England-born Bruxellois James Nice started LTM, a fanzine and a label, while still at school. Influenced by artists such as Tuxedomoon, The Names, Front 242 and Wim Mertens, Nice came to Brussels in 1987. He worked for Les Disques du Crépuscule/Factory Benelux, followed by a spell at PIAS. LTM has issued catalog releases by many cult Belgian bands, including Digital Dance, Berntholer, Marine, Kid Montana and Isolation Ward, as well as the popular archive compilation B9: Belgian Cold Wave 1979-1983. In 2012, James Nice revived both Les Disques du Crépuscule and Factory Benelux with the blessing of original founders Michel Duval and Annik Honoré. Here, he selects ten of his favourite Belgian tracks for us.
Isolation Ward – Lamina Christus (Crépuscule, 1982)
This Brussels group only released a couple of singles in 1982-83, but Lamina Christus has slowly become something of an underground classic. Recently, Lonelady chose a song by them for her Top Ten in Mojo magazine, alongside Nico, Arvo Part and Cabaret Voltaire. Not a bad feat for a 30 year old song.
Les Panties – L’Arrivé (Fantomes, 2014)
A new (-ish) Brussels band who self-released two really good singles so far. I guess a lot of people already know Sophie Frison, the singer, because she’s also an actor. I love everything about them – except the name! To be honest, I think they won’t get anywhere unless they change it. Generally speaking, a French language band name doesn’t really play well outside France. M83 and Air were clever because those names are fairly universal. Same thing apples to Telex and Front 242.
The Names – Stranger Than You (Factory Benelux, 2015)
I have to declare a vested interest here as I’ve worked with The Names for more than 30 years, and am the releasing label for this album. Back in 1980-82 when they were on Factory and Crépuscule, The Names were often written off as Magazine and Joy Division imitators, but the songwriting was always top flight. There’s also a highly romanticised, dream pop element in there. It was nice to see this album in a new design by Benoît Hennebert – the long-lost, forgotten genius of Belgian visual art and typography. Good video too.
Telex – Moscow Diskow (RKM, 1979)
I was going to choose a deliberately cheesy popcorn track by Marc Moulin called Chepa, but it isn’t on YouTube so it has to be Moskow Diskow by Telex. I don’t usually like humour in music, but Telex got the balance right – even if their postmodern irony died a slow death at Eurovision in 1980. I’ve got a French copy of the Looking For St Tropez album on Disques Vogue, truly a thing of beauty. However, if you’d given me a copy in 1979, I’d have dismissed it as a novelty record.
Front 242 – Funkahdafi (Another Side, 1985)
This is a live clip from the Ancienne Belgique in 1985, but I could have chosen pretty much anything from the first three albums. I worked at PIAS between 1988 and 1991 and the success of Front around the world at that time was very energising. The band members are all perfectionists for sure, and that’s why the records are so good.
Blaine L. Reininger – Mystery & Confusion – (Crépuscule, 1984)
Blaine is a member of Tuxedomoon. They’re an American band but they lived in Brussels for ten years or more. His signature solo album Night Air is all about the city, which is reflected in the low-tech video for the Bowie-esque single. My own move to Brussels in 1987 was largely inspired by Night Air. I never wore white jackets and bow ties though – at least not outdoors. It would be great if he decided to tour this entire album – a sort of Brussels version of New York by Lou Reed.
Wim Mertens – No Plans, No Projects – (Factory, 1987)
Everyone knows piano pieces like Close Cover, but this is kind of like ghostly prog rock. Definitely a film for the ears. It’s often overlooked that the parent album, Educes Me, was issued by Factory in the UK, and is far better than most of the releases on their ill-conceived Factory Classical series a few years later.
The Durutti Column – For Belgian Friends (Factory, 1980)
Durutti are from Manchester but Vini Reilly wrote this exquisite guitar piece for Annik Honoré, Michel Duval and all the others who founded Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule. It was played at Annik’s funeral last year and therefore has a particular emotional resonance for me.
Marine – Life In Reverse (Crépuscule, 1981)
Another Crépuscule record! I’m not going to apologise, because this band had the looks and the hooks to go a long way. Instead they split up on the way to record a John Peel session, and most of them formed Allez Allez. Wim Mertens produced this single, I think, though he’s not credited. It was maybe the first Belgian indie record to makes waves outside Belgium, and turned Josef K onto funky rhythms and scrubby guitars. A timeless classic.
Scott Walker – Next (Philips, 1968)
This is a lush version of a rather sordid Jacques Brel song, Au Suivant, set in a military brothel. Alex Harvey covered it too. Some people don’t like the Mort Shuman translations but they work well enough for me. Unfortunately I don’t speak French well enough to fully appreciate the Brel originals. I haven’t visited any brothels either, although the phrase “c’est un bordel ici” used to get thrown around at PIAS quite a bit.