The thinking behind laughter yoga is that belly-laughing in a room with other people, all chuckling and creased up over seemingly nothing, is good for the soul, can alleviate stress and instigate a happier life. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.
It’s the same with those in-jokes you share with a close mate, or those repetitive phrases that eventually lose all meaning but rely instead on the delivery and the absurdity of the situation to bring out humour. It’s what makes ‘Bel DEEWEE’, the opening track of Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul’s debut album ‘Topical Dancer’, deceptively hilarious.
The 42-second opener is made up of field recordings of Adigéry entering the Deewee recording complex, run by Soulwax brothers David and Stephen Dewaele, where they recorded the album. The voice inside the building is inquisitive each time the bell rings, and Adigéry answers politely: “Hello, it’s Charlotte”. But the track soon falls apart as Adigéry decides to sing her name down the intercom and claim that “it’s Deliveroo”, before the vocals are tweaked to a pitch only chipmunks could reach. It’s a simple joke, but one that lands each time.
It’s precisely the type of endeavour that is vital to Adigéry and Pupul’s relationship. “I think when I’m with Bolis we have that competitive streak to try and impress the other and make them laugh,” Adigéry tells NME from her home in Ghent, Belgium. “We’re not saying we’re the funniest people in the world, but we crack each other up at least,” she chuckles.
‘Topical Dancer’, out March 4, 2022 on DEEWEE, feels like you’re caught in the corner of a house party with a new best pal from the dancefloor. You’ll venture off on humorous and deep ruminations on life as a banging party soundtrack, curated by party-starters Adigéry and Pupul, leaks from the next room.
The duo behind the record are perfectly aligned, and hold similar viewpoints and approaches to the world, including the belief that one should not cower from the inherent hilarity of reality — but instead embrace it and harness it as your own power.
That’s something the duo have done since they first met over a decade ago while running in the same circles in Ghent. They only started working together as musicians, though, after they were put together by the Soulwax brothers while they arranged the music for the 2016 Belgian drama film Belgica. “When Stephen and David said that we should work together, we didn’t even question it,” Adigéry says. “I don’t think I’d ever had that reaction with anyone else.” Pupul, too, felt that kinship: “It was like I’d known her for such a long time. We just clicked.”
The humour they call on so often only works because of their honesty and vulnerability. One of the first songs they worked on together, ‘1618’, was based on an encounter Adigéry had with a stranger hitting on her in a car park in Brussels. She recorded the conversation and played it to Pupul, and the pair utilised the anguish felt in the song’s creation: “Why are you claiming it’s a statement? / My tits ain’t aiming to be blatant.”
“The fact that we could see the humour of the conversation by putting something like that in the song, it was so powerful to me,” Pupul says of their time working on their debut EP, released in 2017 under Adigéry’s name. The pair now release their collaborative music under both their names to reflect their equal contribution. “It’s a book where we tell stories, both Bolis’ and my own,” explains Adigéry.
“There’s a strength in the vulnerability,” she adds. “I remember the first time we got in the studio, he really made me feel safe and that I couldn’t make any mistakes. Anything I suggested he approached with an open mind, and encouraged me to express myself. I was looking for someone like that for a long time. I needed that person who wasn’t afraid to make music and to not think that: ‘This is right, and that’s wrong’.”
In 2019, their song ‘High Lights’ received radio play in the UK and opened the pair up to live shows in London, New York and beyond. When asked if they could see the track’s hit potential coming in the studio, Pupul responds playfully: “Is that even a question?” This time, the joke is on us.
When listening to ‘Topical Dancer’, a sense of liberation hangs in the air and slithers between every lyric. The songs are playful takes on electro-pop, house, techno, Zouk and beyond, often featuring the type of hard-hitting beats their contemporaries and producers Soulwax are famed for.
Though the lyrical topics are not always considered ripe for the dancefloor — colonialism (‘Blenda’), sexual awakening (‘It Hit Me’) and racist microaggressions (“Don’t say: ‘But where are you really from?’ / Say: ‘I don’t see colour,” Adigéry witheringly grins on ‘Esperanto’) — Adigéry and Pupul write that way to process, move past and find the funny in these moments.
“It’s a finger-pointing period in time, and that’s the opposite of what we wanted to do,” Adigéry says. “There’s a certain peace on certain topics that has come to me. Like on ‘Blenda’, racism is something I still encounter, but writing that song made me gain strength. It helped go beyond it and not feel victimised, something I’ve felt for a long time.”
She adds: “A lot of songs are tools for us to let things go and vent our frustration towards political correction and outrage culture – I felt a little bit of peace in that. If you want to be offended then go ahead, but I’m not going to put my energy into that anymore.”
What’s clear is that this is an album made on their own terms and for their own satisfaction. They want you to come down and enjoy it, but not to bring pretence and baggage.
“It’s OK to have an opinion and talk about something. It’s also OK if people don’t agree with you,” Pupul says. “We never felt like we couldn’t say anything or talk about a certain subject. It’s difficult for some people to comprehend, but it’s really not that bad to disagree.”
The album’s lead single, ‘Thank You’, toes the line between sarcasm and self-reflection perfectly as the pair recall all the back-handed compliments they’ve received from gig-goers, rival artists or nosey journalists. “I prefer my first EP too,” Adigéry retorts to a sly dig, while sarcastically acknowledging that this opportunity offers “really good exposure for us” and “exposure shouldn’t have a price, right?” The rage finally boils over in the direct chorus: “Couldn’t have done this without you and your opinion / Enlighten me: with your vision, I count my blessings.”
“People generously offer their opinion to creatives and their work without reflecting on whether that can be harmful to the person,” Pupul says of the song. “It’s necessary you have to be hard on yourself to grow as an artist, but it’s about finding that balance. If you can’t, that’s not easy.”
It does, in the end, come down to that bond that the pair share. There’s been highs, lows, giggles and tears, but without that person, it can be overwhelming.
“You have to be honest with yourself and look in the mirror and see what’s true and isn’t true. Having a good friend really helps. They can see if your mirror is a bit foggy, and help you clear it. We’re both pretty hard on ourselves… but I do know that we both love ourselves, too,” Pupul says, setting off another wave of laughter.
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul’s ‘Topical Dancer’ will be released on March 4.