‘This Is Belgium’: the Radio Soulwax guide to late 80s Belgian New Beat

The perfect follow-up to The Beat Club’s “Acid Train” video I posted a few days ago, “This Is Belgium” sees that country’s top dance music export, Radio Soulwax, compiling an audio/visual history of its New Beat scene from the late 80s.

Not only are these videos great to listen to, they’re also very informative, charting the cultural and social history of a localized scene whose influence has since spread far and wide (and which is not to be confused with the original American use of the phrase “New Beat”, which meant an off-shoot of New Wave, it seems).

A regional dance music curio similar in a way to Italy’s Cosmic disco scene, New Beat djs took popular tracks of the time and slowed them down, usually playing 45rpm records at 33rpm, pitched up to +8 on the turntable. Like Cosmic, the wrong speed aspect gave New Beat an otherworldly edge: something is up with these records but it can be difficult to pinpoint what that is, if you don’t know they’re actually being played wrong.

Kicks become thuds, claps become clanks, and every vocal seems wretched from the bowels of hell. Visually New Beat may be plastered in smiley faces, but musically it’s threatening, it’s a lil’ bit scary. Slowing down acid and techno records made the sounds heavier and the atmosphere darker, and it also chimed with the emerging industrial/EBM scene of the time. This dark, powerful aesthetic would be seminal in defining the techno that came from Northern Europe in the 1990s.

From Wikipedia:

The New Beat sound originated in Belgium in the late 1980s, especially in 1987 and 1988.

The Belgian New Beat was an underground danceable music style, well known at clubs and discos in Europe. It is a local crossover of EBM, Acid and mid 80s underground House music. The 80s Dark Wave also became an aesthetic influence (especially Depeche Mode’s videos from 1985–1989). At the time, EBM was popular in German speaking countries and The Netherlands, Acid / Acid Trance was popular in the UK, and House Music (in a 80s Eurodisco French twist) was popular in France. Belgium created this unique music sound, with huge underground success all over Europe.

Legend has it that the Belgian New Beat genre was invented in the nightclub Boccaccio in Destelbergen near Ghent when DJ Marc Grouls played a 45rpm EBM record at 33rpm, with the pitch control set to +8. The track in question was Flesh by A Split-Second.

In addition to A Split-Second, the genre was also heavily influenced by other Industrial and EBM acts such as Front 242 and The Neon Judgement, as well as New Wave, and Dark Wave acts such as the likes of Fad Gadget, Gary Numan and Anne Clark.

Part one of this two hour Soulwax trip comes complete with commentary/text that tells the story of this short lived but influential dance fad (very informative and worthy of your eyes) while part two features what is presumably some Belgians reliving the New Beat dance crazes of their youth (which involve a lot of hoping around from foot to foot) while rocking some awesome retro shell suits. Enjoy: 

Radio Soulwax ‘This Is Belgium Pt 1’

Radio Soulwax ‘This Is Belgium Pt 2’


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
07:27 am
‘All Hail The Beat’: a short history of the Roland Tr-808

Don’t you love it when those murky, endless swamps of internet spam throw up something that you really enjoy? I’m sure it’s all a co-incidence, as it’s unlikely that Google knows from the number of times I have typed the numbers “808” that I’m a bit obsessed with that machine, is it?

All Hail The Beat is a three minute film by author and journalist Nelson George that’s a great introduction to (and summary of) the history of the Roland TR-808 drum machine. It’s also a neat little follow up to the Bang The Box mix I posted earlier today, which features lots and lots (and lots and lots) of banging’ 808s.

Roland’s Tr-808 Rhythm Composer was first produced in 1980, and has gone on to become one of the most influential machines in modern music. Its sonorous booms and claps are heard everywhere from Afrika Bambaataa and Egyptian Lover to Beck, Lil Wayne, Aphex Twin, Missy Elliot, Talking Heads, Marvin Gaye, Rihanna and far beyond. It’s all over hip-hop, electro, R&B, house and techno, and is the basis of underground dance genres like crunk, booty bass and New Orleans bounce. Kanye West named an album after it and even Madonna can be heard warbling about the wildness of its drum sounds on her latest single (whose production, funnilly enough, featured no actual 808s.)

Nelson George, whose face you’ll recognise from many other music documentaries, here speaks to veterans like Arthur Baker and Juan Atkins about the machine. He sums All Hail The Beat, and the 808, up thusly:

The Roland TR-808 drum machine inspires musicians around the world, even though the device hasn’t been made since 1984 — and most of its avid users have never actually seen one.

Oh how I long to get a real one of these some day…


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
06:46 pm
Ali Renault: lord of the doom-dance

Ali Renault is one of my favourite producers working right now. Formerly one half of the ace Italo revivalists Heartbreak he has been building a reputation over the last few years with his solo techno-disco outings on labels like Moustache and Dissident, and now he has just dropped his excellent debut album for the London label Cyber Dance.

Renault’s heavily Italo-influenced sound is clean and crisp, but with a tangible sense of creeping dread, like that point on a night out when you notice the sun has come up and your high is beginning to wear off. It’s what might happen if you took the synths of Claudio Simonetti, slow them down to a warped ketamine crawl and lock them in a wardrobe with Michael Myers. It’s not nearly as hellish as that makes it sound - in a way it’s kind of comforting, like the knowledge that someday you are going to die. It’s no surprise to learn that Renault’s formative musical influences as a teenager were both metal and techno. 

“I like using old cheap hardware and I enjoy trying to evoke a dark mood with machines” he says.  Renault’s self-titled debut album is 8 tracks of what he describes as “detective-noir” and will appeal to fans of golden age John Carpenter, classic Detroit techno, Garth Merenghi re-runs and the darker side of Italo disco. This isn’t music designed to impress with tricks and technology, it has a cleanliness of form and a melodic richness that is unique and brilliant. You can download the excellent “Pagan Run” from the 20 Jazz Funk Greats blog at this link (highly recommended), and here’s a download of the track “Promises”, courtesy of Mixmag:

And here’s another album track, “Dignitas Machine”:

Ali Renault performs “Zombie Raffle” live at Magic Waves festival 2010:

Ali Renault can be purchased on vinyl from Juno and Beatport.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
10:18 am
The Rave Years Pt 3: Unknown news report 1991

“If it goes any further it might as well be rock and roll”

Kevin Saunderson on the the mutation of house and techno into “rave”.

Here’s an interesting little adjunct to the rave documentaries I have been posting recently - this is not a full length doc like the others, but a much shorter news-type item for what was presumably a youth culture show. It is interesting for a number of reasons - it’s cataloging the emergence of “rave” as a defined type of music as represented by acts such as SL2 and The Prodigy, and that kind of music’s growing popularity. In fact, the clip features an interview with a 19 year old (!) Liam Howlett, bemoaning the lack of radio play of rave music, despite it regularly reaching the upper reaches of the British charts. Ironically, it was The Prodigy who were charged with killing rave music by turning it into novelty records of the likes of “Charly Says”. In this clip rave-based dance music is referred to as “techno”, even as a Detroit-based techno pioneer such as Inner City’s Kevin Saunderson criticise the new music for lack of “soul”. At a time when dance culture in the UK was moving from the overground to the underground it is interesting to see the schisms opening up that would split it into many different categories:


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
11:46 am
The Crazy World of M. A. Numminen
05:02 pm

The Finnish artist M. A. Numminen has been a pioneer of avant-garde, underground and electronic music for almost fifty years. He first came to prominence at the Jyväskylä Summer Festival, in 1966, when he performed a series of provocative songs including Nuoren aviomiehen on syytä muistaa (“What a Young Husband Should Remember”), which used lyrics taken directly from guides to newly-married couples and legislative texts concerning the distribution of pornography.

Numminen followed this with his controversial interpretations of Franz Schubert’s lieds, before moving on to writing a series of musical compositions based on the philosophical writings of Wittgenstein.  During this time he also devised a singing machine, and became a pioneer of electronic music - something he returned to with his Techno album in the 1990s. 

Numminen is currently touring Finland, and to get an idea of his work, here’s his interpretation of Baccara’s No. 1 Euro hit ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’.

With thanks to Paul Darling
More from M. A. Numminen and the original Euro hit by Baccara after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
05:02 pm