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From Brussels With Love


Originally released on 20 November 1980, the deluxe cassette compilation From Brussels With Love featured 22 exclusive tracks from the front rank of the international avant garde and new wave, as well as several artists from the feted Factory Records stable in Manchester. Although the first proper release on boutique Belgian label Les Disques du Crepuscule, the catalogue number assigned to the project (TWI 007) betrays the fact that the early history of the label (and thus its debut) is a little more involved.

The label had been formed at the beginning of 1980, by Brussels scenesters Michel Duval (an economist by training, and journalist for several arts magazines including En Attendant and Plein Soleil) and Annik Honore (then working in London, but a booker for the seminal Plan K venue, and also writing for En Attendant). A strong cultural link was forged between Brussels and the Factory/Manchester cadre after the Joy Division concerts at Plan K on 16 October 1979 and 17 January 1980, and cemented when A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column and Section 25 performed at Plan K on 26 April. In addition, Brussels band The Names had joined the Factory roster.

Since the Factory bands were so prolific, it was agreed that 'spare' recordings could be released on the Continent via a new label, Factory Benelux. The first three releases were 7" singles by A Certain Ratio (Shack Up), Durutti Column (Lips That Would Kiss) and Section 25 (Haunted), which appeared in August, September and October respectively. All carried dual catalogue numbers (FACBN 1-004, 2-005 and 3-006), which in September 1980 resulted in Factory directors Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson insisting that a clear division should be established between Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crepuscule, the new label planned by Michel and Annik. At an early stage the duo were joined by gifted designer Benoit Hennebert. Crepuscule, of course, translates as 'twilight', an evocative name suggested by Annik. The two labels shared a de facto office at 32 Avenue des Phalenes, 1050 Brussels.

The first true Crepuscule release was a deluxe cassette/booklet package, From Brussels With Love. Compiled between July and October, this stylish 80 minute compilation arrived housed in a plastic wallet and reflected current musical events in Manchester, London and Brussels during the middle months of 1980. In May Joy Division singer Ian Curtis took his own life, leaving the remaining three members to re-group as New Order, who entered the studio for the first time in June as backing musicians for Factory troubadour Kevin Hewick. Bill Nelson and Richard Jobson came into contact with Crepuscule for the first time on 27 June, after playing at a Cocteau-themed event at Plan K, at which Vini Reilly of The Durutti Column also performed. London band Repetition joined Crepuscule via Annik and (surprisingly) found themselves produced by Rob Gretton, while A Certain Ratio contributed a live track taped at Hurrah's in September, during the first Factory trip to New York, another cultural watershed for all involved.

Besides Factory, another crucial influence on From Brussels With Love was radio producer and new music composer Wim Mertens, whose book American Minimal Music had just been published by Kahn & Averill. The featured interview with Brian Eno had been recorded by Wim in New York in June 1979, as was the recording by Phill Niblock. It's therefore hardly surprising that Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars also agreed to contribute tracks. Mertens would make his own debut on Crepuscule (initially as Soft Verdict) the following year. Eno's Obscure label was another key influence on early Crepuscule.

The compilation was purposefully international in scope, with France (Radio Romance), Belgium (The Names), Germany (Der Plan) and even Scotland (Richard Jobson) all represented, as well as the more familiar British and American contingents. The design, too, was seductively Continental, with text printed in a variety of languages, and copious line/cartoon illustrations by Jean-Francois Octave which reflected the Belgian and French obsession with bande dessinee. The James Bond references in the title and catalogue number may be credited to cinephile Michel Duval alone.

Almost as interesting are the tracks that failed to make the final cut: at various stages the wishlist included music by Mark Beer, The Associates, Throbbing Gristle, Karel Goeyvaerts, plus mooted live tracks by Joy Division, and literary interviews with Marguerite Duras, Michel Tournier and Alain Robbe Grillet. Released on 20 November in an initial edition of 1000 copies, TWI 007 was an immediate success, retailing at the price of a 12" single and drawing praise from the British music press in December:

"The arrival of this thin tape from Belgium provides a reminder - without really trying, without being obvious - that pop is the modern poetry, is the sharpest, shiniest collection of experiences, is always something new… It's as indispensable as the Bow Wow Wow and A Certain Ratio cassettes: all in their own way point to the ways pop is moving… Of course it's posey: what isn't? It's pop/art. Insufferably over-fashionable, lavishly over the top, dreadfully dilettantish, finely eclectic. Pop can be so many things" (Paul Morley, New Musical Express)

"This is wild! This is fantastic! The perfect Christmas gift! FBWL is over 80 minutes of sheer scrapbookalia. It is a lovely put together way of deflating modern music, and at the same time of exalting its basic merits. A searing, sprawling, exotically chaotic way of achieving the almost impossible and restoring rock music to something that will nearly surprise you… It is endless and endlessly, genuinely entertaining listening. As pretentious as hell, of course, but there is only one thing worse than that - and that's not being pretentious. This tape, a long mysterious piece of collective modern overdrive, points to a future somewhere. And it looks more crimson that rosy, it's that good" (Dave McCullough, Sounds)

While Crepuscule was by no means the first modern independent record label in Belgium (credit is also due to Crammed, Sandwich, Double Dose and others), it quickly became the most prolific, cosmopolitan and culturally significant. The next 18 months saw a raft of releases by a veritable internationale of artists including Antena, Gavin Bryars, Cabaret Voltaire, Paul Haig, Ike Yard, Josef K, Malaria!, Marine, Wim Mertens and Tuxedomoon, and further landmark compilations such as Ghosts of Christmas Past and The Fruit of the Original Sin. Indeed the label would even outlast Factory, the label to which it owed a large measure of its early success.

This remastered CD (2006) version of TWI 007 features all tracks included on the 1980 cassette version, with the exception of Felch (live) by A Certain Ratio, left off for reasons of space and in any event included in LTMCD 2443. A second edition of the cassette (also TWI 007) appeared in a standard cassette box in 1981, and a double vinyl edition (TWI 008) in Japan in 1983, with several different tracks. A final (and much adulterated) version of From Brussels With Love appeared on double vinyl and CD in 1986, but with only around half the original tracks from the original cassette. The 1980 edition, however, remains the definitive artefact.

James Nice
November 2006

CD tracklist:

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Nurse With Wound, "Shipwreck Radio Volume One: Seven Sonic Structures from Utvaer"

Steven Stapleton and Colin Potter's voluntary three-month banishment to the icy realms of Lofoten, Norway has borne fruit in the form of this double album on ICR. As was reported, these two prime movers of experimental sound were sent high above the Arctic Circle May through July of this year, with limited recording equipment and no musical instruments, to record a series of audio responses to their harsh environment, which were then transmitted to the local mariner's radio station at unannounced intervals. Stapleton and Potter have further edited and processed the original broadcasts, ending up with a total of two hours of sound, seven lengthy tracks. Shipwreck Radio works best when Stapleton and Potter seem to be genuinely interacting and responding to their alien, inhospitable environment, rather than falling back on familiar NWW strategies. The microcosmic sound world of ice slowly melting and cracking apart merge with the lonely, distant calls of arctic seabirds on the compelling "June 17," which slowly backslides into glacial crevasse where a mutually indecipherable conversation between Stapleton and a Norwegian child is repeatedly looped and mutated. Each track is named for the date that it was broadcast, and a handy map of the Lofoten Archipelago is printed on the discs themselves, showing the geographical location where each recording was made. When the artists seem to be most engaged with their environment — forming makeshift percussion out of blocks of ice, parts of vessels and disused metal scrap and transforming recordings of arctic creatures, water runoff and wind tunnel noises into organic drones — Shipwreck Radio really clicks as an album and a concept. On the opposite end of the spectrum are tracks like the album's opener "June 15," which renders the source recordings completely unrecognizable, digitally processing them into a distorted, post-industrial rhythmic dirge that wears out its welcome well before the ten-minute mark has been reached. Colin Potter's droning muse seems to have exerted a stronger influence on disc two, which exploits environmental noises and subtle looping and processing to create textural expanses of beautifully chilly ambience. "June 5" sounds like an orchestra slowly succumbing to the pulse-deadening effects of hypothermia, stretching out each chord to epic lengths, as ever more minute bits of audio detritus pan around the stereo channels. As the album trudges on, things become darker, more menacing and more sluggish, perhaps as a result of the inevitable fatigue experienced in such a hostile environment where the sun unmercifully shines for nearly 24 hours each day. There is an organic, impromptu feel to much of this music that lends it an immediacy not usually experienced with Nurse With Wound music, which often seems rather painstakingly processed, mutated and generally tortured to within an inch of its life. This helps the album operate as a sort of freeform travelogue or audio diary. The first edition of 100 copies came with a bonus disc, Lofoten Deadhead (a reference to the excerpted bit of Norwegian radio where a local explains why the Grateful Dead is "the ultimate band"), which contains more variations on the same audio sources, as well as a 30-minute track of untreated recordings of Stapleton and Potter experimenting with different methods of creating compelling noises from their surroundings, fussing about with objects and arguing with each other. It's unfortunate that this was not included on the album proper, as it is both entertaining and provides a glimpse into the duo's working methods that enriches the material on the other two discs. Taken together, even with its momentary lapses of originality, Shipwreck Radio is a fascinating entry in both artists' substantial discographies.


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