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INTERVIEW

Five memorable
Belgian New Beat
tracks from the
late-1980s

Interview: James Anderson
JUNE 2020

The legendary DJ, producer and S’Express frontman, Mark Moore, highlights a handful of retro gems from a dance music genre originally honed four decades ago in Antwerp.

As Acid House peaked during the latter half of the 80s, its frantic, sweat-inducing collision of rhythm, bleeps and squelches was sometimes contrasted by the considerably slower and rather stern-sounding New Beat genre emerging from Belgium. This was a scene forged by homegrown DJs, including Fat Ronnie and Marc Grouls, at the Antwerp nightclub Ancienne Belgique, and via independent record labels such as Antler, Kaos Dance and R&S, among others. By the mid-90s, however, Belgian New Beat had been pretty much eclipsed by fresher club sounds from the US and UK, including Techno, Jungle and Drum & Bass.

In the past few years, certain dance music strands from decades-gone-by have been enthusiastically reappraised, knowingly-referenced or simply regurgitated by younger generations of DJs, musicians and producers. Until fairly recently, however, Belgian New Beat had somewhat vanished into the mists of time - largely overlooked by cultural archaeologists, despite its retrospective capacity to surprise, spook, amuse and bewilder. Gradually, a new generation of muso’s and club kids are rediscovering the genre…

Who better, then, to give us an overview of its original appeal than Mark Moore? A teenage punk during the late-70s, who pioneered an eclectic approach to DJ-ing within London’s most cutting-edge club scene of the following decade, this lifelong music-obsessive was one of the very first DJ’s to spin underground US house tracks in the UK around the mid-80s.

Moore was also at the epicentre of the late-80s Acid House scene, guesting on the decks at now-mythologised nights such as Shoom and Pyramid, as well as a myriad of fantastically-illicit warehouse parties and raves in and around the Capital. The influence of these seminal nights was subsequently felt around the world. Around the same time, he achieved global success with his mischievous-glamorous band, S’Express. In 1988, their sample-heavy Acid-disco debut single, Theme from S’Express, charted at number 1 in far-flung locations including the UK, Greece, Switzerland and Belgium, opening the floodgates for ‘club’ music to crossover into mainstream pop charts.

Theme from S’Express

With a beyond-vast record collection spanning many decades and scenes, matched by an encyclopaedic knowledge of music, Moore effortlessly recalls his first awareness of Belgian New Beat:

“It started getting noticed during the Acid House era. And in the context of Acid House, it felt quite clunky. But if you think of it in terms of post-Goth, post-Front 242 and EBM [ie, Electronic Body Music from the early-80s], it makes sense. Nowadays, I think people would associate Belgian New Beat with Nine Inch Nails and Industrial music.”

Moore doesn’t necessarily feel that the genre has stood the test of time, in the obvious sense. But maybe longevity was never the aim, anyway? “A lot of Belgian New Beat is quite funny,” he ponders. “At the time, people weren’t sure if they were laughing with it, or at it. It was quite crass, but in a lovely way.” He continues, “And at the time music papers like the NME did big articles about it, and compilations were released. Maybe there just weren’t as many classics as there should have been, though.”

Back in the day, his own band, S’Express, succumbed to Belgian New Beat’s inimitable charms. The B-side to the 1989 hit single, Hey Music Lover, was a track named Have a Nice Day: “It was our Belgian New Beat tribute!” Moore remembers, with a chuckle. “We slowed down the backing track to Hey Music Lover, added distorted violins, and then there’s Merlin the rapper going, ‘Have a nice day!’ in a really aggressive way!”

Hey Music Lover
Have a Nice Day

Putting things into a contemporary context, Moore believes yesteryear’s Belgian New Beat sounds could be reprised successfully within an appropriate nightlife context: “It’s such a curiosity that it would probably work now in a club that mixed stuff like Front 242, with Yello and some Goth,” he concludes. “Connoisseurs of electronic music would definitely appreciate it!”

Here, Moore picks out five of the Belgian New Beat tracks which etched themselves into his brain many moons ago. The first three he rates as personal favourites, while the latter two have been respectfully included as his “honourable mentions”…

  1. 1. Something Scary by Zsa Zsa Laboum (Kaos Dance Records)
Something Scary

“Some of the Belgian New Beat tracks were quite basic, quite naïve in a way. But a favourite of mine is this one, which had a certain funky and sensual feel, it was done in a sexier kind of way, and I remember Derrick May [Detroit techno pioneer] used to play it.  There’s a voice on it saying, ‘I was alone in my room, something grabbed me…’ that was sampled from the 80s’ horror film The Entity. It looks like it’s a little bit rare now – it’s selling for £40 on Discogs!”

  1. 2. Flesh by A Split-Second (Antler Records)
Flesh

“In 88, as a DJ I was immersed in the Acid House scene which was very fluid and eclectic at the time. DJ’s were including Balearic tracks, like The Wooden Tops’ Why Why Why and Mandy Smith’s I Just Can’t Wait, because they’d originally heard DJ Alfredo playing them in Ibiza. And Belgian New Beat tracks were being played, too. I think some of those tracks were faster, originally, but had been slowed down – something that was quite special to the clubs in their country.  Flesh by A Split Second, was absolutely huge at Shoom! You’d hear that opening riff and everybody would run to the dancefloor!”

  1. 3. Euroshima (Wardance) by Snowy Red (Antler Records)
Euroshima (Wardance)

“It’s another one of those tracks that could easily have been made by very early Human League or Tuxedomoon. It’s got a lovely Cold Wave feel and I think if this - and a few of the other tracks I’ve mentioned - had been made in the early-80s, instead of the late-80s, they would be considered as electronic classics. Amongst the right people this IS considered a classic!”

  1. 4. Hmm Hmm by Taste of Sugar (Antler Records)
Hmm Hmm

“Before 1988, new electronic records would come out and you would just think, ‘Great!’, not, ‘This is part of a scene…’ This was one of the first tracks I was aware of being labelled ‘Belgian New Beat’ but it wasn’t the first one I actually heard. That was Flesh by Split Second. Taste of Sugar were quick off the mark – I think they’d been listening to S’Express, as they were using some of the same sounds and samples as us, like the sample of Karen Finley [ie, US performance artist]! And they had a bit of commercial success with this.”

  1. 5. I Sit on Acid by Lords of Acid (Kaos Dance Records)
I Sit on Acid

Suddenly, there was lots of smut going on with some of the Belgian New Beat tracks. I hope I helped to influence that with S’Express! It’s more a crass sort of sound, quite a Teutonic stomp, as Belgium jumped on the Acid House thing!”

markmoore.com

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