another. In our world the ‘original’ is the proliferation of the standardized. Copies are copies of copies. There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. Art is free. It stimulates the viewer to insert their own meaning. So, in the sense of art, the meaning of ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ is whatever you wish to make of it. This is its power.”
— GODFREY REGGIO
Hungry for more and deliberately wanting to avoid the beaten path, We Stood Like Kings set off in quest of a third movie and came across Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi from 1982, with an original soundtrack by one of the most acclaimed composers of our time: Philip Glass. But the band was up to the challenge and needed an ambitious goal. We Stood Like Kings delivered a profoundly different soundtrack, shining new light on images that left their mark on countless movies and delving even further into their very own neoclassical/post-rock identity. It premiered in 2017 at the world-renowned BOZAR in Brussels and was performed more than a hundred times, amongst which at Film Festival Vaduz (Liechtenstein), Handelsbeurs (Ghent, Belgium) and Lantarenvenster (Rotterdam, Netherlands). With USA 1982, We Stood Like Kings closes the first chapter of its history.
POST-ROCK MEETS CLASSICAL MUSIC
Keep going, re-reading these scores with a fresh eye, breathing new life into them, let them vibrate far beyond the severity of traditions. This music is anchored in our genes, but with your art, it becomes “usual”, it becomes today’s music, with all its magic, enhanced by your contemporary musical language which, for me, opens up an unknown majesty to it.
– a fan
New perspectives unfold as universes meet. In 2020, We Stood Like Kings announced the release of the new CLASSICAL RE:WORKS project based on modern arrangements of classical music works. What would Bach and Beethoven sound like if they lived today with post-rock as their creative outlet? We Stood Like Kings answer that question by reinventing classical music from the Gregorian era to the 20th century. A challenging, innovative and vital step in the journey of a band heading towards the neoclassical side of their musical personality. The 7-track album will be released physically and digitally in autumn 2020 through Kapitän Platte.
INTERVIEW: JUDITH HOORENS – WE STOOD LIKE KINGS
We Stood Like Kings are a Brussels-based post-rock quartet who specialise in re-imagining scores for silent films. Their upcoming album, USA 1982 (out 22 September 2017 on Kapitän Platte), was written to accompany American cult movie Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio. The film explores the imbalance of nature when mankind takes over. The original film was scored by Phillip Glass, so Judith Hoorans explains why her band decided to write music to fit something that already has a soundtrack.
Hi Judith. How are you?
Hi Joseph. I’m absolutely fine, thank you. Happy to be here!
Tell me about your personal musical journey. How long have you been playing piano and when did you first discover post-rock?
I started playing piano as a child. My parents really wanted their three children to have a musical education, so we didn’t really have a choice. I first learned violin, before figuring out it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I remember being very afraid of my teacher. Then I switched to piano. It’s only later, in my late teenage years , that I became conscious of how much music meant to me and that I could do something worthy with it. It’s about at the same time that I discovered post-rock through a good friend of mine. The first band I really enjoyed was Caspian.
How did We Stood Like Kings come to exist?
I’ve known Mathieu, our drummer, since a very long time. We were both students at the same boarding school in Aalst, a little Flemish town located between Brussels and Ghent. Our supervisor loved music a lot and even provided us with a rehearsal room. We started writing pop songs, playing covers. A few years later, we had lost sight of each other but met again by chance, almost literally bumping into each other at university. That’s when I let him hear some post-rock, and he was totally up for it. We started a new band, and over the years, We Stood Like Kings took shape with Colin on bass and Phil on guitars.
Who is your favourite film director and why?
I don’t really have a favorite film director. I’m not a movie know-it-all, I like to enjoy good movies and I don’t really watch them the way that I like listen to music (which I do in a more professional way, you might say, paying attention to meter changes, tonalities, etc.). The best movies for me are the ones which make you forget all the things you have to take care of.
What process does We Stood Like Kings go through when deciding which films you’d like to cover?
Of course we watch a lot of movies, and at some point, it becomes obvious which one we should choose. I guess we discussed the choice of Koyaanisqatsi for like, 5 minutes. Our second project for Vertov’s A Sixth Part of the World was a bit more tricky, because we knew that the movie was a difficult one and would raise many questions from the audience due to its political nature.
One your website you include a quote from Godfrey Reggio that includes the sentence “Copies are copies of copies”. How well do you think this applies to your current project?
The way I would interpret your question is that in my opinion, nothing is ever really new. We are all different but identical at the same time. Though I would say that we have consciously chosen a musical direction that was different from Philip Glass’ approach. Bands are always inspired by other art forms, be it music or other kinds of art, and there are always many others doing stuff that’s close to what you do. The only way to make it really personal is to put all your soul in it. Trying to create something to really resonates within you. Therefore you have to find what’s yours and not someone else’s and use it as your strength.
You’ve covered Berlin, USSR – two lost empires. And now you’ve chosen the USA. Was that a conscious decision?
Yes definitely. We had the idea of making a kind of trilogy on the subject of fragile empires. BERLIN 1927 is like a snapshot of Berlin right before the outbreak of World War II. USSR 1926 shows a glimpse of the Soviet empire at the height of its power. It was only logical to focus on the USA, the Western lifestyle and how it came to its actual form thanks to the technological evolution of the last decades. How knows how it’s going to end?
How does copyright factor into what you do, seeing as you are playing music to match other artists works?
We certainly have to handle copyrights. The two movies from the 20s are still protected by what you call “screening rights”, which we have to pay for each screening of the movie to the Film Museum who has restored to movie and commercialized it on DVD. For Koyaanisqatsi, we have made an agreement also. Of course it’s never free to use existing movies and one should be really careful about this to avoid bad surprises.
Have you ever received feedback from people who were involved in the films you write soundtracks to? And were you in contact with Phillip Glass at all during this process?
Well, not for our first two albums obviously, because the people who made them are dead now. We have not been in contact with Philip Glass. But we have recently sent our soundtrack to the directing team of Koyaanisqatsi. We are eagerly awaiting their feedback, that’s the least we can say.
Last year was the anniversary for the battle of Somme. I watched a documentary about it which was filmed during the the battle, and a live orchestra played the score in time with the film. Do We Stood Like Kings do something similar?
Yes, it’s what we do. We play live, below the screen, while the movie is playing and we are synchronizing our music with it. Of course there’s just 4 of us and not a whole orchestra!
This work has taken We Stood Like Kings a whole year to write. Talk me through the writing process.
Of course the first step is to choose a movie to work on. That took us quite a long time, as we had to watch tons of silent movies before finally coming across Koyaanisqatsi. But it was love at first sight. Once the choice is made, the next step is to watch it over and over again while trying to decide which overall mood fits in which part. Of course you have to split it up in different parts, and that might be a bit tricky as we have to take into account the fact that the album’s going to be released as an LP (which can’t hold more than around 20 minutes per side).
The musical writing process itself has taken us about a year. It’s a kind a puzzle really. You’ve got ideas and you have to make them match the length of the movie scene you are working on. We can’t just let ourselves be carried away by the music. Some songs were very easy to write, other have taken us months. I think one of the oldest songs we started working on, “Night Owl”, was one of the last songs to be finished. We just tried out dozens of different versions of that one before we felt satisfied.
The album features 11 songs. Had you considered writing a seamless, feature length track instead?
In fact, the album is divided into 11 songs but live, they flow seamlessy into one another. I think it’s much easier to fit in today’s standards to have separate tracks. Movie soundtracks released on CD are also always divided into tracks.
You recently featured one of your songs from the upcoming album on the Open Language Volume II comp that our friends at A Thousand Arms put out. Has this help you reach a new audience?
Yes, we definitely reached new people by being on the compilation. We were also thrilled by the review from Heavy Blog Is Heavy. They seemed to have enjoyed the track a lot.
How are you feeling about the upcoming tour you have planned?
Obviously we are incredibly excited. We just came home from the first 6 shows of the tour. These shows were a kind of test because we’ve added a new light show to our set. Technically, there were a lot of new things to take care of, but it was a success and we’ll carry on that way for the whole tour. We’re super happy to visit a few new countries and cities we’ve never been before, like Ljubljana in Slovenia for instance. We’ve planned several shows in Eastern Europe too, for which we got help from Colossal Bookings. Were looking forward to these as well.
The message of this silent film is implict, rather than overt. Post-rock and instrumental music in general is also often up to the listener’s interpretation. Do you feel confident that your music matches the themes of the film well enough?
Of course, you can’t discuss taste and it’s up to every single person to decide whether our music fits the themes of film. Obviously, we hope that we succeeded to give the movie, which we love so much and has influenced so many directors, a new breath and approach. Our goal is not to try to replace Philip Glass, we simply were so touched by the images that we wanted to express musically the feelings that the movie had stirred in us.
After a show, a woman has written us that she felt our music was more hopeful than the original soundtrack. That it made her believe that our world might still as well be saved. Because if there is no hope, there is no point, right?
You are planning on releasing this album on CD and vinyl, as well as digitally through Kapitän Platte. Do you think the music is best listened to on its own, or with visuals supporting it?
I think we wanted to make music that both would stand on its own and mix up with the screening in a way that wouldn’t be too disturbing for someone wanting to “watch a movie”. For me, the ideal setting for this project is a venue with comfortable seats, a big screen and a nice stage. It’s really meant to be half-concert, half-screening. If people just want to see a movie, they should go to the movies, not the a movie concert. I guess the balance changes in every venue but we definitely don’t hide behind the screen.
We Stood Like Kings are currently touring Europe to promote USA 1982. Head along to www.westoodlikekings.com and click “shows” for more information regarding dates and locations.
Brilliant Belgian band, with a perfect cadence and tune, neo classical arrangements in perfect harmony with post rock, of extreme precision, creativity and sensitivity that takes us to the threshold of ecstasy. I am delighted with your work, congratulations to the Large Group. Aryon Maiden