The Belgium Underground app retraces the alternative music scene in Belgium from 1976 to present day. Featuring rock, electro, post-punk, lo-fi, and more, app creators David Mennessier and Benoit Deuxant highlight forty years of indie production, DIY and the best creations of the Belgian underground music scene.
When it comes to Belgium, we happen to know the beer better than the music, but don’t let the small size of the country fool you—the music scene in Belgium is as large as it is diverse. David Mennessier and Benoit Deuxant illustrate that fact with their app, Belgium Underground, and its subjective, but no less representative selection from the past forty years of Belgium’s alternative music scene. Musicians, producers, concert and party organizers, label founders, graphic designers, and record stores are all represented in the app. It also features an interactive map pinpointing around 3000 influencers of the Belgian underground music scene, revealing the relationships between them all. Six dominant music genres seem to emerge. Here is a quick history lesson to help you get a better grasp of the Belgian scene:
1976. London is booming, and so is Belgium. A new wave of musicians hopes to close the book on progressive rock and the likes of Yes, ELP, and Genesis, by taking over the small club scene. The first punks meet every Sunday afternoon in Brussels at Gémeaux (later renamed Le Canotier), on Boulevard du Souverain. Many artists, including Simple Minds and DJ Auguste (Gust De Coster, future co-founder of free radio FM Bruxel in 1980), appear on its stage.
The 80s. While rock is just beginning to go mainstream, numerous musicians of this era turn to the underground scene. In Belgium, many bands born out of the punk heritage are driven to redefine the codes of their work. By creating their own labels, inventing mail-art by exchanging cassettes through the post, launching fanzines and establishing tiny venues in precarious spaces, post-punk artists bring the Belgian alternative music scene to life.
It’s still the 80s. In Belgium, as in the rest of Europe, independent record labels abound. They reject the notion of genre and engage in experimentation, mixing styles that were previously divided and blending a variety of artistic approaches. With this movement, alternative networks of music production and distribution are established, and new ways of organizing concerts and events are adopted. It is in this context that Plan K, a performance space for a new genre mixing theatre, projections, literary happenings and musical events, appears in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels.
1986. Born out of the alternative scene, New Beat blows up fast. It’s a genre kind of created by accident when DJ Dikke Ronny decides to slow down a New Wave sample he was spinning at the Ancienne Belgique, a popular club in downtown Brussels. The deep bass and piercing, hypnotic ambiance of the track plunge the partiers into a lethargic trance. When it opens in 1986, the enormous Boccaccio club in Destelbergen becomes the undeniable hub for fans of New Beat. The genre remains popular until the end of 1988, when mediocre releases and a drop in record sales mark the end of the movement’s heyday.
In the first half of the 90s, while New Beat and its derivatives are floundering, Belgian rock gains greater international visibility thanks to the success of dEUS. With their triptych of guitars, bass and drums, the Antwerp band charms thanks to a touch of jazz-inspired freeform paired with carefully-constructed melodies.
Beginning in the mid-90s, some musicians look to micro-labels as a political, aesthetic, and economic alternative to the dominant production and distribution chains of the music industry. From 1993 to 1995, 4-track recorders and CD burners become much more affordable, allowing artists to record their music at home. The sound is obviously less clear, but that doesn’t bother the lo-fi musicians, who appreciate its authenticity. Between 1995 and 2000, lo-fi musicians flock to labels such as Toothpick, Studio Muscle, LéBo disques, and Ubik, among others. At the end of the 1990s, access to personal computers with recording and editing software allows musicians to record and distribute their music through micro-labels and reach their audience directly—all for the same price they would have previously invested in recording a demo in hopes of attracting a hypothetical deal with a major recording label. In the 2000s, when the internet slows down record sales, micro-labels begin to create distinct identities for themselves using special formats and unique aesthetics to make their releases stand out. For example, Lexi Disques only releases 45s, Okraïna entrusts all of its album art to Gwénola Carrère, and Dennis Tyfus illustrates all the cover art for his label Ultra Eczema…
To discover more about the Belgian music scene, download the app Belgium Underground.
Photo: Rob Oo