For me there was never much difference between The Sex Pistols and Fad Gadget or Front 242. They're both punk, just with different instruments.
Such Beautiful Flowers is a relatively new Flemish electro project that is both melancholic and danceable. However, the man behind the one-man project has a long history. In a previous life, he sang in the handcore group Midnight Souls. He will soon perform at BIMfest and at the Dark Entries Nights. Donny Woestenborghs does everything DIY, on his own, and told us more about his project in the following conversation.
Hello Donny. You have a musical project called Such Beautiful Flowers. I'm intrigued to know why you chose that name. What does the name Such Beautiful Flowers mean?
Every child deserves a name and so does every new project you start. You then look for something that, firstly, has not already been occupied by ten other artists, and, secondly, encompasses the entirety of what you want to say, but still leaves sufficient room for growth. Such Beautiful Flowers was a concept I had in my head for a long time. Actually, the term comes from the 1922 silent film 'Nosferatu'. The first sentences ‘spoken’ in the film are ‘Such beautiful flowers, why did you kill them?’, although this depends on the version you watch. All the tragic romance and romantic tragedy that arises from Bram Stoker’s book is hidden in those two sentences. A story of love, lust, desire, duality, loneliness, isolation... I could agree with that.
You now make quite poetic electro, while you used to be the singer of the much heavier hardcore group Midnight Souls. That is quite a transition, even though you are not the only one making this evolution. What attracted you to electro?
Is that quite a transition? Don't know. For me there was never much difference between The Sex Pistols and Fad Gadget or Front 242. They're both punk, just with different instruments. Midnight Souls was often the outsider in the hardcore scene, as we did not really participate in the typical clichés of the genre. In our tour bus, you could hear My Bloody Valentine and New Order more often than Minor Threat or Black Flag. The first music that really touched me was on ‘borrowed’ New Beat tapes from older brothers that we exchanged in primary school. MTV exposed me to The Cure, Depeche Mode, and a whole host of artists that had a major impact on a child of the 80s. So I'm actually not surprised that Such Beautiful Flowers sounds the way it does.
How and why did you decide to create a solo electro project?
The end of Midnight Souls was prefaced by two things. The feeling that the story had been told and the fact that not everyone had the time or motivation to fully commit to it. We were at that fragile tipping point where jobs and relationships might have to shift in order to continue to grow. But an artist doesn't stop creating, so after a while, ideas started to bubble up and I started looking for people to start something new with. However, once you reach a certain age you quickly realise that it is difficult to find people with the same vision and commitment. After a few false starts with other individuals, I decided to interpret the DIY concept literally. I also noticed that I wanted to make music more than ever, free from compromises or concessions, in a new environment, separate from everything that came before.
I feel like you put a lot of thought into your lyrics. Can you tell us a little more about what you're trying to convey and the topics you like to cover in your writing?
In Midnight Souls I was the singer, so the pen has always been my first instrument. I find it difficult to point out themes in this context, because I always feel like I'm writing about everything and nothing at the same time. Words appear and lead to sentences and often the meaning is only clarified at the end of the process. Even after that, the meaning can change. Ultimately, it's much more interesting to look at what it means to the person listening to it. In essence, it will keep coming back to the existential questions we all ask ourselves. Who am I? What do I want? Why am I? It's about my past, present and our future.
In 2019 you released your debut EP ‘Neon Gloom’ on the now much-lamented Wool-E Tapes label. What were the reactions to this release?
I think the reactions were generally positive. The reviews seemed to reflect that. The tracks did receive some airplay on niche radio stations online. But you quickly realize that it can be difficult to get your music to the right people in a world of algorithms that prefer quantity over quality. Without a publishing machine, your creation will quickly be overwhelmed by everything else. The EP was also released just before the first wave of corona, so everything fell apart just when the ball started rolling and a number of performances were scheduled to promote the release. As a new act, you notice that the live circuit is very important to promote your music.
The EP was released on cassette, on Cassette Store Day. Do you have a special preference for the medium?
We released the EP with the consent of Dimi from Wool-E Tapes. Vinyl was a too expensive gamble for a first release, so we opted for a CD and tape release. A CD is a fairly emotionless and not really sexy medium, so I was happy with the cassette. It was a nod to the days when I discovered music by buying tapes at the market, or sat for hours in front of the radio with my finger on the record button, hoping that my favourite track of the moment would come through. Tape also has a kind of natural saturation that also gives the whole thing more character when you listen to it.
After the ‘Neon Gloom’ EP, you released a few more single songs. You stood out with covers of Slow Crush (‘Drift’) and The Stooges (‘Now I Wanna Be Your Dog’). Why did you choose to work on these songs?
Slow Crush is a band with members I have known for years. I’ve followed them from their first appearance to where they deservedly are now. In a conversation with Jelle, the guitarist, the possibility of doing a remix was discussed. I saw it as a fun challenge and for them at that moment it might also be a way to break out of that typical box of ‘shoegaze’. It was also a good exercise to sharpen my skills as an engineer. The Stooges cover was a way to be creative in a different way. The Stooges were the cradle of so many things that I saw it as a kind of tribute. It may also have been because Iggy had spoken very disparagingly about electronic music in the past.
Your last release on bandcamp was in 2020. Are you planning to release anything new soon? What are your future plans?
It has been (too) quiet around Such Beautiful Flowers for a while, which I fully realise. The advantage of a solo project is that you can do everything yourself but that also means that you have to do everything yourself. The EP was made completely 'in the box', and I wanted to avoid that on subsequent releases. Tim from MuchLuvStudio & AmenRa did a great job mixing those first songs but I also wanted to have more control in that process. A period followed of setting up a studio with hardware synths, compressors, EQs... which also have the necessary learning curve. Combine this with a busy job and a private life besides music and it is sometimes difficult to find enough time to work on something. I also moved last summer, which meant I had to tear down and redecorate my entire studio. But I'm in the final stages of finishing a full length that will hopefully be released late this year or early next year. If the world listens, that's great, but if I only reach a small group of people with this, that's okay too. I especially want to continue making music that I want to hear myself and possibly perform live. Everything else is secondary. Life has taught me that the less you want, the happier you will be.
I really enjoyed watching your performances on Sinner's Day or in Het Groot Ongelijk. In December, you will be playing at BIMfest in Sint-Niklaas, and at the Dark Entries Nights in Ghent. What makes a Such Beautiful Flowers performance special?
That is of course a question you should have asked yourself or the people around you. I just do what I do, without thinking about it for too long. It is not an act or a show that needs to be performed. It is an interplay of music, artist, audience and environment at that moment, and the interaction between those elements determines whether something is special or not. Maybe the energy I brought from the punk scene is something not everyone is used to. In the years that I have been on stage, I have seen people dance, fight, cry and leave disappointed. I just hope it doesn't leave anyone untouched.