When we asked Brussels-based David Mennessier to do a ‘favourite Belgian releases’, we knew we were in for a treat. His involvement in musical activities has been and still is huge: from Point Culture (the support platform for cultural projects, with a huge archive of books, films and music) to Radio Campus (where he is a host), from the record shops Music Mania to Caroline Musique, David Mennessier had a hand in it, even if he rarely steps out of the shadows of his office.
A few months before releasing a new project simply called «Belgium Underground» (more on that soon to be found in The Word Magazine), David sent us this list of 33 songs, calling it «Dites 33» after the famous francophone saying about doctors checking your lungs. One thing is sure: this solid list cures both bad taste and acute Belgian music ignorance.
Marc Moulin “Mes chers compatriotes” (LP/Noises Compilation/Kamikaze/1977)
A speech by King Baudouin, done in a Steve Reich style by one of the most influential smugglers of the Belgian independent music scene.
Aksak Maboul “(Mit 1) Saure Gurke (Aus 1 Urwald Gelockt)” (LP/Onze danses pour combattre la migraine/Kamikaze/1977)
The first album of a band lead by one of the future kingpins of the label Crammed Discs, Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis, who remain a fascinating and enigmatic musical duo.
Les Tueurs de la Lune de Miel “Blankenberghe” (LP/Spécial Manubre/Kamikaze/1977)
This track is related to the first track of this list. The album «Spécial Manubre» was produced by Marc Moulin under his label Kamikaze. Hollander, Kenis and singer Véronique Vincent join the «Tueurs», driven by the charismatic singer Yvon Vromman. They will later became «The Honeymoon Killers». A track with an surrealist humor and a ‘just don’t care’-vibe. You can’t get more Belgian than that.
Telex “Le fond de l’air est rouge” (Face b du 45 tours “Twist à Saint Tropez”/RKM/1978)
Marc Moulin, (yes, him again) with his two acolytes, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers. “Le fond de l’air set rouge” is one of their most boldest project; on a musical level, but also lyrically. Unbeknownst by them, they foreshadow the post-Tchernobyl years.
Trans Volta “Disco Computer” (45 tours/Disques Vogue/1978)
Released under one of Dan Lacksman’s many side-projects. “Disco Computer” is redoubtably effective and classic.
Lio “Amoureux Solitaires” (45 tours/Ariola/1980)
This song, extracted from the first Lio’s album it’s actually a new version of «Lonely Lover», a group formed by Eli Medeiros and Jacno. The text is adapted in French by the word-sculptures of genius lyricist Jacques Duvall.
Allez Allez ”African Queen” (LP/African Queen/Scalp Records/1981)
Allez Allez rose like a phoenix from the hot ashes of post-funk band Marine. Their first album takes us on an adventure off the beaten track, on a road less traveled by Belgian artists. It seems like funk, disco, afro and new wave were unexplored territory at the time. The perfect counterpart between that and «I’ve Seen That Face Before» (Libertango) produced by Chris Blackwell for Grace Jones (also released in 1981).
Pseudocode “Fight Back (The Angels)” (1981)
Between 1980 and 1982, Xavier Ess (Thrills), Guy-Marc Hinant (Sub Rosa) and Alain Neffe (Insane Music, Bene Geserit) put themselves at the same level of Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle. They definitely infused the dance floors with new energy.
Autumn “A Night in June” (1981)
Twilight Ritual, Linear Movement and Autumn are all projects of Peter Bonne and remain to this day one of the best kept secrets of the Kingdom.
However, to our delight, the minimal label Wave, has reissued most of these Synthpop treasures. They were initially released as ultra confidential tracks, even though I believe they deserve to surpass their “unknown” or cult status.
Digital Dance “Treatment” (45 tours/Dirty Dance/1981)
Digital Dance was formed around the unconventional characters that were Jerry WX (Chainsaw, The Revenge, Two Tracks) and the guitarist Stephan Barbery (Marine, Snowy Red, Instead Of, Ink). They are to be situated somewhere between the Talking Heads, A Certain Ratio and Gang Of Four.
Too good to remain in the past.
Carol “Breakdown” (45 tours/Dirty Dance/1981)
Huge hit, single-handedly announcing the entire new beat scene. A 45’er produced by Micky Mike (Chainsaw, Snowy Red) and released by Antler Records (founded by Rolan Beelen and Maurice Engelen of Praga Khan).
Snowy Red “Opium” (LP/The Right to Die/1982)
After being the Chainsaw guitarist, the first Belgian punk band ever, Micky Mike started Snowy Red, his own electro-wave project.
«The Right to Die» is full of sound and rhythms that influenced the different EBM scenes and European New Beat. This album remains an absolute classic.
Polyphonic Size “Je t’ai toujours aimée” (LP/Live For Each Moment – Vivre Pour Chaque Instant/Sandwich Records/1982)
Produced and sung by Stranglers’ bassist Jean-Jacques Burnal, the very salacious «Je t’ai toujours aimé» was stylishly re-recorded by the French signer Dominique (who was influenced from the very beginning with Belgian minimal wave).
2 Belgen “Quand le film est triste” (45 tours/Antler Records/1982)
Hard to choose between TC Matic, Arbeid Adelt! and Nacht Und Nebel, so I’d rather not choose.
Furthermore, 2 Belgen in French, that’s something!
Isolation Ward “Lamina Christus” (45 tours/Radical Records/1982)
Far from conventional new wave anthems, “Laminus Christus” is above all an overloaded and hunted song. Peter Principle from Tuxedomoon produced the track. Unstoppable.
Des Airs “Lovely Lady” (EP/Crammed Discs/1982)
All the sophistication of the label Crammed encasuplated on this splendid revival piece of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, played by Catherine Jauniaux and arranged by Fanchon Nuyens (future member of Zap Mama).
Véronique Vincent & Aksak Maboul “Chez les aborigènes” (LP/Crammed Discs/1982-2014)
This album was meant to get its makers mainstream recognition. Instead, it’s been hovering in limbo for the past 30 years. Crammed Discs rewrite once again the history of music by releasing the track in 2014 and thus saving it from total oblivion.
Bernthøler “My Suitor” (45 tours/Blue Feather/1983)
The most beautiful of all, it’s hard to imagine a more haunted song than this one. Sung by Drita Kotaji, «My Suitor» was one of the few Belgian tracks included on the very exclusive «Festive Fifty» ; the BBC radio show presented by John Peel in 1983.
Odieu et le feu “Le salon lavoir” (45 tours/Odieu et le Feu/Slap Slim/1981)
Didier Odieu always made his own way, he is uncontrollable, rebellious and uncompromising. Some have tried to made him into a pop singer. Fortunately, that mission failed.
Tragic Error “Tanzen” (12″/Who’s That Beat?/1989)
If I had to keep just one New Beat track, it would undoubtedly be this one. By the unstoppable Patrick De Meyer.
Front 242 “Tragedy for You” (12”/Red Rhino Europe/1990)
This song from Front 242, obviously didn’t reach the height of their debut album. But the incredible video directed by Anton Corbijn fascinated me when I was young. To me, this timeless track is an instant classic.
Zap Mama “Take Me Coco” (CD/Zap Mama/CramWorld/1991)
An inspiration to The Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest and The Roots. Enough said.
Deus “Fell Off The Floor, Man” (LP/In a bar, under the sea/Bang! Music/1996)
«In a bar, under the sea» is Deus’ second album and certainly remains the most successful of the period in which Tom Barman and Stef Kamil Carlens united their respective talents. The creative madness of the album resounds with a «beefheartian» accent. Produced by Eric Drew Feldman (Magic Band, Pere Ubu, PJ Harvey).
Scratch Pet Land “Oiseaux d’appartement” (LP/Scratch Pet Land/Source/1997)
“Les petits oiseaux, les petits oiseaux, les petits oiseaux…”
The Baudoux brothers were ahead of their time with connections in Germany (Mouse on Mars) as well as in Japan (Nobukazu Takemura).
Les Brochettes “Les avions” (CD/Disco Novo/Brut/1998)
On two impeccable albums, Les Brochettes (Nicoles Deschuyteneer, Zoé Jadoul and Frédérique Franke) made pop unhealthy, tart but at the same time sweet and heady.
Olivier Andu “Oh, pleine lune du Kentucky”
Le Bénin, Nick Drake, Mississippi John Hurt, “Oh, pleine lune du Kentucky, emmène nous là-bas, fais nous voir l’autre monde…”
Being honest, the one that talked about this track best is Stéphane Deschamps from Les Inrockuptibles, so have a listen, if you want.
Melon Galia “Jamais je ne mens” (CD/Les embarras du quotidien/Les Disques Mange-Tout/2000)
It took until 2000 for a Belgian group to succeed in making a successful pop album influenced by French groups as The Pale Fountains, Belle & Sebastian and Calexico. This album (“The embarrassment of the daily”) is produced by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) released on a label of Northern France (Les Mange-Tout Records) and whose cover was done by two big names in French comic culture, Dupuy Berberian.
Dead Man Ray “Woods” (CD/Trap/Heavenhotel/2000)
Daan Stuyven and Rudy Trouvé on top of their game.
Ignatz “The Trail” (LP/III/(K-RAA-K)³/2008)
Since its first LP in 2005, the music of Bram Devens, Gent’s born and Brussels’s based has only grow in power. He’s probably the most important Belgian artist of the last ten years.
Hoquets “Chaud Boulet” (CD/Belgotronics/Crammed Discs/2011)
And again, the Crammed label. A French, a Belgian and an American (François Shulz, Maxime Lê Hùng et McCloud Zicmuse) are inspired by the idea of «do-it-yourself». In the style of Congotronics via Konono Nº1, they sing the praises of their home country. Totally enjoyable.
BRNS “Mexico” (CD/Wounded/Louis Records/2012)
BRNS have the future ahead of them. We can just relax and dance on.
Peter Van Hoesen “Hyperion” (2013)
«Hyperion» was recorded at Tresor, the legendary techno club in Berlin. The track is an ideal introduction to his tense and addictive life.
Les Deux Fils De Pute “Fais pas l’con” (LP/Cirque Royal/Taha Records/2013)
Smimooz and Pee Gonzalez, members of De Puta Madre, sampled Plastic Bertrand’s «Tout petit la planète ». They stacked their irreverent lyrics on a flow that couldn’t be more devastating. The French hip-hop scene is still trying to understand this style, meanwhile, they stick to the «so called rapper» Booba!