THE OTHER BRUSSELS
Until late 1979, Belgian popular culture had limited impact on the wider world. True, back in 1963 the Singing Nun had topped the US singles chart with Dominique, and fourteen years later Plastic Bertrand scored a worldwide hit with an energetic slice of parody punk, Ca Plane pour Moi. However, both were essentially novelty records: some claimed (falsely) that Bertrand hadn't even sung on his own hit, and the troubled career of Sister Luc Gabriel would ultimately end in tax wrangles and a suicide pact. Cartoon boy hero Tin Tin and troubadour Jacques Brel enjoyed worldwide renown, but most outsiders fancied they were French, while the saxophone (invented by Walloon-born instrument designer Adolphe Saxe in 1840) occupied but limited space in the post-punk landscape. Only in April 1980 would the Belgian avant-garde reach a mass audience, when electro-pop trio Telex represented the nation in the Eurovision Song Contest, albeit turning in a wry performance which saw them placed third from last, recipients of just 14 post-modern points.
However, appearances can be deceptive. In accordance with its geographical status as the crossroads of Europe, Brussels boasted an alternative scene no less tuned-in as Paris or Amsterdam, and probably more so. New wave luminaries such as Patti Smith, Talking Heads, XTC and Magazine enjoyed early success in the city, even if a performance by electro-rockers Suicide in June 1978 provoked the disturbance preserved on the infamous 23 Minutes Over Brussels bootleg flexi. Public Image Limited also made their live debut in the city, at Theatre 140 in December 1978. Artists such as these inspired home-grown talent including Digital Dance, The Names, Siglo XX, TC Matic and the Kraftwerk/Eno-informed Oblik Mouvement, while Virgin-signed Telex were far more credible than first impressions suggested. A handful of new independent labels were also poised to emerge, including Sandwich, Double Dose, Crammed and Les Disques du Crépuscule. Those too impatient to wait for local new wave records could purchase hip imports from Caroline and Casablanca Moon, while live venues included the Ancienne Belgique, Beursschouwburg, and an important new multi-media arts space, Plan K.
In contrast, Paris remained in the thrall of more traditional strands of punk and American rock and roll, while Berlin remained isolated in terms of both culture and political geography. There was however a measure of rival activity across the border in Holland, and Dutch audiences also enjoyed the benefit of a network of state-funded cultural centres, whose status sat somewhere between an arts centre and a licensed youth club. These well-equipped, progressive venues covered the country from Groningen to Utrecht, and provided a firm financial foundation for many European tours by marginal or alternative artists that might otherwise have run at a substantial loss, although it could also produce blase audiences, spoiled for choice. In this regard, crowds in neighbouring Belgium often seemed more appreciative, while also enjoying the benefits of the subsidized Dutch circuit just a short drive across the border.
Sandwich Records, the first significant independent label in post-punk Belgium, broke cover in late 1979. The label was an extension of Brussels record store Casablanca Moon, centrally located at 5 Rue de l'HÙpital (Gasthuisstraat), run by Michel Lambot, Raf Bauwens, Dominique Cornet and Brigitte Brouillard. Prior to founding Sandwich, Lambot and Bauwens had also released singles by Red Zebras and De Brassers. Like Rough Trade in London, Casablanca Moon expanded in scope from simple retail sales to indie distribution, as well as renting early video cassettes and promoting live concerts. Along with the Plan K venue on Rue de Manchester, the shop became one of the primary hubs of the expanding post-punk/alternative scene in Brussels, although the Casablanca Moon group themselves as less elitist than certain other cliques in the city. Alongside this DIY ethic the Sandwich label cultivated a number of local artists, notably the Oblik Mouvement, an electronic-experimental collective founded by Roger-Marc Vande Voorde of Polyphonic Size, whose members included present and future members of Digital Dance, Front 242, Kid Montana and others.
Over the course of some 17 releases between 1979 and 1982, Sandwich Records pursued an essentially underground agenda, embracing post-punk rock and oblik electronica. Sales figures for most titles were also marginal, and losses on records were frequently subsidized by shop profits and gig promotion. Sandwich and Casablanca Moon represented a more idealistic, DIY alternative to the more arty constructs of Plan K, Crépuscule and Crammed, and firmly rejected notions of cultural profile and chic brand identity. That said, they did commission an exquisite poster design from Crépuscule designer Benoît Hennebert to promote The First Belgian Rhythm Box Contest, an Oblik festival staged at the Ancienne Belgique venue on 3 April 1981. Another intriguing artifact from this period was a video (now lost) made by Waving Ondulata, in which various figures from the Brussels scene were given two minutes to sound off. Waving Ondulata would later become the Sub Rosa label, and also designed the original sleeve for the diverse, predominantly electronic B9 compilation, released in May 1981.
Unlike the cosmopolitan cassette package From Brussels With Love, released by Crépuscule in November 1980, B9 drew from an exclusively local talent pool. Indeed three of the ten tracks featured Lambot, Bauwens and Cornet. The album also featured an amusing (though hardly informative) fanzine insert. Interviewed by journalist Jacky Huys on the release of B9 in May, Raf Bauwens offered an idiosyncratic philosophy: "Sandwich Records isn't playing any commercial, major-label game. We have no fixed logo, and intend to change the name on a regular basis. Having a fixed image leads to preconceptions, whether positive or negative, and we don't even want to attract a cult audience."
Unfortunately funds remained a problem. Rent on Gasthuisstraat was high, label sales remained low (relatively few were eprts), and Casablanca Moon closed down for good in June 1982. In October Lambot and new partner Kenny Gates founded Play It Again Sam (aka PIAS), which soon became a leading independent distributor and label in Belgium, and later the whole of Europe. The Sandwich label also ran short of funds, although the name continued to be used until 1983. Several of the projects recorded for the label remained unreleased (eg SR 19 by Digital Dance), while at least one Sandwich project (SR 12) was a co-release with another other label, New Dance, an imprint founded by Philippe Sion.
As well as the original ten tracks included on B9 in May 1981 (with fanzine insert), this epnded CD reissue includes an extra eight bonus tracks, with the object of presenting a more completepcture of the Belgian post-punk and underground scene between 1979 and 1983.
KID MONTANA Cabs Ambush (3.31)
The debut recording by Kid Montana, with multi-instrumentalist founder Jean-Marc Lederman here joined by Janine B. (bass) and Bernard D. (vocals). Previously a member of Digital Dance and Fad Gadget, Lederman/Kid Montana recorded a 12" single for Sandwich/New Dance in 1982 (Statistics Mean Nothing When You Get On the Wrong Plane) before recruiting American-born singer Dudley Kludt. After another 12" in 1984 (Remembering Yalta) thepir reinvented themselves as a sophisticated pop duo for Les Disques Du Crépuscule. Mini-album The Las Vegas Gold Rush (1986) and album Temperamental (1987) are lost gems, and include several tracks produced by Marc Moulin of Telex. After Kid Montana, Lederman produced harder electronics in The Weathermen, as well as recording with Julianne Regan as Jules et Jim. Further info:
TRISTES TROPIQUES Untitled #1 (1.40)
The first of two short recordings on B9 made by Raf Bauwens, Dominique Cornet and Erik Van Den Brueck, taped at Daniel Bressanutti's home studio. As well as running Sandwich and Casablanca Moon with Michael Lambot, Raf Bauwens was also a key promotor in Belgium, hepng to stage early concerts by Joy Division, Bush Tetras, Tuxedomoon and many others. An amusing account by journalist Marc Schoeters of the ill-starred JD show at the King-Kong Club in Antwerp on 14 January 1980 can be found at www.joydiv.org/c140180.htm
PROTHESE Tumeurs (6.05)
Prothese was an early recording project by Daniel Bressanutti (aka Daniel B.), an electronic music pioneer and in 1980/81 an alumnus of the Oblik Mouvement. As Prothese, Bressanutti released two tracks on Belgian compilation albums in 1981: Tumeurs on B9, and Chanson on Walkin' After Midnight (St Germain Records). A cassette was also available from Casablanca Moon. Bressanutti's day job at leading Brussels music store Hill's Music provided access to the latest technology long before other independent artists, and also benefited his other main project, Front 242. "Le pluralisme des opinions negatives rend tout jugement subjectif impossible si pas improbable. De fait tout autre opinion que l'opinion non publique devra etre consideree comme non recevable."
REL REX Program (5.54)
In fact Kloot Per W., bass player in Polyphonic Size (see below), who as De Minz also contributed tracks to the 1981 Belgian indie compilation No Big Business (Kleo Records). Further info:
DIGITAL DANCE Human Zoo (5.00)
One of the first and best Belgian new wave bands, Digital Dance formed in Brussels in July 1978 by singer/guitarist Jerry WX and guitarist Stephan Barbery. The second line-up, which also included keyboard player Jean-Marc Lederman, released their first single on Disques Vogue in July 1979, a disco cover of Radio-Activity by Kraftwerk. Three more singles followed, Faulty, Treatment and Three Meanings (unreleased), as well as a self-titled cassette album, and another single under the name Jung. Although John Peel championed Faulty in the UK, and the band played several high profile live shows (including a residency at the Gibus Club in Paris and a support slot with Joy Division at Plan K in January 1980), DD failed to break through and split early in 1982. Various members subsequently played in groups as diverse as Fad Gadget, Marine, The Revenge, Kid Montana, Snowy Red, The Weathermen, The Names, Noh Mask, and Ink. Human Zoo was recorded on 11 September 1980 and produced by Digital Dance. Further info:
POLYPHONIC SIZE Kyoto (4.57)
A native of Charleroi, Roger-Marc Vande Voorde founded the Oblik Mouvement in 1979, an electronic music collective influenced by Kraftwerk and Devo. Others involved included Jerry WX (Digital Dance), Daniel Bressanutti (Prothese, Front 242), Jean-Marc Lederman and Michel Lambot. Through Hill's Music, Bressanutti and Vande Voorde obtained a Korg MS-20, the first 'chep Korg synthesizer, resulting in the Algorythmic EP by Polyphonic Size, released in December 1979 on Sandwich. Dominique Buxin provided lyrics; Kyoto was inspired by RM's visit to Japan in summer 1980 and features a Japanese journalist named Akiko on vocals. Polyphonic Size made their live debut at The First Belgian Rhythm Box Contest in 1981, subsequently performed across Europe as well as in Moscow and Peking, and released a string of albums including Live For Each Moment (1982), Walking Everywhere (1984), The Overnight Day (1988) before ending in 1991. Much of their best work was recorded in collaboration with Stranglers bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel. Further info:
SATIN WALL Dans Les Profondeurs (4.01)
TRISTES TROPIQUES Untitled #2 (1.33)
Details as track 2.
PSEUDO CODE Around Midnight (8.50)
Active between 1980 and 1982, this Belgian experimental group comprised Alain Neffe, Xavier Stenmans and Guy-Marc Hinant. Around Midnight was recorded in rehearsal, and thus the sound is slightly imperfect. Sandwich Records released two Pseudo Code EPs during 1980/81 (Far Away From My Own Land, Moon Effect) and two cassette albums (Potlatch Music I and II). Other recordings from this period include the albums Europa (Pseudo Records) and the 10" EP Light. Neffe ran the prolific cassette label Insane Music, and also records as BeNe GeSSeRiT, among many other guises. Guy-Marc Hinant is a partner in the Sub Rosa label. Xavier Stenmans works for Belgian national radio and television. Further info:
SLIM JACK & HIS FABULOUS COCKTAIL So Sah Gelleck Tissah (5.31)
Slim Jack hides the identity of Michel Lambot, a founder of Casablanca Moon and Sandwich Records, and a supporter of Roger-Marc Vande Voorde's Oblik Mouvement. In 1982 Lambot founded Play It Again Sam (PIAS) with Kenny Gates, which quickly became - and remains - a major independent player in Europe, both as a distributor and a label. Please note - this is a rather low-fi recording.
THE NAMES Spectators of Life (2.57)
Formed in Brussels as Thepssengers, the band became The Names in time for their debut single, Spectators of Life, released by WEA Belgium in late 1979. A strong, melodic song by writer/singer/bassist Michel Sordinia, the single impressed Rob Gretton and Factory Records, who took on the band on April 1980. Three further singles (Nightshift, Calcutta, The Astronaut) and the album Swimming followed, all produced by Martin Hannett and released on Factory, Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule. In addition to Sordinia the band comprised Marc Deprez (guitar), Christophe den Tandt (keyboards) and Luc Capelle (drums). The Names split at the end of 1982.
SIGLO XX Individuality (4.33)
Siglo XX (named after a tin mine on Bolivia, and an anarchist movement in the Spanish Civil War) came together in Genk (Limburg) in 1978, and debuted with The Naked and the Death on their own label (Straatlawaai Produkties) in 1980. Individuality is one of the flipside tracks, performed by Erik Dries, Antonio Palermo, Dirk Chauvaux, Guido Bos and Klaas Hoogerwaard. Always creators of dark, serious cold wave music, their first mini album appeared on Antler in 1983, the group releasing a further six albums before disbanding in 1989. Individuality was produced by Siglo XX and written by Haydee (BE's Songs). Further info:
MARINE Life in Reverse (2.44)
Originally The Marines, the first Marine line-up in 1980 comprised charismatic singer Marc Desmare with guitarists Kris Debuscheer and Nico Fransolet, plus drummer Robbie Bindels. Produced with Wim Mertens, Life in Reverse was recorded in February 1981 and released as a 7" on Les Disques du Crépuscule (TWI 024) in April. This energetic punk-funk single made waves beyond Belgium, and the band became the first Belgian act invited to record a session for John Peel. However the band split in August 1981, after most of the instrumentalists left to form Allez Allez. Marc assembled a new Marine for the singles Rive Gauche and Same Beat, including Stephan Barbery, Alain Lefebvre and Paul Delnoy. After Marine folded towards the end of 1982, Desmare (aka Demarais) formed La Muerte.
ISOLATION WARD Lamina Christus (2.47)
Formed in 1980, the band released two singles through Les Disques du Crépuscule: Lamina Christus (TWI 072/RAD 008, 7", 1982) and Absent Heart (TWI 135, 12", 1983). Isolation Ward also released two cassette albums (Point de Depart, Point Final) before splitting in 1983. The group also appeared on both Crépuscule package tours in 1982, Dialogue North-South and Move Back-Bite Harder. Lamina Christus was produced by Gilles Martin and Peter Principle (of Tuxedomoon) at Little Big One Studio, Brussels, and originally released on TWI 135. On this recording the group comprised Stephane Willocq (guitar), Jean Pierre Everaerts (bass), Etienne Vernaeve (drums), Anne Kinna (vocals) and Thierry Heyndericks (keyboards, trumpet). Further info:
FRONT 242 Principles (Instrumental) (3.33)
Electronic pioneers Front 242 were formed in Aarschot in 1981 by Daniel Bressanutti and Dirk Bergen, who wanted to create music and graphics using emerging technology. Initially the duo drew musical inspiration from two main sources, musique concrete and German Krautrock. Their first single was released as a 7" (ND 002) on New Dance in late 1981, and combined Principles with Body To Body. In 1982 the duo were joined by Patrick Codenys and Jean-Luc De Meyer of the group Under Viewer, the quartet going on to release the single U-Men and album Geography that same year. Following the exceptional albums No Comment (1984) and Official Version (1986) the group achieved worldwide success, becoming Belgium's biggest international success to date. Further info:
ALLEZ ALLEZ Allez Allez (5.34)
The original line-up of Marine split in August 1981 whilepeparing the record the first John Peel session by a Belgian band, leaving Marc Desmare with the band name but no musicians. Kristiaan Debusscher, Nicolas Fransolet, Sarah Osborne, Roland Bindi, Marka and Robbie Bindels continued as Allez Allez, no less funky but with the emphasis on fun more than art. The new group followed early singles She's Stirring Up and African Queen with mini-album African Queen (1982), all on Brussels label Scalp, the group signed to Virgin for second album Promises (1984), although despite some fine pop music the band failed to break through commercially. Sprightly single Allez Allez was produced by Allez Allez and Alan Ward and recorded in 1981. Further info:
BERNTHOLER Emotions (2.22)
With a name inspired by Virna Lindt's Attention Stockholm, Berntholer formed in Brussels in October 1981, comprising Drita Kotaji, Simon Rigot, Pol Fourmois and Manuel Poutte. After debut single Japanese Garden/The Others on Putovsky (1982), the group recorded the haunting, cello-lead ballad My Suitor, released as a single with Emotions on Blue Feather in 1983. My Suitor met with considerable acclaim, including John Peel on the BBC. Sadly business and creative complications mean that Berntholer released no further records, and performed their last concert in April 1985. Emotions was recorded at Daylight Studio, Brussels, in August 1983 and produced by Gilbert Lederman. Further info:
JUNG The Real Thing (4.02)
Jung were essentially Jerry WX and Stephan Barbery of Digital Dance with bass player GaÎl, although this 7" single for Sandwich Records (SR17) from 1982 went unreleased due to financial problems at the label. The b-side would have been Jung's cover of Sinking Tanker, a Digital Dance song, and a cover of The Avengers, the theme from the 1960s TV series.
Sleevenote by James Nice.