Best Belgian releases of 2016 (part one)

In a year that’s undisputedly been dominated by the resurgence of the country’s hip hop scene – thanks in no small parts to the Damsos, Caballeros and Romeos of the genre –  2016 also stood out for the sheer amount of quality, pared-down electronic releases that hit the streets, from the minimalist and moody 7″ released by Aymeric de Tapol on Lexi Disques (a label that had a stellar year with other releases by Capello and Front de Cadeaux) to DMX Krew’s exquisite new age electronica on Ekster (not to mention Hiele’s OST soundtrack on the same label). The country’s punk-rockers, too, were hard at work, with Cocaine Piss, It it Anita and La Jungle all releasing strong follow-up efforts and hitting the touring circuit hard whilst at the same time raising the bar a notch or two. Last but not least, reissue labels too – led as always by Antwerp’s tireless Walhalla Records, Brussels’ Sub Rosa and Gent/Ostend’s Stroom, a somewhat newer comer to the game – , reinforced the country’s growing reputation as an 1980s hotbed for ambient/new wave/dark wave/post-punk experimentation.  All in all, 2016 was a good year for underground music in Belgium. Read on for part one of the selection, part two drops later this week.

&apos – Lichtdrank

Who: One of Bepotel records’ founding members.
Based in: Brussels
Label: Bepotel
Why we like it: The year’s most beautiful android lullaby. 

Air Lqd – Remain Neutral

Who: Producer Mehdi Kernachi
Based in: Brussels
Label: Unknown Precept
Why we like it: In the red from start to finish, Remain Neutral presents its listeners with an overwhelming and saturated ensemble, continuing Unknown Precept’s line of excellent releases. 

Alain Neffe – An introduction to the insane world of Alain Neffe

Who: Alain Neffe, founder of Insane Music label
Side-projects: Human Flesh, Human Dance, Cortex, Bene Gesserit, Pseudo Code, Kosmose, Japanese Genius, La Maison Du Jardinier, Ornament & Crime Arkhestra, Pseudo Code, Sic, Subject, The Chopstick Sisters
Why we like it: Best reissue effort of the year, hands down. Cover art is insane too. 

Asa Moto – Stay Awake – Wanowan Efem

Who: Oliver Geerts & Gilles Noë
Based in: Ghent
Side-projects: Ego Troopers
Label: Deewee
Why we like it: Tropicalia vibes for days. 

Aymeric De Tapol – J’ai dansé avec elle

Who: French-born Brussels-based producer Aymeric De Tapol
Based in: Brussels
Side-projects: MS30
Label: Lexi Disques
Why we like it: An oriental stroll that evokes the most exquisite of travels, whether real or imagined. 

Baleine 3000 – The Nap

Who: Jef Ablézot, Jun Kamoda, Laurent Baudoux
Based in: Brussels/Lille/Japan
Side-projects: Afrojaws, Lawrence Le Doux, (((sssurrounddd))), ECDIllreme/ECDイルリメ, Spdill, younGSounds, Sun OK Papi K.O.
Label: Vlek
Why we like it: Fuzzy, quirky, dreamy and wholly unexpected.  Think Anticon circa 1999 .

Berrykrimi – Elke Dag

Who: Berry Bart, Khrymes (Krimi) & Phasm
Based in: Brussels
Label: self-released
Why we like it: It gave rap’s breakout year a Flemish counterweight. Plus Krimiberry is a killer track.  

Black Flower – Ghost Radio

Who: Filip Vandebril, Jon Birdsong, Nathan Daems, Simon Segers, Wouter Haest
Based in: Antwerp/Brussels/Ghent
Side-projects: Antwerp Gipsy Ska Orkestra, The Valerie Solanas, Rent Romus’ Lords Of Outland, The Jump Arts Orchestra, Nathan Daems Quintet, Ragini Trio, De Beren Gieren, Kartasan, Marvelas Something, Members Of Marvelas, SH.TG.N, Stadt, Voodoo Boogie
Label: Zephyrus Records
Why we like it: Continues in the band’s tradition of psychedelic afro-funk. 

Capelo – Double Dribble

Who: Michel Nyarwaya and Eve Decampo
Based in: Brussels
Label: Le Pacifique x Unknown References
Why we like it: A stellar debut that had us longing for more (proven below). 

Capelo – Utrecht

Label: Lexi Disques
Why we like it: Sunshine pop for the masses. 

Carol – Breakdown – So Low

Who: Carol & Micky Mike
Side-projects: Rive Gauche, Snowy Red
Label: Weyrd Son Records
Why we like it: A 1981 reissue many of us had been waiting for, it’s one of this year’s most melancholic reminders of Belgium’s iconic role in the cold wave scene. 

Cocaine Piss – Sex weirdos

Who: Aurélie, Yannick and Mathias
Based in: Liège
Label: Hypertensionrex
Why we like it: Explosive and uncompromising. ‘Nuff said. 

Coco Haram – Contemporary Toyboy

Who: Jonas De Houwer & Gavin Vanaelst
Based in: Antwerp/Brussels
Side-projects: Kassett, Eat Lions
Label: Unknown References
Why we like it: Music to dance and cry to from the Antwerp’s duo’s debut album. 

Colombey – Colombey

Who: Thibault Gondard
Based in: Brussels
Side-projects: TG Gondard, Mon Alberteen, Pizza Noise Mafia, Lubriphikatttor
Label: Pouet! Schallplaten
Why we like it: Picture-perfect postcard from La France Profonde. 

Damso – Batterie Faible

Who: William Kalubi
Based in: Brussels
Label: 921 x Capitol Music France
Why we like it: Because it went gold, why else. And because #bruxellesvie

Different Fountains – Organism 3, 4 and 5

Who: Bernardo Risquez & Michael Langeder
Based in: Brussels/Paris
Label: Different Fountains
Why we like it: Different Fountains’ organic techno continues to speak to your feet just as well as it does to your mind. 

DMX Krew – The New Age Travellers

Who: Ed Upton (aka EDMX), founder of Breakin’ Records & Fresh Up Records
Based in: London
Side-projects: 101 Force, Asylum Seekers, Bass Potato, BBII, Chester Louis III, Computor Rockers, David Michael Cross, Ed DMX, Ed Upton, EDMX, House Of Brakes, Michael Knight, The Fresh-Up Players, Viet Cong
Label: Ekster
Why we like it: Captures DMX Krew’s more ambiant side to perfection. 

Èlg – Mauve Zone / Nashazphone

Who: Laurent Gérard
Based in: Brussels
Side-projects: Opéra Mort, Orgue Agnès
Label: Nashazphone
Why we like it: Like a kid in a forest, Èlg plays with everything and anything he finds on his way and invents unanticipated sounds. Impossible to classify, and simply genius. 

Enzo Kreft – Dark Matter

Who: Eric Vandamme
Based in: Mechelen
Label: Walhalla Records
Why we like it: Because of Walhalla’s relentless intent on giving obscure Belgian new wave a second life. 

Hiele – Saints OST

Who: Roman Hiele
Based in: Antwerp
Label: Ekster
Why we like it: The prolific electronic producer shows his skills in an entirely new, more ethereal light. An absolute gem of a record.