“James Brown could never have come from Belgium!” Henry Rollins once spat derisively during one of his stand-up routines. Yet when it comes to taking a godfatherly role in the destiny of modern music, Belgium has been surprisingly active and influential. This is largely thanks to Crammed Discs, founded in 1981 by Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis of Aksak Maboul. In these routinely eclectic times, in which a melting pot of relativist ethnic/electronica is the natural medium of so much music, these re-releases act as a reminder of an era when the word “soundclash” had yet to be minted, when such experimentalism represented dazzling and exotic leaps of lateral thinking, albeit a natural response to living at a cultural crossroads like Brussels 25 years ago.
Most welcome is the reissue of Aksak Maboul’s Onze Dances Pour Combattre La Migraine . First released in 1977, this album stands quite apart from its era and speaks on much more familiar terms with ours. A mosaic of what Can referred to as “ethnological forgery”, loops, instrumental rock as meticulous as Zappa but as jazzy-sweet as Steely Dan, early electronics, it loads in so much yet retains the lightness of helium and the joy of a spring morning.
Tuxedomoon’s Desire (1981) saw the European-based US ex-pats operate in a triangle of post-punk, neoclassical and world music, misunderstood in its own day, dated now only by some punkily tart vocals. The Honeymoon Killers’ 1982 masterpiece Les Tueurs De La Lune De Miel was Gallic pop the way it existed in our idealised cartoon imaginations?the deadpan hauteur of vocalist Veronique Vincent offset against the wit and misshapen pop eccentricity of late songwriter Yves Vromman. Karl Biscuit’s Secret Love (1984-86) is a reminder of another magnificent and manqu