If you were a regular at punk shows in Belgium during the 90s, chances are you've witnessed Concrete Cell taking the stage at some point. Hailing from the northern region of Antwerp, this band delivered fast-paced punk rock reminiscent of NOFX, Strung Out, and Pennywise, while infusing their own unique elements that set them apart from the average punk bands of that era.
Personally, I was a fan of Concrete Cell during that explosive period of punk rock. Their first two full-length CDs still hold a place in my collection. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled to see that the now forty-something members of Concrete Cell are back together and playing shows again. The reason behind it? The long-awaited release of their third album, recorded back in 2000 but never brought to the public eye. This definitely called for some much-needed clarification.
So, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Filip Verstraelen (vocals), Frank Herremans (bass), and Koen Raats (drums) from Concrete Cell...
"Hello, gentlemen. During the nineties, Concrete Cell was a prominent band in the Belgian punk scene, but then you seemed to vanish around the early 2000s. Could you shed some light on what exactly happened during that time?"
Filip: "First let me take you back to the beginning. We started rehearsing back in 1992. By the summer of 1993, we had our first performance, playing a set of cover songs. Starting from our third performance we began incorporating our own songs as well. During those early years, we had numerous gigs in Wuustwezel and the surrounding areas. After a few years, Genet Records, the label owned by Bruno (Vandevyvere) and Kathy (Dejonghe), took notice of us. Our debut album (Out) was released in 1996. Somewhere in ’98 or ‘99, just after recording our second album (Return of the Fantasy Models) Koen joined us as our new drummer. By the year 2000, we had played at every local venue multiple times. In that same year, we recorded a new album at Patrick Delabie's Studio 195. However, by then, the band had lost its spark. We made the decision to split up, and the recorded material was never released."
Koen: "After that, I continued making music, including being part of the band KINSMAN. As for the rest of the guys, they more or less set aside their instruments permanently."
"Until now! Because after more than twenty years you recently released a third full album Brewsky, Hops and French Fries at the Weekend and you are performing again. How did this unexpected reunion come about?"
Frank: "It was actually quite a coincidence. In the summer of 2021, out of the blue, we received a message from someone expressing interest in releasing the old recordings for what had to be our third album. This person had grand plans, talking about creating merchandise like t-shirts to sell through social media and things like that. He even reached out to Patrick (Delabie) to inquire about the old recordings. Although we never heard back from the guy and the communication fizzled out, the idea got us excited. We all gathered at one point and listened to the recordings together, and we unanimously agreed that they still sounded great. Surprisingly, they didn't sound outdated at all."
Filip: "The original recordings were initially done on tape, but Patrick no longer had the necessary equipment to play them. Fortunately, he had a few copies on CD. He did some minor remastering, but overall, the new album consists of the original, unedited recordings from 22 years ago. After some unsuccessful discussions with a particular record label, we decided to reach out to Bruno from Genet Records once again. By that time, we had lost about a year since our initial contact with the first person. Once we got in touch with Bruno, things started moving swiftly. We already had a good relationship with Bruno, and we had always worked well together in the past. As a result, Brewsky, Hops, and French Fries at the Weekend was released by the end of 2022. We're extremely pleased with how it turned out."
"Brewsky, Hops and French Fries at the Weekend sounds more varied and has a rawer sound than the first two albums. Besides the fast punk rock from the early days, I also hear other musical influences. Was that a conscious choice?"
Frank: “I think it's just a continuation of what we were doing before. We've always sounded a bit different than the average 90’s punk rock band. That may have made us a little less accessible, so we didn't necessarily make it easier for ourselves.”
Koen: “I think it's only an advantage that our songs sound more varied. This way it remains interesting, not only for the public but also for ourselves. In the end, we always played the music that we liked ourselves. It was never our ambition to become as popular as possible.”
Filip: “This album does indeed sound rawer than Return of the fantasy models, but I do like a sound that is not too clean. Many bands these days want to sound so professional that they start to sound too perfect and too polished. What you hear on Brewsky, Hops and French Fries at the Weekend is pure and straight-up Concrete Cell.”
"What is your favorite song of the new record?"
Koen: “For me that would be Silicon Wonder. It’s the first new song we wrote after I joined as a drummer. We also recorded it separately for a Funtime Records compilation CD at the time. It may be the most radio-friendly song, but it's very well composed.”
Frank: “I think I’ll go for All songs are okay. It's a bit of an atypical number, even for us. The lyrics are quite nice. It's about the fact that you can find good songs in every genre of music, whether it's punk, hardcore, pop, techno, or anything else.”
Filip: “Difficult to choose… There are both very poppy songs and very hard songs on it. Perhaps Brewsky, Hops and French Fries is the most special song on the record. It's like no other song. It is like a square ball: it is not exactly right, and at the same time it is perfectly right.”
"Since the record came out, you played a few shows over the last couple of months. How did it feel to hit the stage again after a hiatus of more than twenty years?"
Filip: "It feels great! The first show we played, was on May 26th in Café Posthuis in our hometown Wuustwezel, together with Scoundrels, the band of Patrick Delabie. The show was truly legendary (laughs). We performed at the same venue where we had our very first show. It was amazing to see so many familiar faces in the crowd, though now twenty years older. Surprisingly, they still remembered our old songs really well."
Frank: "It definitely left us wanting more. Since that first reunion show, we’ve played a couple other gigs, including one with the mighty Ignite and Eightball in Klub K in Malle. We were very surprised with the opportunity, but we have connections with the organizer, and we also know the guys from Ignite, so actually it was quickly settled.”
Koen: “We're open to the idea of doing more shows, although we don't have the ambition to perform every week like before. But if people want to book us for a fun festival or a cool venue, we're all for it!"
Filip: "You know, back then, the gig offers used to come in almost automatically. But things have changed a lot in 23 years, especially with social media. We didn't even have that back then to promote ourselves. A lot has changed in that regard."
Concrete Cell live @ Klub K in Malle (June 23rd 2023)
Concrete Cell & Chaser after the Brakrock Preshow @ De Club in Mechelen (July 28th 2023)
"Concrete Cell was also added to the bill for the Brakrock preshow with Chaser at De Club in Mechelen on July 28th. How did you manage that?"
Filip: "That's actually a funny story. A few of our fans reached out to Kim Vervoort, the organizer of Brakrock, and convinced him to book Concrete Cell for the festival. The story goes that Vincent, a lifelong friend and fan since the beginning, told Kim, 'These guys were playing punk rock when you were still in diapers.' Well, that's not entirely true, but it definitely made a strong argument. And guess what? It worked!"
Koen: "The show with Chaser was really awesome. Those guys are really cool, very down-to-earth and humble. And yet they have this insatiable American enthusiasm, which they use to get the crowd engaged and excited. We really enjoyed the show.”
Frank: “It may not have been the real Brakrock experience, but hey, maybe that’s something for 2024!”
"What are your ambitions as a band on the longer term?"
Filip: “We have never been a band with big ambitions. Our reunion actually came about by coincidence. The chances of it happening were pretty slim, but now that it's actually happened, everything else feels like a bonus. We do it because we genuinely enjoy it ourselves. And if there's still an audience out there that enjoys our music, well, that's even better. We'll just have to see how things go from here."
Frank: "It's also great that we've teamed up again with Bruno and Genet Records. It feels like we've come full circle, and that's a really good feeling."
"And have you already talked about making new songs?"
Filip: "Yeah, in fact, since our reunion show, the guys have been working on some new songs. Being the singer and the only non-musician in the group, I am less involved in the creation phase of the songs, but the results I have heard are very promising. I must say the recording quality is very good and it all sounds very professional. You can clearly hear a musical evolution in the new material.”
Koen: “Our guitar player quickly came up with guitar melodies for several songs. We have found an efficient way of working in which he digitally records and sends the guitar parts. Next, I add the drums, while Frank records the bass line. And finally, I put it all together on my computer. Currently, we have about six songs that are more or less finished. They only need vocal lines."
Filip: “Yeah, and that’s my job. I’m really surprised how fast these new songs came about, but I suppose our guitarist has been carrying various ideas in his head for a long time. He certainly has had twenty years to do so!"
"Okay, I look forward to hearing some new songs. In the meantime, I will keep listening to Brewsky, Hops and French Fries at the Weekend. Thanks a lot for the nice talk. I hope to see you seen somewhere on stage."
Written by: Bram Thiry
October 27th, 2023