This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
Belgian band Tat2noisact combine two things I'm really uncomfortable with: singing in front of an audience and being tattooed in front of an audience. Every new show, for them, means new DIY tattoos – the designs of which based on the rhythm of their music. It doesn't really matter what they end up looking like, because apparently it's all about the energy stemming from the combination of pain and noise.
Just after Christmas, the band spent a few days in Schaarbeek – a city just outside of Brussels. At the end of their stay, they put on a show for a small group of friends. I also happened to be in the area so I dropped by for a chat.
VICE: HI guys, how the idea to tattoo yourselves during your shows come about?
Kostek: It all kind of started back in 2005 when I opened a tattoo studio in Brussels. I was already occasionally jamming with Fyl and we both liked tattoos. So we just thought, "We like tattoos and we like music. Why not combine the two?" That was basically it.
Fyl: Then some others joined, and all of a sudden we were a band. Or rather, an act.
Kostek: At first it was just a joke. We thought it would just be a one-time thing. We had our first show behind one of the windows in the Red Light District in Brussels.
What's it like to be tattooed while you're playing? Do you play or sing differently?
Fyl: It feels very natural to me. Singing and getting inked is a great combination. You don't notice the pain. I actually think I am a better vocalist when I am being tattooed.
David: I did have to adapt my rhythm techniques, because getting tattooed while drumming is kind of distracting.
How does the audience react to your shows? Do they also get tattooed?
Joakim: We love to play in the middle of a crowd, but in Paris everyone keeps their distance. In Brussels they know us by now, so they are more energetic and not afraid of coming closer.
Kostek: Sometimes people from the audience want to be tattooed as well, but that's not something we're into. You need another set of sterile needles and all that. We did tattoo a fan on stage this one time, because he asked in advance if we could tattoo a gold bar on his balls.
Joakim: You can't always stop the crowd from trying to get tattooed though. Someone tattooed his own arm once with a broken guitar string that was lying around.
Are there any parts of your body that you wouldn't let come near with a needle?
Kostek: Yeah, my left hand. My girlfriend wants me to leave that blank. It's the only part of my body that's remained untouched. My face isn't much of a problem, but my left hand stays clean.
Fyl: Not for me. Sometimes I tattoo my face, sometimes I don't. Looking in the mirror always takes some getting used to the day after a show. But I don't do it because I hate myself, or anything like that – I'm a pretty happy guy. Of course some people look at me like I'm insane, but I just smile back and say hello. This is just who I am and what I look like.
Frontman Fyl's back
Do you start the tattoos with a specific idea in mind or is it mostly just random patterns?
Kostek: Sometimes I have something in mind, sometimes I don't. It really depends on the rhythm of the music. Joakim invented a machine that amplifies the sound of the tattoo needles. So when we tattoo during a show, we're are also making music with those machines. If my arm wasn't so fully inked already, it would almost look as if we wrote the music on our bodies.
How would you describe your sound?
Fyl: Well, we're actually pretty eclectic. Sometimes our sound is a little punk rock and other times it's more like noise, hardcore or even afrobeat.
Joakim: These days our sound is a lot more structured, though. It used to be mostly noise – it was just about the energy and the tattoos. But we have been doing this for 10 years now, so we've become better songwriters over the years. We rehearse every week but we don't tattoo every week.
The band prefer to play for smaller audiences
What about the tattoos? Have these become more structured?
Fyl: No. In my case, I just have so many tattoos on top of other tattoos that you can't really see what's being inked anyway. Look at these spots on my stomach – these are from that one time I used the thorns of a rose to hammer in some ink.
Kostek: It's all very organic. Sometimes I keep tattooing for five minutes and sometimes it takes 20'. Sometimes I amplify the sound, other times I don't. We also play shows where we mostly just play our songs and only tattoo a little.
Is there still a point in doing this after ten years? Aren't your bodies entirely covered in ink by now?
Fyl: No. My back has over 200 tattoos but there is still plenty of space left.
Kostek: My arm is getting pretty full. But even if you can't see a new tattoo, that doesn't mean that it isn't there. You will always feel the place the needle touched your skin.
Joakim: And when your skin is completely covered in black ink, you can always make it darker. Or you could switch to white or colour. There's no end to it, really.
Ten years of Tat2noisact on Kostek's arm
My French is a bit rusty. What are your lyrics about?
Fyl: I get most of my inspiration from newspaper articles or literature. I read a lot, so I often read to the audience. I usually read excerpts from works by writers that I admire – such as Mykola Arkas or Allen Ginsberg.
Joakim: One of ours songs is based on a text from Robert McLiam Wilson and it deals with the irony of man going back to nature.
You only perform occasionally, so what do you guys do to make a living?
Kostek: I'm a tattoo artist.
David: Fyl does a lot of things. He is a hairdresser, an actor and an artist. I'm a video editor.
Joakim: I make guitar pedals and work as a sound engineer.
You have been performing for 10 years now. Any plans for the future?
Joakim: We hardly record any of our music. We now have a few of our songs online, so we do want to start recording more.
Kostek: We want to keep going, but we're not exactly sure in what direction, yet.
Joakim: We would like to start working with decor too. There is this guy that wants to wield a metal cage live on stage. So we could combine that with literature and our act in the future.
Kostek: I also know a guy who plays the flute, so who knows what we'll end up with.
See more photos of the Tat2noisact performance in Schaarbeek below.
Kostek is a professional tattoo artist
Joakim treats himself to a leg tattoo