Liaisons Dangereuses and the AB-sound: the reprise of Belgian Beats, 30 years on
Before New Beat, there was the AB-sound: a concoction of wrongly-pitched tunes of several genres that made a disturbing yet compelling sense and paved the way for New Beat (which, arguably, is to AB what EDM is to proper house and techno). It’s an obscure genre guaranteed to get certain DJ Historians a tad moist. But while the likes of Harvey and Baldelli are increasingly revered, the AB-sound (and the Liaisons Dangereuse radio show that gave it a wider reach) remained in the shadows. This slower, slightly darker, groove has a vibe and a story all of its own – both of which deserve a wider audience.
Ancienne Belgique was a club in Antwerp in the mid-late ’80s, where “Fat” Ronny Harmsen John Van Looveren played a unique pitched-down groove. This sound was brought to a wider audience by Sven van Hees and Paul Ward, aka Liaisons Dangereuses: a radio show on SIS 103.3FM – also based in Antwerp with a small transmitter and miniscule reach, broadcasting in glorious mono. People drove from all around Belgium on a Thursday evening to park up within reception range, boomboxes and cassettes at the ready, tape the show and copy it for friends. The tapes were original viral material, and the only way it could be spread in the analogue age.
I can’t even remember when I started to get into this wonderful weirdness. It must have been ’87-’88, during which time I randomly picked up a New Beat compilation from Camden Market, had been given a prized second-generation (allegedly) copy of the Black Album, and swapping tapes with people who had stuff that sounded equally weird, interesting, bleepy, and funky (which I soon learned were from warehouse raves). It wasn’t until the internet age that I managed to improve my collection beyond a couple of prized Radio SIS tapes stretched beyond repair, and increasingly realized that the dots that these Belgians were joining were scarily close to the random stuff I’d been getting in to ever since. My LD collection grew, as did an almost-lost buzz from hearing tracks by artists I’d not really “got” until heard them in the right context… that I recalled from my early days of clubbing and being drawn to the back rooms where anything went, and minds were sometimes blown. But, in some ways, this felt far more exotic – the LD shows were from cassette tapes a decade or two old, with banter and info in a language I couldn’t understand. It was fascinating and humbling all at once – which I think is no bad thing for a native Anglophone to go through – and, in many ways, was a great way to filter out everything apart from the music itself.
Fast-forward to February 2015. A random post on my facebook feed brightened up a freezing Canadian winter dog-day: Paul Ward and Sven van Hess were reuniting on air for a one-off Liaisons Dangereuses radio show. An English-language interview with Paul on a US college station gave more insights in to how they were regarded as upstarts pissing off Fat Ronnie and the other AB DJs, democratising a cover-up culture that was distinct from white labels and dubplates.. While some of this was previously documented by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, I’d not realized how LD had upset the”tatouage” applecart. Unlike white labels and dubplates, the music was out there and freely available… so long as you know the name of the artist and release. This detail was covered up, until this pair took it upon themselves to spill (most of) the beans. Keeping back a few secret weapons is obviously a DJ trait wherever you are – but the word (and more of the tracks) were spread further.
There may be more to come: there’s a reunion night happening in Antwerp at the end of April, and Paul Ward gave an English-language interview on a NYC-based internet radio station in January.
Pour les gens…
PS: you might want to check out the documentary “The Sound of Belgium”: I nicked their logo for this blog post. The film certainly deserves wider awareness.
About Andy Bgpz
Old enough to know better, daft enough to keep going… that’ll be Andy Bgpz, then. Manchester. So much to answer for. Sunset Radio, Most Excellent, the Gay Traitor bar, and the Crows Nest at LuvDup all left their mark. He’s had a residency alongside a beardier, scruffier, much more successful namesake. Had his bum pinched by New Order’s manager. Kicked London clubland up the arse for a decade with various mates via Raya and SoxaN, with audio-visual nonsense and some frankly questionable afterparties. Now resident in Canada, he continues to trainspot and talk shite on air via the magic of the interweb. Some things don’t change. Nice tunes, though.
The Rotary Club – Fridays, 10pm-midnight (5-7pm EST ) (featuring Andy Bgpz, Craigster, Len and Marcus)