KARTJE KILO ABOUT BELGIAN GODS AND THEIR INSPIRATIONS: 'IS THIS EVEN REAL?'
This time around, Best Kept Secret’s festival director Maurits Westerik will have a chat with Wouter and Johan, the men behind street theater act Kartje Kilo, arguably the most peculiar name booked for Best Kept Secret 2022.
But of course, Wouter and Johan’s other avenue Radio Mano Sport has previously performed at Best Kept Secret, so… who are
these weirdos anyway? Maurits spoke to them about a great breadth of subjects, including the gods of Belgium, drinking pints backstage and what triggers Kartje Kilo’s improvised humor.
When was the first year you were at BKS with Kartje Kilo?
Johan: That would be the last edition that could take place, back in 2019. As a visitor, I’ve been present since the very first edition. Even back then I thought: wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could perform here with Kartje Kilo? It’s quite the hike from the campsite to the festival site, so something really needs to be done here! We were really excited to finally be performing at Best Kept Secret with Radio Mano Sport.
Wouter: We really thought it would've been fantastic when we were allowed to have a stage at BKS during the World Cup of 2020. We were completely excited to somehow integrate the football into our act! It’s really a bummer that that edition could not go on ahead.
Johan: Then an animal showed itself, and who would have figured that pine-tree processionary caterpillar would be missed? At the time we complained about some itching: shame on us! What happened to the times when all we did was worry about some bothersome creature?
So how do you come up with a new routine for Kartje Kilo?
Johan: We really like improvisation, that's what Kartje Kilo stands for. We think it's super important to spontaneously comment on something happening in the moment just as we’re noticing it. There are of course things that come back, but most of what you see is really based on what is happening now, so we also keep it fun for ourselves. There are always other people walking by, so you can always give different commentary. That's also the best thing about our act, along with the vinyl records we play that is!
Wouter: The first year that we started with Kartje Kilo, we had meetings on Monday evenings with the following idea: let’s come together and then we come up with something. We gave up after about four sessions, it was fun at first, but nothing useful came out of it. The cycling commentary on VRT has been a great inspiration for Radio Mano Sport, it’s unbelievable how these guys manage to talk constantly for four hours straight. Our inspiration usually strikes at the craziest of moments. Sometimes I suddenly get a phone call from Johan because he came up with a routine while walking around, and vice versa as well.
You play records during your routines for Radio Mano Sport, does that music also relate to the acts playing at BKS in some way?
Johan: No, not at all actually. It’s true that I’ve been a music freak all my life…I breathe
music! I also absolutely love all the artists featured at Best Kept Secret, which is why I've been present at all the editions. But for Radio Mano Sport we deliberately choose a completely different map, going for fun free radio, or 80s discs. We notice that, for example, Lionel Richie or ABBA are very contagious, also with the younger generations. That's just fantastic to see!
Why does it feel so good for you to do this, and why do you fit in at BKS so well?
Wouter: The ‘surprising’ aspect plays a very important role in all this. That’s always been the story of Kartje Kilo, performing an act where people think: Hey, what is happening here, is this even real?! With Radio Mano Sport we've encountered a lot of people who think we're playing a live radio show or think that 109.5FM actually exists. Anyway, on one hand we look after BKS well because of the ‘surprising’ aspect, and on the other hand it’s also due to the audience that enjoys coming to Best Kept Secret. The audience of BKS is really the target group with which we prefer to seek out because they tend to really play along well.
Johan: Indeed, it's really true, for us it's fantastic to play BKS. We were also very disappointed when the coronavirus struck. That's why we are extra motivated for this year, which means we are bringing out a second act. Some visitors will still recognize the Radio Mano routines, it will be great to engage with people again in a very cheerful and fun way after all these years. In addition, we will also surprise people with something completely different, but for the time being, that will remain our best kept secret.
What are the funniest or weirdest reactions you get from the audience?
Wouter: The great thing about Radio Mano Sport is that when the audience passes by, people we comment on often don't immediately realize it, but bystanders do. We were at BKS for several days, then you also have people who understand the concept and who will prepare things such as a choreography, in the hope that we will then provide proper commentary. It's wonderful when the choreography is so good that we’ll automatically home in on it, or sometimes figure: no, we don't feel like commenting on that. The ensuing disappointment is especially fantastic!
Are there any particular acts at BKS that you’re looking forward to?
Johan: For one, you really have a very impressive poster! I have always been a fan of Nick Cave, in recent years I have also really enjoyed the slow, quiet records he made in collaboration with Warren Ellis. A lot of people think it's time for him to rock again, and so do I, but Nick Cave has never disappointed me! Alt-J was fantastic last time too and I can always keep listening to the songs of dEUS. In Belgium, dEUS are God, and I believe they are as well in a large part of music-loving Europe! Best Kept Secret always programs really well, so when an older band makes a comeback, you jump right in. As soon as Kartje Kilo has finished playing I immediately run to the first stage to catch as many performances as possible, and Wouter knows this like no other. It’s safe to say Kartje Kilo will most definitely not perform during Nick Cave!
Wouter: Well, Johan is the music freak and I’m not at all. I'm actually a huge supporter of Club Brugge, screaming my lungs out in a football stadium and going crazy there, that's really where my heart lies. Which is not to say I don't enjoy music, but in more so a completely different way. You're not going to see me running like crazy to a stage after we perform. I'm just as happy to just sit in the backstage area to have a beer and let everything wash over me. Chances are, two hours later, I'll still be sitting comfortably backstage with a few pints. Nobody specific can bring me to ecstasy within the programming of a festival, but I can enjoy the overall friendly atmosphere at a festival!
Johan: What I'm also really looking forward to is the Casbah! That combination between seeing a performance on a very large stage and then descending into a small rock pub setting, I'm really looking forward to that! A few years ago a small band played there: Crows, that was so insanely good! You can hardly imagine it now, but we stood there like fish in a barrel. All these sweating men and women were dancing and jumping against each other. Before you knew it, people flew right over you, including the singer, and the images from that remain legendary!
So what’s Kartje Kilo's own best kept secret?
Johan: That's hard to explain… In terms of humor we've been on the same page for more than fifteen years, and we never internally discuss whether it's a good joke or not. We think it's fantastic to make people laugh, you can't imagine the energy it gives when you can make people happy! It's still fun to entertain people by simply surprising people. Some acts have been around for years because they are often booked, yet we constantly overhaul our routines and continue to work on new ones. We're never standing still, and people continue to enjoy our routines and we certainly do too!
Wouter: It’s also been wonderful to notice how much we’ve evolved as Kartje Kilo. In the early days we were still figuring things out, at the time we circled around our own church tower to perform at parties for Aunt Jermaine who turned 85. The learning curve we had there, without those moments, we would have never landed where we are now! We have grown systematically through word-of-mouth, and we really enjoy the recognition we get. Today, together with another group of performers, we are designing the happenings at Dranouter festival and we are very excited that we can perform at BKS once again!
Johan: We learned many things through trial and error by always performing together; we are not a theater outfit that changes its formation all the time. In the long run, you know each other so well that you don't have to say anything anymore, you know what the other is going to say and that makes us very quick-witted. We really put a lot of effort into verbal improvised humor and I feel that’s what makes us unique. There is a lot of good street theater in the field of circus or acrobatics, but in the field of verbal humor there are only a few, and that distinction has been very beneficial to us!