Breaking down institutional pillars and traditional architectures
Pearl-necklace Saskia Diez, silver-necklace Acne Studios, earcuff Johanna Gauder
Berlin and Brussels-based BILLY BULTHEEL is a pioneer of contemporary performance art and breath-taking compositions. Having studied and acquired his BA in Music at the ROYAL CONSERVATORY, The Netherlands, and receiving his MA in Choreography and Performance from JUSTUS-LIEBIG, Germany, Bultheel has a theoretical inventory that he seamlessly employs when approaching his work. His polyvalent skill-set allows for him to compose not only music, but the entire energy of a space, enhanced throughout his collaborative projects, such as the notable SEX trilogy directed by ANNE IMHOF, and co-composed by ELIZA DOUGLAS. Subverting traditional musical practices; interweaving sounds derived from the Baroque period with dynamic modern electronics and heavy punk-like sounds, his use of space, sound, and movement is confronting and visceral. In talking with the artist, our technical understanding of music was completely expanded, reconceptualising how I hear and feel sounds, making me consider how music truly moves us.
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Hi Billy! Your approach to music is truly unique. Can you begin by telling me a bit about your practice and the inter-disciplinary spheres you encompass?
As a composer and artist first and foremost, my main medium is music. But, I feel like my approach to it is a bit more nuanced — I have a strong sentiment towards using music to break boundaries into other disciplines, such as performance, dance, sculpture etc. I’m often collaborating with other artists to create works that are, some kind of, as you say, inter-disciplinary cobweb.
Within this cobweb, you remove boundaries and evoke new contexts to how we engage with art. What inspired you to bring traditional music concepts into contemporary, choreographed performance settings?
I am deeply interested in the process of synaesthesia — being able to translate sounds into other sensory experiences — and therefore, the tactility of music. Breaking down institutional pillars and traditional architectures for music or art is, for me, always a good starting point in the journey of creating something completely new.
The environment also must contribute to this, as Berlin and Brussels-based, how do these spaces influence your practice?
Berlin, I feel, has especially influenced my work. I found a very supportive community here, one that remains forever unhinged and intimate. People from every walk of life come to this city, mingling and inspiring one another. And because of the active arts and nightlife scene, there is an ease when it comes to sharing creativity, ideas, and lunacy. It’s innately Queer and leans towards the unconventional, leaving this feeling of strong community support.
Brussels, on the other hand, is my home town. I like it, but to me, it still feels a bit more conventional. I think it is harder for communities and institutions to break habits in Brussels; things tend to stay within their lane.
Does the freedom you experience through the Berlin nightlife contribute to this pool of inspiration?
I’m not sure clubs inspire my creative process directly — they definitely offer an escape from daily life which is ultimately beneficial to my process. Nightlife in Berlin, especially post-pandemic, is such a cathartic experience. There’s a strong sense of community, you can be hyper-social, horny and silly, all at the same time, without being judged or protocolled…
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Bodysuit Ninamounah, trousers GmbH, shoes Ninamounah, necklace Saskia Diez
Words by Issy Wharton
Photography by Erik Cesla
Styling by Marian Schlicker
Hair and Make-up by Julia Barde
Styling Assistant Aathirai Teresia Valentine
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