Some readers might be aware that I've been intimating that there's gonna be a BIG series of posts on the subject of Belgian Hardcore. This is a pet project that's been going on for weeks now. It was meant to be the definitive account of the genre, covering all the facts, people, labels, essential tunes and all that. The research has been blowing my mind. Everytime I think I'm nearing the finish line, I realise that there's some new piece of info that needs following up which then takes me to whole new areas I hadn't even considered. For instance, I soon realised that I couldn't narrow it down to simply artists and labels from Belgium itself. The scene was interlocked with pockets of like-minded activity in places like Rotterdam (in Holland), New York, Germany and even London, and that all these needed to be chronicled to explain how the scene developed. Now I realise that it's never gonna be finished. I simply lack the time and the skill to put it all together in a satisfactory manner. I've been deluding myself - getting ideas above my station. So...I'm GIVING UP ON THE WHOLE FUCKING THING. Bollocks to it!
But rather than waste all that work, I've decided to sift through the debris and use some of it over the coming weeks for a series of occasional, discreet posts, focusing on a few favourites of the era with a little historical background where appropriate, but basically just me saying "this choon fookin' rocks, it's bangin', and I love it!" which was really the whole point in the first place.
In truth, I'd pretty much forgotten about most of this stuff for years but then along came Matt Ingram in August, professing a new-found appreciation for early pre-Jungle 'ardcore over at Woebotnik, talking in positive tones about "a thuggishness to these plodding 4/4 rhythms laced with geriatric breakbeats that you just _know_ is completely moronic. It's certainly before you could make arguments for the "artistic qualities" of rave". It got me thinking about the kind of music I was listening to back then, before I was seduced by 'Artificial Intelligence'. I was a total Hardcore prole! Early Warp, Bleep 'n' Bass and Kickin' Records stuff was coveted, but my fondness for the Belgium axis was particularly acute. I've been delving into the recesses of my collection, reacquainting myself with my earlier obsessions. I like what I'm hearing. A lot. Although I have a small amount of 12 inches, the vast majority of my Belgian collection was on cassettes, either readymade compilations from React and R&S or homemade C90's full of forgotten nuggets. Over the past few weeks (or is it month's?) I've been gradually rebuilding the collection in MP3 format, either encoding from my own analogue sources or, where possible, tracking down good quality versions on Soulseek. Having both a high-speed connection and Soulseek privileges, it's actually quicker and easier for me to do it that way. So I'd like to extend my thanks to those faceless file-sharers out there, keeping this music alive and unknowingly helping me to put this project together, even though it's a non-starter.
What really amazes me about that time was the way that a nation that had previously contributed virtually fuck-all to music could suddenly be galvanised into such an astonishingly fruitful period of creativity. Prior to this, the only significant Belgian act to break in the UK was Plastic Bertrand (aka Roger Jouret) in 1978, with the Top 10 hit "Ca Plane Par Moi" which, with it's moronic yet joyfully enthusiastic hijacking of Punk's energy, could almost be considered an early blueprint for the Hardcorist's similarly insolent takeover of Techno. The 80's produced the first critically acclaimed Belgian act, 'New Beat' pioneers Front 242. They considered themselves the next stage on from the German new wave groups like D.A.F., renouncing the American-influenced music that had dominated their country's airwaves for so long, making a case for a new electronic dance music that was firmly rooted in European traditions, much the same way that Krautrock acts like Neu! and Kraftwerk had done over a decade earlier. Whilst New Beat (or EBM if you prefer) had it's admirers in the UK (me included) and certainly showed the first stirrings of a new force to be taken seriously in Europe, it failed to crossover to a sizeable audience over here. The problem was that it wasn't particularly funky or danceable; it's doom-laden, post-industrial vibe was hardly the stuff of mass-appeal. It wasn't until the next wave of artists began incorporating House, Techno and breakbeat elements that the Euro producers really began to make an impact. One of the most distinctive features of the 'classic' Belgian sound was it's pulverising riff-heavy relentlessness, which has been on occasions described as the new Heavy Metal. I reckon a full-on Belgian revival now is what is needed to bring the kids back to the dance floors!!
A couple of 'tasters'...
First released on the Ghent-based Music Man label in 1989, "Acid Rock" is the work of Frank De Wulf, who would become one of the premier 'auteur' producers of the Belgian scene. This track is like a crossroads point between the plodding sub-120 bpm grind of New Beat and the riff-driven frenzy of Hardcore. The track's title spells out the purpose clearly enough - to combine the mantric lock-groove of Acid House with the pummeling rifferama of Metal (some mixes featured a Black Sabbath-style intro, although I find that a little too overt for comfort) revealing that De Wulf was thinking along the same lines as Joey Beltram over in New York (more on whom another day). "Acid Rock's" tempo seems desperately slow by today's standards, but I still get a kick out of it. Check those 'aah' samples on the breakdown, lifted from Kraftwerk's "Techno Pop". De Wulf would thieve more Kraftwerk sounds for his more sedate "B-sides" series the following year. Tracks like "Reforced" were basically rehashes of "Home Computer". I'll probably do a whole post on De Wulf at some point.
This cut works on similar lines to "Acid Rock", but came out in 1991 on the "Enter The Darkness" EP (Hit House Records). You can hear how the sound has developed in the intervening years. The collision of functional breakbeats over stomping 909 kick drums was everywhere in 1991. Hip-House's decent into hell. I love the piercing high-pitched tone that comes in on the breakdown..Guaranteed to send your dog crazy!
Okay, prelude and excuses over. Look out for further Belgian posts in the near future....