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From Brussels With Love


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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:
JOHN FOXX A JINGLE *1
THOMAS DOLBY AIRWAVES
REPETITION STRANGER
HAROLD BUDD CHILDREN ON THE HILL
DURUTTI COLUMN SLEEP WILL COME
MARTIN HANNETT THE MUSIC ROOM
THE NAMES CAT
MICHAEL NYMAN A WALK THROUGH H
BRIAN ENO INTERVIEW
PHILL NIBLOCK A THIRD TROMBONE
JEANNE MOREAU INTERVIEW
RICHARD JOBSON ARMOURY SHOW
BILL NELSON THE SHADOW GARDEN
DURUTTI COLUMN PIECE FOR AN IDEAL
KEVIN HEWICK & NEW ORDER HAYSTACK
RADIO ROMANCE ETRANGE AFFINITE
GAVIN BRYARS WHITE'S SS
DER PLAN MEINE FREUNDE
B.C. GILBERT & GRAHAM LEWIS TWIST UP
JOHN FOXX A JINGLE *2
 

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"DEATH'S LAST LIFE'S BREATH"
Beta-Lactam Ring
For the mere pittance of $4.00, Beta-Lactam Ring Records is offering the latest in its Beta-Beat Sampler series. Where previous volumes were quick-and-dirty, minimally packaged releases compiling and excerpting new and upcoming music on the label, Death's Last Life's Breath comes in a printed sleeve, and includes a brand new Nurse With Wound track exclusive to this compilation. And it's no mere fragmentary outtake meant to entice the unwary consumer, but an epic 15-minute fantasia of unhinged Stapletonian whimsy. "A Wasted Life of Phagocyte Foot Fetishism" plays like an extended, free-associating riff on the Space Age Bachelor Pad music for which Stapleton has always professed his affection. The track goes everywhere, of course, from a concert hall full of toy xylophones to sudden explosions of tabla rhythms, eventually floating up to a dense cloud bank of gently shimmering keyboards. If this were the only worthwhile track on Death's Last Life's Breath, it would still be more than worth the price of admission. Luckily, the rest of the nearly 80-minute disc is chock full of the kind of ear-opening sonic exploration I've come to expect from the Beta-Lactam label, from the lysergic folk of Japan's Green Milk From the Planet Orange to the eclectic, post-Prog collages of art-rock legends La STPO. Whitelodge's "Masters Within Spaces," excerpted from their soon-to-be-released debut, adds a level of post-rock sophistication to the melancholic, apocalyptic themes explored by esoteric mainstays Current 93 and Death in June. Judging by the distortion-blasted electro groove of "Comedown," Edward Ka-Spel's new Pieces of 8 promises to be his best in years. Matt Waldron's irr.app.(ext.) project continues to find new non-corporeal identities in the labyrinthine inner workings of memory and synchronicity, on full display in a truly unsettling excerpt from the forthcoming Perekluchenie album. Beequeen's "I'm Searching For Field Character" is a perfectly mysterious concoction of drones, dialogue samples and all manner of indescribable textures. It came down to two choices this week: feed and clothe my Somalian sponsor kid for another month, or use my loose pocket change to buy Death's Last Life's Breath. Sorry about the lack of clean drinking water, N'Dugu, but I'll be happy to burn you a copy of this CD.

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