The best of Belgium’s beats scene in 2012

The common theme running through the Belgian beats scene in 2012 was an apparent adversity to the well-established rules of classification, as beatmakers stayed away from house, dubstep, hip-hop and any other well-defined genres. Anything that fell between the cracks, and that was made with electronic instruments and/or gear, was rhythmically driven and that explored new directions was eligible for the Brussels “Beats” list on 22tracks I personally helped compile. This, combined with my well-known love of Belgian music, led to my collaboration with local talent spotlighter Soundboldly.be, formerly RELEASE, so I reckon that qualifies me to reflect on what 2012 has meant for the local scene. But instead of doing an easy end-of-year-list or a bulky essay, I’ve bundled the Belgian Beats-scene highest achievements of 2012 together and illustrated them through key-releases. Enjoy.

Uphigh Collective – What? – Tangram

Uphigh Collective, who enjoyed a hotly anticipated return to the scene in 2012, is just one sign of the rise of independent labels in Belgium. Tangram, On-Point, BOYA, Other Heights, Caoutchou, Ooh Wee, LMALC, Beatcave, Citywurl, Deaf People Audio, Pelican Fly, Silenced, Dandelion Lotus, Xtraplex (plus a few others I’ll talk about later) all released quality music, some keeping it digital only, and some taking it to the next level with nicely packaged vinyls or cassettes. Not all of them excel at everything – music, artwork, promotion – but it’s a start. It’s good to see producers aren’t waiting to be picked up by foreign labels, but rather joining forces with like-minded souls and taking matters into their own hands.

Various – Palais Chalet – Pneu Records

I only vaguely knew this label thanks to a number of wave-esque releases, but didn’t know about their Brussels-based Palais Chalet parties. This compilation features groups that were hosted at last year’s events, an amazing collection of spaced out, weirdly eclectic pop experiments that defy so many rules that they must qualify as ‘beats’. It’s also a fine example of typically Brussels/Belgian music: bewildering, dark and all over the place. It also shows you should never cease exploring the unknown. Belgian release of the year.

Vlek

This label, having recently celebrated their second birthday, are slowly but surely making international waves with a very distinct output. They’re not doing anything different from other Belgian labels per se, they’re just doing it better. Bringing together some of the most peculiar Belgian producers, they package their best stuff extremely well, sell it to the world in an creative manner and, above all, are very consistent, as they always have been. Well on the radar of worldwide tastemakers such as XLR8R and Fact Magazine, and picked up by Berghain resident Ben Klock for his Fabric mix, Vlek set the bar for the competition and champion a truly Belgian sound.

On the same tip: Thin Consolation, precursor to Vlek with whom it shares some artists, had strong releases with Richard Colvaen and Spongemagnet.

goldFFinch – Funky Steppa – Saigon Records

Belgium’s had quite a few techno, house and drum ‘n’ bass producers making waves internationally. But when it comes to the less established styles on the electronic music spectrum, until now we’ve only had a few niche oddballs getting noticed. This year, however, we’ve had Locked Groove and goldFFinch break through with releases on the hipper labels (Hotflush and Turbo, Numbers and Saigon respectively). The former make decent house music, while the latter produce trademark bassy, stuttering beats not unlike Mosca, Addison Groove or Joy O. Funky Steppa is certified dancefloor gold, causing mayhem with each play. Locked Groove might not quite earn the ‘beats’ moniker, but his remix of Duke Dumont’s “The Giver” is certainly one of the top tracks of 2012. Cupp Cave, released his Retine Waves album on Ramp Recordings this year, which is a serious step towards recognition, beyond the connoisseurs. The days you had to move to London to make it as a producer in this scene are well behind us.

The most interesting evolution in 2012 was the move towards a distinctively Belgian sound. Overall, everything looks healthy and promising. Interesting things going on at the top, a firm base working their way up and a lot of talented beatmakers ready to make their move.