Photograph by Guy Kokken
|Genres||Rock, pop, dance|
|Labels||Playout! / Oyebo Soel|
Arsenal is an electronic music duo consisting of Belgian musicians Hendrik Willemyns and John Roan. Since their debut single 'Release' in 1999 Arsenal have released five albums, collaborating with a wide range of international singers and musicians including Mike Ladd, Shawn Smith, John Garcia, Grant Hart, and Johnny Whitney. Whilst rooted in electronic dance music, Arsenal have incorporated numerous other genres of music into their albums, from African and Latin American rhythms to pop, hip hop and indie rock.
Formation and early years
Taking their name from a World War II weapons depository located next to their studio in Brussels, Belgium, Hendrik Willemyns and John Roan started out with their debut EP 'Release' issued in 1999 on the Antwerp based Wally's Groove World label and subsequently licensed by the Ibiza label Café del Mar for their 'Chill-Out House' compilation.
Arsenal follow-up single 'A Volta' was the first of several collaborations with the Brazilian born singer Mario Vitalino Dos Santos. 'A Volta' was subsequently used in the final episode of the American HBO series Six Feet Under.
Oyebo Soul (2003)
Arsenal's debut album Oyebo Soul was released in 2003 on the Belgium independent label Wha? Roots and Kriztal Entertainment in the United States. Despite its eclectic nature, Oyebo Soul was well received by critics around the world, described as "focused and unpredictable at the same time" by AllMusic. Within two years approximately 10.000 copies were sold in the Belgian market. Meanwhile ‘Oyebo Soul’ was also released in The Netherlands, Japan, Spain, Portugal and USA where they were playlisted on KCRW, KUCR and others.
Following Oyebo Soul Arsenal signed to Belgian independent labels Playout! & PIAS for the release of their second album 'Outsides' in 2005. Featuring a cast of vocal collaborators from around the world including Aaron Perrino from the Boston band The Sheila Divine, Puerto Rican singer Gabriel Rios, Italo-Belgian singer Domenico Vaccaro, Brazilian Mario Vitalino dos Santos and Chinese rapper Chi Zang. To accompany the album Arsenal made a DVD, documenting the background of some of their collaborators. Shot on location in Boston and Buffalo, United States, Puerto Rico and Salvador, Brazil.
Outsides went Platinum in Belgium.
Following the success of Outsides, Willemyns and Roan traveled to Norway to work in isolation (‘And to get rid of the sunny vibes’ Stated Hendrik Willemyns) and as on their previous albums featured a wide range of collaborators including Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü, Shawn Smith of Brad, Pigeonhed, Mike Ladd, Cortney Tidwell and John Garcia from Kyuss. Characterised by a much more upbeat pop sound, Lotuk saw Arsenal championed in the United States by the likes of celebrity blogger Perez Hilton: "Like A Fine Glass Of Merlot: It's pretty. It's cool. It's perfect for your next mix-CD!" and rapper Kanye West keeps it short and simple: "Amazing!!!".
As for Outsides, Lotuk was accompanied by a documentary on DVD, filmed and edited by Willemyns, that follows the band on their road trip across the States to meet up with Shawn Smith, John Garcia, Cortney Tidwell and Grant Hart. The documentary was showcased at Docville, a European Documentary Festival and led to 'Paper Trails', a documentary-series on important books of the 20th century, which was filmed and edited by Hendrik Willemyns, while John Roan captured sound. Together they provided the series with an Arsenal soundtrack. In 6 episodes 6 books were featured: Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, Norwegian wood by Haruki Murakami, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño and Burmese Days by George Orwell. The series was aired on Canvas, a Belgian art-channel, in 2010.
Recorded in the Breton village of Locquémeau (Breton name : Lokémo) the band's fourth album was released in 2011 and featured the return of some of the band's previous guests including Shawn Smith on the single Melvin and Mike Ladd on One Day At A Time. The album also featured new collaborators such as Johnny Whitney (from Seattle hardcore band The Blood Brothers, Jaguar Love), Mélanie Pain and Belgian performance artist Depotax, and ranged in style from beatless ambient tracks to house music, shoegazer and rock influenced songs.
Reconnecting the band with the dancefloor the album’s singles were remixed by several prominent electronic music producers including Joakim, Com Truise, Optimo and Compuphonic and ‘Melvin’ was named ‘Track of the Month’ in the UK dance music magazine Mixmag. The five star review in MixMag on Melvin: “This is ticking so many boxes my biro has run out. Belgian duo (the best kind): check. Falsetto vocals: check. Spine-tingling key changes: check. The ability to send you and your chums into a pilly group hug on a dancefloor: checkmate!” And DJ Mag praised the single One Day at a time: "Arsenal are a big deal in Europe: this has clearly nothing to do with the North London football team. Fans of Indie-disco like Mitzi and Phoenix should check the original track."
Since the early days Arsenal have placed great store on their live performances and have played at many of the largest festivals including Belgium's Rock Werchter festival which they played 5 times. Including headlining the Werchter Main Stage in 2012. The same year they sold out the Lotto Arena and the Ancienne Belgique (5 shows in a row).
Next to Hendrik Willemyns and John Roan Arsenal’s live band consists of Leonie Gysel, Mirko Banovic, Dirk Loots, Matthias Bastiaens and Jan Roelkens. A notable previous member of the live band is Bruno Fevery who was contacted by John Garcia to join Kyuss Lives! and later Vista Chino after Garcia had joined Arsenal for a series of shows.
- "Arsenal - Optimo Remix". Dazed Digital. Retrieved 2013-10-19.
- "Six Feet Under: S 5 EP 63 Everyone's Waiting: Music". HBO. Retrieved 2013-10-19.
- Alex Henderson (2004-06-08). "Oyebo Soul [Kristal] - Arsenal | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-10-19.
- "Watch & Listen: Like A Fine Glass Of Merlot". PerezHilton.com. 2008-09-22. Retrieved 2013-10-19.
- "De poolreizigers (2004– )". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2013-10-18.
- Mixmag, March 2012
- DJ Mag, March 2012
- "Milow en Selah Sue kapen drie MIA's weg, Mauro beste muzikant". Focus Knack (in Dutch). 11 December 2011.