At just 22 years old, Justine Bourgeus, otherwise known as Tsar B, is not only securing her name in the music industry, but has now advanced to directing and producing her own music video. With songs designed for “smaller clubs, where it’s dark and sweaty” and seven years of performing under her belt, it’s no surprise she’s causing a stir. Previously the violinist for indie-pop band School is Cool, we were lucky enough to question the evolving singer/songwriter/producer and discover how she gathered inspiration from Disney’s Alladin.
“Dark blue oriental R&B” is one term used to describe your sounds—what sort of audience do you create your music for? Where do you imagine it being played?
I guess I don’t have a particular target group—or at least, I can’t describe them as a certain sort of person. I’m very happy that my first two singles reached a lot of dancers; they just let their bodies move to my music, which is one of the best things that could happen to me! My music fits in smaller clubs, where it’s dark and sweaty and where I can feel the presence of the audience—where I can lose my thoughts and sing and dance under the lights.
You started performing nearly seven years ago now. What was your first ever performance like? Do you have a ritual you carry out before a show to prepare yourself?
I started playing music when I was five years old but my first real, more professional gig was when I was 14. It was with a Bon Iver (first album) influenced band and I must say it’s quite contrary to what I do now. I was such a cute humble girl playing violin—so things have changed a lot. I don’t do a lot of preparations; I don’t stretch or do vocal exercises (even though I know I should). Before the shows, I’ll do some squats and give some hugs and that’s it. Most of the time then I’ll get my hair braided by some killer braiders.
You are playing at Paradiso tonight for ADE—what an amazing venue. As your second ever solo show in the Netherlands, are you excited?
I’m so glad I can play here— I’ve heard it’s next to Craig David. Oh yeah, it’s a great honour and I’m really looking forward to it. Some fans out from the Netherlands have already contacted me saying that they’d come over. I can’t wait to perform for them and meet them! I guess I’ll be staying a few more days.
Could you tell us a bit about how you directed and produced the video for Swim?
It’s very exciting because it was my directorial debut! My previous clip was also directed by me, but also by the great DOP Maximiliaan Dierickx. This one was just me and I didn’t know it was this much work. The production side was massive, I had to look for some Afghan hounds, top models, haute couture clothes (and I found these, thanks to Dries Van Noten). It was crazy, but directing the video was like heaven—I totally loved it. My team was the best; art director Athos Burez, a great Belgian photographer, DOP Maxime Desmet and many more angels were there to help me. The video is about a photoshoot that escalates to chaos. For this I wanted a top model and found Wannes De Waegh [Versace, PUMA x Fenty] to get out of his daily routine of being pretty, patient, listening, static; I made a dynamic but mysterious figure out of him. It was great to work together with all these amazing people.
We love that you got inspiration for Escalate from Aladdin. What else inspires you and your music?
Haha yeah, actually it was a musical I only saw one time. But it changed my mind—I guess I was six by then. My other inspirations are Björk, Jeff Buckley, Beyoncé and many more; oh, they all have a B in their names!
If you could collab with any artist, who would it be and why?
It would be with Young Fathers. The way they look at music. The way the rhythms are positioned and the tones are placed, it’s anything but normal; I love the fact that some synths are totally out of tune. And it’s freaking catchy—well, that’s what I think. They deserve a Nobel Prize. I guess it could really work with my music, even though it’s something very different to what I do.