Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul have, over the course of the past few years, developed an unlikely investment in this particular cycle of life. An oversized chicken head gawks up at the lens, dead eyed and waiting for a human to adorn it. Elsewhere, the real deal bucks and clucks across the screen; an egg, pearlescent, rolls away; later, two perfect yolks rest impeccably on a silver platter.

Plucked from the video for “HAHA”, the motifs are oddly out of place for a piece that is already audibly and visually surreal; tremorous editing instils an unshakeable instability, and between its Top of the Pops-esque graphics, mechanical movements, off-kilter outfits, and Adigéry’s maniacal laughing, there is a sense that you are privy to something about to erupt. On “Thank You”, Pupul methodically paints Adigéry’s head hatching from an egg; perhaps therein lies the answer.

I am lost in thought waiting for the pair to join our call when their voices make me jump. The surprise is apt: Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul are always a surprise. Adigéry has been feeding her baby, who has accompanied them on the press tour for debut album Topical Dancer, her son a more literal interpretation of the aforementioned hatching. Adigéry was heavily pregnant in all of the visuals, from the album cover to the videos, this now being a scrapbook of burgeoning motherhood; in the gestation of Topical Dancer, it has always been the three of them. Her son babbles, swaddled to her chest. “Through talking to so many people [this week], we’ve learned so much about ourselves”.

Topical Dancer seemed the next logical step in Adigéry and Pupul’s collaborative career, but it was DEEWEE label founders Stephen and David Dewaele — also known as Soulwax — who first planted the seed following their 2019 EP, Zandoli. “We decided to do some live gigs and we needed more songs,” explains Pupul. “Stephen and David were like ‘hey, why don’t you just make an album?’ We were like… okay, let’s try it”. They came up with the concept: a giant egg as a time capsule in which they add all of the things they deem representative of today. “Family relations, love relations, mother-child [relations]. The idea was to bury the time capsule - the egg - somewhere, and that somebody would find it 50 years from now and have this one-sided view on 2021”.

“We became friends in the studio and talked about so many topics,” says Adigéry. “And we felt like these conversations always inspired us to write about music. When we decided to make the album, you ask yourself again ‘what are we going to talk about’ or ‘how are we going to approach this’? It made so much sense to just keep having these conversations and [make] songs out of them. We looked for a way to say that —“ she draws a blank in English and looks to Pupul.

“Accumulates?’

“No. Yeah? No. Something that encompasses all of these topics and then make a theme that makes it possible to talk about anything, but that doesn’t feel like it goes all over the place. You can add anything in a time capsule; it’s just our description of our world and what we found important and worthy of describing”. She is interrupted by a baby cry.

“In a way, it was also a tool,” adds Pupul. “You limit yourself a bit and then within those limits, you can be creative. I think that gave us this canvas on which we could be productive”.

If someone discovered the capsule in 50 years time and opened it, what would their impression of 2021 be?

“Such simple songs!” says Adigéry, and they both laugh.

“What were they thinking of?” Pupul quips.

“‘Is this from the Middle Ages? Dumb people, no culture!’ No, I don’t know. I hope that they would see it on a human level, something that transcends time,” Adigéry continues. “I would be so happy to find a time capsule from the 30s by a young woman describing her world and realising that, even though there’s so much time between us - or not that much, it’s all relative - but that the human subjects and themes don’t change that much, it’s just the context that changes. I think that’s what makes a time capsule so fascinating, is the fact that it’s just humans trying to connect with humans through time”.

This talk of connection feels apt when considering the quality of the bond between the two people that made Topical Dancer; the connection between Adigéry and Pupul is cosmically serendipitous, almost as if they had been waiting their whole lives to meet one another. It is, as it transpires, another Dewaele stroke of genius.

“We both featured on the soundtrack [Soulwax] made for the Felix Van Groeningen movie Belgica, and Bolis had already released two EPs on DEEWEE,” recalls Adigéry. “After my collaboration on the soundtrack, they invited me to make music and potentially release it on their label. I tried to write on my own there, but felt really intimidated. I had this writer’s block because I was surrounded by genius and brilliant musicians and I didn’t have that much of a track record. They realised it was hard for me and they said ‘maybe you could spend some time in the studio with Bolis’, and I just said yes. We knew each other from in [Belgian city] Ghent but we didn’t really know each other. Two EPs and an album later, and I still want to make music”.

What is it about their dynamic that keeps bringing them back together? “I think we are just intrigued by each other, and I find it very interesting to know how Charlotte looks at certain things,” shares Pupul. “It’s also interesting to experiment with her, like if I say something, how she reacts inspires me to go to a place and be creative. A lot of times we come up with ideas in a taxi or while travelling on the road, and it’s because of the conversations with certain synergy between the two of us.” He turns to Adigéry. “I remember the first time we spent time together, it felt to me like I knew you for a long time already. That’s something special: I don’t have that a lot with people but, in a way, it’s like professional friendship soulmates. That’s super special; I’m really happy. I didn’t wish to meet somebody like Charlotte; I didn’t know that existed or was possible —“ He is interrupted by Adigéry yawning, and they laugh.

“I love him so much — I’m just super tired!”

“Whatever!”

“No, no, I have the same feeling for Bolis. Every time we spend time together — even though we’ve spent a lot of time together — it never feels like something I need to charge my batteries for. He charges my batteries actually; he helps me in a lot of ways. I’m very thankful for Stephen and David pairing us”.

It is clear that the Dewaele brother’s fortuitous matchmaking led the courses of their lives down a path they may never have happened upon on their own, despite each of their relative success in the Belgian electronic music scene and beyond. Pupul’s early AA-sides, “Moon Theme / Sun Theme” and “Wèi? / Teknow” feel more like science fiction mood pieces, the former veering from cold and clinical to a hopeful dawn between industrial beats and shimmering keys, and the latter, an indulgent dabble in Kraftwerk.

Meanwhile, Adigéry was releasing music under WWWater, the moniker which first brought her attention with her EP La Falaise. A listen to the project’s eponymous track belies a different artist, understated, glitchy production clutching at Blood Orange-esque R&B and dexterously glacial vocals. It is primally raw, rippling with emotions of all colours, the comparative antithesis to the work of Pupul; in a space where Adigéry’s feelings and arrangements can overflow and overwhelm, Pupul’s touch provides order in the chaos. First came Adigéry’s self-titled EP, then Zandoli, both of which Pupul produced; each are a precipical balance of both of their best qualities, interwoven with cultural heritage (on the self-titled EP, Adigéry sings in French, English, and Creole) and the Belgian culture that made them.

As the first true single from Topical Dancer, “Thank You” was the perfect introduction to the album musically, humourously, and thematically, its sardonic humour and Adigéry’s deadpan delivery encompassing the tone of the entire project. “The kind of things we talk about are all things that we heard,” she says. “The fact someone told me ‘I prefer your first EP more than the second one’ and all these —“

“Two projects, one artist - jeez!” Says Pupul, quoting “Thank You”’s lyrics back to Adigéry.

Did someone say that to you?

“Yeah, a lot! ‘It’s confusing’, ‘how is it possible to have two projects’ - am I the first person to do that?” says Adigéry. “So that was, for us, a way to address all of that in a playful way, and that also became a sub-theme in the album, addressing stuff that hurt us or frustrated us or just things [that] live within [that] we don’t know what to do with. We try to find answers through the music and always in a fun way”.

Humour in music is very important to both Adigéry and Pupul, as well as the project. Adigéry posits that being part of the DEEWEE collective also had an influence. “We spend a lot of time laughing together to make stories”.

“Also, I think, the way we interact with each other,” continues Pupul. “Nine out of ten messages we send to each other are jokes, and then there’s one serious question like ‘what time do we meet tomorrow?’ I think that’s this constant thing in our process of making music, and the whole record, is finding that balance. Is it too funny? Is it too serious? Is it too light? Is it too heavy?”.

“We like to use humour because we think it’s a great way of not lingering bitterness or anger, but also have its effect,” adds Adigéry. “A great metaphor is a spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.”

“I think we are just intrigued by each other... it's like professional friendship soulmates" - Bolis Pupul

For a dance album where humour, catchy rhythms and ear-pricking melodies are key, Topical Dancer tackles often difficult themes including racism, political correctness, social media policing, and ‘woke’ culture. As the album opener proper, “Esperanto” introduces all of the questions Adigéry and Pupul have throughout the album. “The humour is there, the satire is there. We’re moralising but it’s in a caricatural way,” says Adigéry. “Also, we can’t really say what genre it is”.

The word ‘esperanto’ has a more complex history. Derived from a dead auxiliary language (that’s an inorganically constructed universal language, fyi), it captures the sense of wanting to encourage cultural equality through a method that doesn’t quite stick. “It’s trying to find the perfect tone where you don’t offend anybody, so the language dictates what you should or shouldn’t say — but that doesn’t work. Esperanto isn’t in use. It’s intention was good, but the results?” Adigéry thinks that, over a century since the language was first created, there now seems to be some identifiable progress in people’s attitudes, for better or for worse. “People are becoming more conscious and really getting together to start a movement and to invite people to do things differently, but it’s going to the extreme right now that we don’t always agree, which results in cancel culture, trial by media — you can’t say that, you have to say this — and if you ask a question, I’m already offended.

“And then there’s asking questions too, like when somebody asked me ‘is that a wig you’re wearing?’ — there’s two ways of asking. But yeah, the outrage culture, that’s also something we’re —“ Adigéry’s baby sneezes, on cue. “Allergic to. It’s satire, but we’re not presenting an answer with this track, we’re just saying, ‘oh, you don’t say this - say this’. To me, something I feel happens in this culture is saying what the other person has to say and that cancels out the opportunity of conversation: it created censorship. That’s difficult”. And as a Black woman raised and living in the predominantly white society of Belgium, she is well acquainted with racism, discrimination, and the implications of both. “I’m a minority, I know and I’ve felt angry and offended. I feel like now it’s our time to let us be heard and you have to listen, and all that, but the way it’s going right now is to an extreme.” She adds that they both feel optimistic on the matter. “I’m sure we’ll find a middle ground, but we’re not there yet”.

“I really liked the one sentence that Charlotte wrote [for ‘Esperanto’], ‘are you as open-minded behind closed doors?’ ” chimes Pupul. “It makes you question if you’re always as open-minded or as politically correct as you intend to —“

“As you claim to be on social media,” says Adigéry.

“We can all say, ‘I’m not a racist, I’m a feminist’ — until you are married with your wife and you do find the slight logic that she should do the dishes. It’s easy to say those things that practise what you preach, [but] is it what you do?” questions Pupul. “I’ve had racist thoughts, but I didn’t ever act racist. I think we’ve all had these thoughts. Whenever we accuse somebody of racism, people are very allergic to the word, so I think what Charlotte wrote is super powerful and gives you the chance to be introspective and ask yourself the question: am I as open-minded when I’m all alone? So, maybe think about it before we criticise somebody [else]”.

Songs like “Hey” continue this discussion of ‘wokeness’ through the pair’s interpretation of Caribbean zouk music, which Pupul says became something hybrid and “electronically avant-garde” thanks to Soulwax, who also produced the album. On the track, Adigéry searches for utopia. “My name is integrity”, she sings, repeating the words ‘equality’, ‘unity’, ‘variety’, ‘harmony’. Do they think people struggle to have integrity when it comes to being online?

“It’s so new to us, the self-broadcasting, that tool,” says Adigéry. “As humans, we’re not yet ready for that, we haven’t evolved as much as the technology has evolved. Sometimes it clashes and you can get really lost within that need to self-broadcast because that’s bigger than us and bigger than something we can really comprehend and grasp”.

Pupul thinks the ease in which we can tailor our posts on social media can also be detrimental to integrity. “It’s easy on social media, you decide what to show, what you say. Most of the time we see only the good sides of somebody; it’s not a fair view on people’s lives we get through Instagram”.

Adigéry and Pupul are not interested in documenting life’s glossy moments, but prefer to lean into the ones that leave a sourer taste, rolling the thoughts on their palettes and regurgitating them into forms more easily digestible. One would be forgiven for throwing shapes to songs like “It’s Hit Me”, for example, before clocking its anecdotal accounts of teenage sexual awakening and harassment, vocals pitched and childlike, its production industrially ominous. Similarly so for “Blenda”, a song inspired in part by Renni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. The video opens on a child peering suspiciously into the camera before flipping perspective, viewers complicit in the media diet of weight loss, consumerism, music videos and cartoons. A Black woman, straight hair, suited and booted, is chased through terrain by a flock of pigeon-masked men, also in suits. It captures thoughts of the pack mentality of racism, how it exists despite the attempts of assimilation into Western ideals, and the minority’s intuitive sense that attack is always in the periphery. Both being racial minorities in Belgium, a country that — much like Britain — still patriotically embraces its colonial identity, how much did society impact their sense of selves growing up?

“Greatly,” says Adigéry, who is of Caribbean heritage. “I think too much, even. That has been huge for me to realise, and I think Black Lives Matter — that whole movement — really made me realise that even more, that I try to take [the least] space as possible in society, or even a queue in a supermarket. I don’t want to feel like I’m bothering someone with my presence as a Black woman. I have this little voice inside of me still saying ‘you should be happy you can be here’, ‘you should be happy you got to study for free in this country, because it’s not yours’, ‘you should be happy, so please don’t be a burden to anybody’, and I hate making mistakes because of it. Because I always feel if I make a mistake, it’s worse: I confirm the stereotype where I can further their prejudice. I still realise I do it; I always want to be perfect on the outside. It’s hard to admit, but I still try to show the best version of myself. I do realise that making mistakes can be so liberating, but it’s hard for me to do so”.

"We like to use humour because we think it’s a great way of not lingering bitterness or anger, but also have its effect... a spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down” - Charlotte Adigéry

I add that British education tends to focus on the American aspect of slavery, and Adigéry seems surprised. “I learned about Congo [in] high school,” recalls Pupul, who is of Chinese descent. “It was only later we realised that Belgians were also violent in war. Leopold II still has statues in Brussels, Ostend. There’s this huge heritage in which Belgium still hasn’t apologised for its deeds. Now, they’re talking about removing some statues, so we’re making some kind of progress. It’s going slow. But then again, there’s a lot of people who are contesting, they say it should stay there; it has value, you shouldn’t redesign history. There’s a whole discussion about that”.

With her child ever-present and currently swaddled to her chest, I ask if Adigéry feels the next generation of marginalised individuals will be affected by the same problems. Is she hyper-aware of guiding her child through a society that still enables these issues?

“Yeah, I’m aware of it. I think I’m still naively optimistic. My husband has two kids from a past relationship, eleven and 14; they would describe a girl from their class and it would be obvious to me that [her heritage isn’t Belgian], but I would ask where she’s from [and they'd say] from Belgium. ‘I think the generation of my son will be completely different already, but also the naive optimism comes from the fact that I — and it’s so bad, actually — I really hope that, even though I would find him as beautiful if he would have the same colour as me, or be even darker, but I hope somewhere, unconsciously —“ she hesitates, remarking that it’s the first time she’s ever said it out loud. “— that he wouldn’t look too Black. But it’s not for me — I love my son and I love my culture — but just for him, so he wouldn’t have to be facing this absurd thing that I’ve experienced. It’s been really bad.

“I’ll try as much as possible to make him really learn to love himself so all of these other things won’t matter,” Adigéry continues, reflecting on the lived consequences of colourism and racism. “You’re a victim [of the situation] if you choose to be,” she adds, suggesting that her resolve dictates that she is not. “If somebody calls me the ’n-word’, am I a victim because he decides to project his anger and his ignorance? That’s something I hope I can [teach my son] and maybe he’d do a better job at it that I did, and not be hurt by it”.

At times race has also led to genre stereotyping of their music, Pupul recalling how, in the beginning, press would use phrases such as ‘neo-soul’. “We’re like ‘soul music? How do they hear [that]?’, or they’re adding ‘urban’ to it. So in a way, I think that still, regarding your skin colour, people tend to put the genre on your music”. Adigéry jokes that, were they making music based on Pupul’s heritage, it would probably be presumed to be K-pop, to his amusement. “This guy!” With their spirited approach to genre, Pupul is clear that, as a producer, it is the prospect of finding new sounds that keeps him going, experimenting with unusual combinations in a quest to avoid boredom. “There’s not so much that really excites me because sometimes music feels like it’s all been made by the same person —“

“Especially in the charts,” chimes Adigéry.

“Everything is overly produced. Music that inspired me the most is Dean Blunt, Bullion”.

“I think that’s something that really inspired us, the hybrid, strange combination of worlds, the urban with the indie,” continues Adigéry. “But I also think that’s nothing new. Popular music has always been copied and recopied; someone started something or some subculture comes to the surface, and everybody imitates it”.

It’s a theme they wax lyrical on, quite literally, on “Ceci n’est pas un cliché”, a track composed entirely of overused lyrics. “When you hear a song on the radio that starts with ‘I was walking down the street’, it’s quite incredible that these days you still use these kinds of cliches — [it’s] not like they’re telling you a lot of information,” says Pupul. “We thought maybe we can come up with a list of clichés that we are bored of hearing, and [use] all these great one-liners we’re so used to hearing in pop music”.

Is there one lyric in particular that irritates them more than anything else?

“There was one that somebody told us recently, ‘deep in my soul” says Pupul. “How deep — medium deep?”

“‘All night long’ is also something that bothers me,” adds Adigéry. “Just the promise of something going on ‘all night long’, no — why?”

“When does morning start?”

“When can I go home?”

“Is that 7 am?”

“Can we just do an hour and make it ‘sleeping all night long’?” Adigéry laughs. “Now we’ve made this song, and oftentimes I hear another sentence somewhere and think, oh, we should’ve used that, and do a whole album”.

“Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French!”

Perhaps, when it comes to the innards of a time capsule, the chosen objects are nothing but a bunch of clichés. Does something hold significance because the majority hive-mind decides it so, or is it some other emotional connection that elevates a subject into an icon worthy of defining an era? The human experience may arguably be universal, but Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul's perspective of the world certainly isn’t boring.

Topical Dancer is out now via DEEWEE.