All you see is cows and farm land. A sheep here and there, a lonely barn and those creepy-looking pollard willows that break up the pastures. The weather is miserable. It’s been raining since I arrived on Christmas Eve and knowing Belgium it won’t stop until I leave again. (Such is life in the low countries but we’re used to it. And we’re used to complaining about it too! It’s a great conversation starter…) I’m a little bit early but Els has spotted me milling about in the drive way. “I thought that was you!” she laughs as she opens the electric gate. I haven’t seen Els since she was last in New York – that must have been ten years ago!! – but she hasn’t changed a hair. Same raspy voice, pitchy laugh, frizzy, bleach blonde coiffure and infatuating energy. It’s a happy reunion but to be very honest, I’m really, really excited to meet the animals!!
You may remember Els Pynoo and Danny Mommens, aka Vive La Fete. They became a huge hit on the electro scene in 2002 when Karl Lagerfeld asked them to perform during the Chanel shows in Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and Las Vegas. They went on to appear in Italian Vogue and V magazine, toured the world and hung out with the Kaiser himself at his mansion. “Once we had to do a private concert in his house in Paris,” remembers Els. “The people were dancing and singing and the police came twice because it was too loud. But Karl got away with it. He is a great person… I still carry him in my heart.” The Chanel saga has long passed but their success still lingers and they continue to perform at festivals, private parties and in clubs around the world.
But, back to the animals! They have forty six of them! “It all started with one dog,” begins Els. “And then came the first pony, Rubystar. We had Ruby when we still lived in the city (Ghent). He stayed in the garden and in our house and when someone was at the door he came along with me to welcome them.” Now Danny and Els live on farm in the Flemish country side with horses, ponies, a donkey, dogs, cats, swans, geese, ducks, chicken, birds and fish. “We used to have a pig too but he died last year. I still would like to have a cow like “Marguerite” from the movie with Fernandel. But maybe I saw too many Disney movies.”
When I watch Els with her animals it’s hard to imagine her bouncing around on stage. On the farm she’s chill and seems to be in constant dialogue with them. When I ask her if she ever thought about having children instead – she’s forty four now – she’s speaks frankly. “We thought about children but we were always busy with music. You have to work hard and the time passed too fast. Unconsciously we have chosen for our career and now I think it’s too late. Our animals are our children. Not that I treat them like human beings! I don’t dress them up or anything like that but I feel responsible for them. I want them to feel good and be happy and I love them. I create my own paradise with Danny and the animals.”
Obviously Els also has two very different wardrobes. “On stage I love to be pure and elegant and sexy. I’m not skinny enough and my breasts are too big to be a ballerina but in my mind I’m an elegant swan dancing on the tunes of Danny’s guitar. The moves I make are very important so it’s necessary that you can see my silhouette. My outfit has to be beautiful and functional. On the farm it just has to be functional. I don’t know how to describe my own style… I often make my own clothes. Glamorous but also sober I guess.” I think that’s innately Belgian in a way. We’re a modest people with big ambitions. “There’s a lot of talent here and everybody wants to be somebody. The more we create the more I love it. You have to make sense in life and that’s what many Belgians do I think.”