Van Boom on that beat
Written by: Ashley Alleluya
Photography by: Aziz Mutawa
When Contemporary Art Platform (CAP) decides to showcase an artist, you make it your mission to attend. In the short time that I‘ve been exposed to the art scene here in Kuwait, I’ve noticed that CAP will endorse those creative minds that understand art – the kind that challenges, excites and provokes. So when CAP opened their rooftop for a unique musical and visual debut of Van Boom‘s album “BLVCK”, the Kingdome team canceled all other plans for the evening.
We headed there a little early and needed a little warming up in time for the set. So we fueled up – with cups of coffee and some impromptu dancing to DJ Bonita playing for the other early birds. While we waited for Van Boom to arrive, we asked around and eavesdropped, hungry for any information about the music producer we could get our hands on. What was the one detail I remember clearly? “He’s 19 years old,” a friend confided, making my twenty-something years feel VERY unaccomplished. That’s when the competitive-me woke up and started keeping mental score, wanting to somehow one-up this talented person who doesn’t even know I exist.
The rules were simple – he gets a point if he passes my petty high standards, I get a point if he is more hype than talent. So far, Van Boom: 1, yours truly: 0. I comforted myself thinking he’ll probably do the thing most teenagers do and arrive late, you know, because “the party don’t start till he walks in.” However, he was on time, very graceful in his entry, no attention-grabbing antics – and already, Van Boom: 2, yours truly: 0.
DJ Bonita was just about wrapping up and making way for Van Boom, signaling it was time for the main event. Van Boom took the stage, his face hidden behind a mask, his hair flopping glossily to one side. Hair so good, it gave mine serious inferiority issues. Van Boom: 3, yours truly: 0 with split-ends. We grabbed the beanbags right up front, giggled like excited adolescents and were ready. What we weren’t ready for was the opening act.
Swaying in front of the console to the first few beats stood Farah, or xxMantras as she is popularly known, a poet who really knows it. With a voice that’s strong yet soft, she serenaded the audience with lilting poetry, each word dancing off her into the crowd.
“You piece of peaceful,” she crooned at one point, and I’m still trying to work that phrase into my daily conversations. Her tone of delivery – like a very chill Johnny Cash – speaking but not quite singing, became the perfect introduction to Van Boom’s set.
Not one to be outdone, he started strong. Every beat resonant and deep, building up in a steady rhythm, had people breaking out into dance where they stood or sat – literally. We could see bodies abruptly find movement, almost against their will, answering the call of Van Boom’s music – this young debutant clearly knows how to begin a set. I sat there with a respect for his art rising with every thump. Van Boom: 4, yours truly (you guessed it): 0.
Because we were promised a visual experience, Van Boom’s music played out in front of a screen projecting a series of visuals that complemented his music. This was the mesmerizing bit; Van Boom clearly understands the harmonious possibilities with the right sounds and images. Matching the wandering, exploratory nature of his music (a very telltale sign of his journey as a musician) were visuals of Van Boom, roaming through landscapes, taking in sights and finding himself a part of natural and manmade surroundings, deriving meaning from each. The only gripe I had with the set-up was the placement of the screen against very bright lighting. It washed out the lighter elements on the screen – a shame, as there was evidently a lot of effort put into the visual aspects of the set.
For the next hour, we also became a part of Van Boom’s surroundings – an extension of the visuals. People let loose, danced, cheered, laughed and celebrated. We were not just witnesses to Van Boom’s music as he blended one track with one another. Encouraging those who moved to his beat, each person there had already become a muse in this boy-genius’ mind.
Van Boom’s music has a very distinctive energy, an acquired flavor, if you will. His set had a pulse that crackled with life – ebbing and flowing and mellowing down towards the end. It felt like music that comes of age before your ears. His musicality may not be for everyone’s musical sensibilities, but it is work that will make you take notice.
When he ended, confidently bowing and waving shyly, the applause was loud and earnest. The crowd wasn’t ready for him to leave, but he’s a smart cookie, this Van Boom. Secure in the quality of what he had just expressed, he left the stage. Whether he mingled with the crowd after or left the venue, we do not know. Without his mask, he was anyone and everyone. For that Phantom of the Opera-esque persona, Van Boom: 5, yours truly: zilch.
That evening we were promised a visual experience, but it felt more like being let in on a huge secret. You know the kind of gossip that spreads like wildfire because it’s so delicious (think the Kardashian Swift receipts), but you can tell that juiciest bits of the story will always remain between the people in that phone call? That’s what Van Boom’s set felt like.
I could say “awesome” in fifty different ways to tell you how good Van Boom was, but I cannot completely convey the spell that his music cast on those who chose to come. Are we still keeping score? Then it’s Van Boom: 5 bajillion, yours truly, now a fan: 0.