The Flat Earth Society (FES) is a Belgian big band ensemble founded and led by Peter Vermeersch. They mix the rich Belgian brass band (HaFaBra) tradition with characteristic topsy-turvy creativity.
Their earliest gig took place in 1997, when they performed a composition
by Peter Vermeersch to accompany a circus act by De Circusplaneet
during the Oorsmeer festival. They also performed on the song Porqué te
Vas by A Group, Peter Vermeersch' avant-garde pop band.
Wider attention came thanks to the Flemish radio station Radio 1, where
they performed on the show Levende Lijven. The entire gig was recorded
and later released under the title Live at the Beursschouwburg 1999,
containing compositions by Peter Vermeersch and covers of jazz numbers.
Unfortunately the Viakra label that released this CD went bankrupt,
preventing a wide distribution. This prompted Peter Vermeersch to found
his own record company, Zonk!Records.
The year 2000 was a busy one, with a Belgian tour, a new appearance in
the last broadcast of the Levende Lijven radio show, and the first
release on Zonk!Records: Bonk. The tracklist contains new and old
compositions by Vermeersch and other members of the big band, but ends
with two covers of songs by The Residents. FES also played in the
theatre play Larf by Josse De Pauw, the music of this performance being
released the same year. Meanwhile Peter Vermeersch also composed the
music for Minoes, a children's movie by Dutch film director Vincent Bal
on a story by Annie M.G. Schmidt (released in 2001).
In 2002, the Flat Earth Society was the house band of the Brugge2002
festival, where they participated in the Benenwerk project, turning the
centre of the city of Bruges into a large ballroom. Trap became the
second regular studio recording, and in August the Flat Earth Society
premiered their Louis Armstrong project The Armstrong Mutations at the
last night of the free Brussels festival Boterhammen in de Stad. A tour
and a CD release followed in 2003.
Meanwhile Peter Vermeersch was also commissioned by Gerard Mortier to
write a big band opera on the libretto Heliogabal by Thomas Jonigk, with
stage directions by Roy Faudré. The opera premiered on May 8, 2003 in
Duisburg during the Ruhr Triennale festival. In 2005, the opera toured
Belgium in a new setting provided by Josse De Pauw.
In 2003 Peter had met with jazz composer and pianist Uri Caine, and the
two decided to work together. Old compositions were reorchestrated and
new pieces were written. FES toured with Uri Caine in 2004.
International success was now assured, and FES was able to sign
distribution deals with Ipecac, who released the compilation FESisms,
and later with Crammed Discs who released Psychoscout in 2006 and Cheer
Me, Perverts! in 2009. In May 2011 they toured the USA for the first
time in their career. Starting in Tampa, they went from Washington and
Philadelphia to New York, where they performed at the Lincoln Center and
the Museum of the Moving Image.