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SONS: Rock & Riding

Words by Clive Pursehouse; Images by Charles Engleken & Lies Gaethofs.

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“I love you baby but I do what I want…” shouts the fresh-on-the-scene Belgian rock band SONS front man Robin Borghgraef; and so begins the irreverent and wildly catchy but perhaps not completely romantic love song, “Ricochet.” The band began as four friends playing for kicks. Before long, SONS dug into the underground garage rock scene in Antwerp, They played a handful of shows and in perhaps an alarmingly short time, they won prestigious national recognition by winning “De Nieuwe Lichting 2018,” a contest from Studio Brussels, which has made them an overnight sensation. SONS (not to be confused with British band The Sons) is now one of the biggest names in Belgian music after the release of the full-length 2019 album, enigmatically titled “Family Dinner.”

PELOTON

“Before winning the national talent contest, we didn’t know anything about the music business,” says Robin. “We’re just four friends that played loud music together and nothing more really. After winning we had several requests for big gigs but we couldn’t handle it on our own anymore. We took on a manager, booking agent and sound engineer like all the real bands have; it was all completely new for us. After that, we played at least 70 shows in our first summer, it was mental! We’re very grateful we can share this experience with one another because in the end we’re four really close friends.”

charles engleken
Image: Charles Engleken

According to Robin, the SONS sound is an amalgam of several American musical influences. “We’re influenced a great deal by the 2000s psychedelic Californian garage rock scene synonymous with Ty Segall and bands like Thee Oh Sees and Meatbodies, as well as the ’80s hardcore punk of Minor Threat, Black Flag and Bad Brains and, of course, British rock classics like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Our drummer Thomas is actually a blues drummer.”

While new to navigating their newly acquired national rock stardom, SONS’ lead guitarist Arno De Ruyte and bass player Jens De Ruyte (they’re cousins) remain massive cycling fans. There was even an inclination that at an early age Jens may have had the legs to go pro. For Arno, like many Belgian fans, it’s still all about Boonen. “I’m a huge Tom Boonen fan,” says Arno “I think of him as the embodiment of the Flandrien. He just won everything from the world championship to the Champs-Élysées. He won Flanders three times and is tied with Roger De Vlaeminck in Paris–Roubaix victories. In the years to come, I think and hope that Wout Van Aert can dominate at Roubaix. Jens and I rode the Muur and the Koppenberg when we were younger. It’s also one of our annual traditions to go and watch the start of the Ronde in Antwerp with our friends. Afterwards we go and hit the bars and watch the race over there.”

For SONS bassist Jens, cycling as a pastime led to dreams of a professional career. “I grew up with cycling. My dad and I watched every race from the very first minute to the last while eating pastries on the couch. My dad would record every single race so that he could watch the last 30 kilometers again before going to sleep. My dad always wanted to be a cyclist but his parents wouldn’t allow it. That’s why, I think, he was determined to make me become one. We cycled for hours on Belgian and Dutch roads, where he tried to toughen and prepare me for the cycling way of life. I eventually chose the guitar and a very different lifestyle. I could never have become a pro; I simply don’t have that athletic perseverance. I prefer to watch the race holding a beer. To me there were two big heroes: Tom Boonen and Sven Nys.

lies gaethofs
Image: Lies Gaethofs

“Everyone loves Boonen, but Sven definitely played a big role in my life as a child. He was my hero, a consummate professional and so passionate! We often went to the cyclocross races growing up. Once, after watching a race, we went to this roadside restaurant and our three absolute favorites walked in: Mario De Clercq, Richard Groenendaal and Sven Nys. I’ll never forget that moment as a little boy.

“I still enjoy riding, and the Belgian polders are fantastic for cycling. Riding between these cow pastures and beautiful green plains in silence, sublime. Unless of course there’s a headwind, I hate that shit.”

In between watching the races and riding their bikes, SONS will continue to tour; and hopefully we’ll see them in the States before too long belting out infectious new classics. Check out the SONS album “Family Dinner” on Spotify and keep an ear out for their exploits on Instagram@sonsyeahsons.

From issue 92