Brussels-based experimental two-piece Razen’s favourite Belgian releases

With their latest album Endrhymes – a moody and ethereal four-track EP out soon on Ghent’s Kraak record label (15th February) – Brussels-based outfit Razen continues its experimental journey into unchartered territory. Threading a fine line between the classical and contemporary strands of modern music, the cerebral and near-mystic release confirms the duo’s knack for operating on the fringes. Here, to mark its appearance on our radio show tonight (from 21h00 to 22h00 on FM Brussel), the band dig into its local conscience and handpick 11 of their favourite Belgian releases. And, true to form, the selection is wide, weird and wonderful.

Listen to the exclusive mix Ameel, one-half of Razen, recorded for us here.

1. TUXEDOMOON – The Waltz (Holy Wars, Cramboy / 1985)

I have an image of what Brussels must have looked like during the 1980s. Actually it’s a collection of cross-fading images: oversized purple Generale Bank-shirts of Anderlecht players, government buildings in the fog, a bunch of old dudes in raincoats who all resemble Paul Vanden Boeynants, and the Palais de Justice as a portal to an unknown netherworld. The soundtrack to these images is “The Waltz” by Tuxedomoon; a perfect nightscape mood investigation.

2. DE BRASSERS – En Toen Was Er Niets Meer (En Toen Was Er Niets Meer, 7” eigen beheer / 1981)

Growing up in Hamont, what can you do? No really, what CAN you DO? De Brassers, as a solution, took punk attitude to the next level and then boldly went beyond. The whole process was not without hurt, though. But luckily they wrote some amazing tunes. The best punk songs are all about bass, not about the guitar, and this tune; “En toen was er niets meer”, is a fantastic example of this. Though singer Marc Poukens has more punk stamina in a single nosehair than Alan Vega in his entire coiffure, there is a funny footnote of “De Brassers” turning kind of established now, as the city of Hamont co-sponsored the documentary that was made about them.

3. WALTER HUS – Universal Nation (The Age of Love by Hus on Decap, Doctor Vinyl Records / 2013)  

Orchestral and deeply trippy, Walter Hus’ cover version of Push’s trance epic “Universal Nation” is a thrill for a large number of reasons. The most important, in my opinion, is that it beautifully demonstrates what great compositions some dance tracks actually are, when it comes to layering, structure and melody. The nuances and timbral shocks delivered by Walter’s Decap organ make the tune even more timeless. Driving on the E40 after hours? Don’t forget this song on your playlist…

4. UGLY PAPAS – The Satellites Are Spinning (Facin’ the Crap EP, Getter Records / 1990)

Ugly Papas made it to the finals of Humo’s Rock Rally in 1990, did not win, but they left their mark. They were mean, they had exactly the right amount of weird + ugly. They were the best possible band from around the corner if you just turned teenager in Roeselare and loved Killdozer, Assassins of God, Melvins and Birthday Party. “Ugly Papas” may have been their best album, “Papa Rules, Ok?”, had the greatest artwork (still really jealous!) but my favourite track of theirs is the Sun Ra cover “The Satellites Are Spinning”.

5. LOUIS DE MEESTER – Incantations (Alpha Recordings, Dead-Cert Home Entertainment / 2013)

Tape experiments and musique concrète are the sounds of pre-digital electronic sci-fi dreamstates, homely-naive and crazily futuristic at the same time. Louis De Meester’s “Incantations” is the sound of a nightmare, albeit a strangely exotic one. “Incantations” was created in 1958, shortly before De Meester started working at IPEM in Ghent (from 1962 – 1969). I kind of worry about this composer’s mental state each time I hear this track. As it turns out, Louis De Meester was born in Roeselare. So maybe it’s the dust particles from all of the factories around the harbour. Or maybe it were the years in Morocco, when he called himself “Louis Master” while teaching solfège in Meknès…

6. JOS STEEN – Police Dog Blues  (Shoes – eigen beheer cdr / 1992)

I should have picked Django, to finish off with a great Belgian guitar player. But Jos Steen speaks a little more to me, and like Django he had incredible chops, though he did all he could to hide his skills – by playing old vinyls and vacuum cleaners as instruments, for example, and by singing with a wolf howl that would scare Don Van Vliet. This is a Blind Blake song, but Jos makes it his tune.

BONUS

7. JACOB OBRECHT – Kyrie – Missa Sicut Spina Rosam (Plorer, Gemir, Crier – Diabolus in Musica, Aeon / 2012)

If Baba Vanga turns out to be right, and mankind discovers the final frontier of the universe by 5078 (thereabouts), and a few half-cyborg half-human astronauts will take the plunge toward that darkness beyond, I imagine this all will happen backed by a soundtrack consisting exclusively of Flemish Polyphony vocal music, or as it is sometimes called, the Franco-Flemish School. It’s impossible to pick a single favourite from all of these composers, and all of these masses, motets, madrigals etc. … but if needed, then let’s stick with Jacob Obrecht, who was somehow nicely in the middle, bridging Middle Ages and Renaissance.

8. FREDERIC DEVREESE – L’Oeuvre Au Noir – La Danse A L’Auberge (Devreese: Benvenuta, L’Oeuvre Au noir, Un Soir, Un Train, Marco Polo / 1991)

A movie about an alchemist named Zénon who has to go undercover in 16th century Bruges because he is accused of satanism by the Inquisition? I want to see this! I want HBO to turn this into a series! The music by Frederic Devreese here is great throughout, especially this dark and throbbing tune that is somewhat of a dead ringer for Star Wars’ Imperial March, but a little more subtle. Cool stuff for any mixtape.

9. KÖHN – Kodde (Köhn-1, (K-RAA-K)³ / 1998)

In 1998, me and a friend discovered a disc in a shop in Ghent with a sticker on ( by the shop’s owner: ) “electronica for weirdoes”. We immediately bought it, we listened and we said, this is it! This is the best thing around! I could have picked another track from another Köhn release, but for nostalgic reasons, it’s going to be “Kodde” from Köhn-1. Also the first time I ever encountered the Kraak label (back then still with the moniker (K-RAA-K)³). Jürgen De Blonde’s music, especially his keyboard playing, always reminds me of Bo Hansson. And boy do I love Bo Hansson’s El-Ahrairah and Sagan om Ringen!

freemusicarchive.org/music/Khn/Khn1/kohn_1_koddemp3

10. GEORGE SMITS – Open Mix nr 2 (Zbolk Night Radio, Audioview / 1997)

George Smits was a painter / artist / musician, who played harmonica in Ferre Grignard’s band and then started creating soundworks on Antwerp’s Radio Centraal, often using primitive samplers and self-built instruments consisting of steel wire and styrofoam. The Audioview label released two anthologies with soundworks by Smits – or ‘Toet’ as he was often called – and the first of these, Zbolk Night Radio, remains a wonderful album, that somehow succeeds in connecting outsider sound art, DIY noise, proto-breakbeat and industrial rhythms (reminding me of DMX Krew, Cylob, Key Nell), and a particular experimental Belgian night-times vibe.

11. JOUEURS D’OCARINA DE BOKUMA BELALA – Ocarina Lototsi Des Ngundu (MracKmmaArchives 1910-1960 – Archives Musée Royal d’Afr.Centrale /2000)

Yes of course the musicians performing here on this track are not Belgian at all. But the person who recorded them sometime during the 1920s on Edison Rolls (wax cylinder); Gustaaf Hulstaert, was. And let’s say, because the Edison Rolls create half of the sound present, that we can qualify this as a semi-Belgian release? Mr Hulstaert is a curious figure, whose main interest was studying butterflies and insects. This is a recording of three calebas ocarina-players from the Mongo area in Central Africa.