New Beat Legacy
Probably most of you will be asking themself what is “New Beat”? Others immediately will be seeing or reliving memories. New Beat was a popular variant of Techno in the 80’s and 90’s created and ‘invented’ in Belgium. But it didn’t stay with a new music style alone, a whole subculture and fashion style was the end result. New Beat is unquestionably one of the most exciting developments in the history of electronic dance music. However, aside from certain DJ's and die-hard followers, most of this music remains totally unknown. But first things first, let me tell you a little bit about the Belgians first.
Belgian people are kind and friendly people. Really go over there, start talking to people or just ask them anything. Belgians are also very creative and have their fingerprints in a lot of music styles, also in Techno. Belgians are pretty humble and will always think that something from elsewhere is better. This music genre was so popular that it had a big influence in the European techno music scene.
Crossing the sea
In Belgium they have been dancing to repetitive mechanized rhythms. Playing records extra slow and partying for days before the concept of rave even existed. Some even say they started with mega dance temples we know today. Belgium’s historical flexibility helped to create electronic body music, new beat, and rave techno. Even on the radio you could hear this exciting new music style, this wasn’t the case in other European countries. Another important thing back then was the fact there wasn’t a closing hour in Belgium for clubs, what led to raves.
The link between industrial and Belgian techno were the sounds. Acid house was a great in-between for those two things. It had more of a disco four-on-the-floor beat that was much straighter and better to dance to. It still had those dirty sounds. What was coming out of Detroit was funky, clever and intelligent but they grabbed all of it and added their dirtier touch. From day one, Belgian crowds were into techno, they took it and made it harder. They just didn’t call it “techno”.
There were a couple of leading cities, actually those were the billboards for new beat. The genre was "accidentally invented" in a nightclub In Brussels when Dj Dikke Ronny (literally "Fat Ronny") played the 45 rpm EBM record "Flesh" by “Split Second” at 33 rpm, with the pitch control set to +8. In Ghent you had the biggest new beat club named “Boccaccio” and one of the biggest labels at that time called “R&S Records”.
Antwerp was very important with clubs like Ancienne Belgique, Prestige, and later on Cafe d’Anvers. Not only in Antwerp, but in the whole region surrounding it.
Another reason why Antwerp is so important is because new beat as a genre was supported by a radio show on SIS, as well a famous local record shop, USA Imports.
The new beat sound was so big, people were excited and it soon went abroad. People picked up on it and Germany was pretty much the first. Soon France, the Netherlands and many other countries started to listen and dance to new beat. The rise of the new genre did not only launch new artists; a few new record labels also were set up, especially to release new beat records. They lived in a golden era with, despite not being mainstream, massive sales, and not only in its home country Belgium but also in the rest of Europe. Specifically Ireland and the United Kingdom influences makes New Beat so interesting that it has no distinct style, except where the beat itself is concerned. The predominant feature of New Beat is the slow, heavy, mechanical beat which averages about 110 beats-per-minute and often is much slower, especially in the early days of New Beat. This effect was often achieved by taking normally fast 45 RPM records and slowing them way down on the turntable.
There was this crossover between the fashion academy in Antwerp and the club scene, when parties would happen during the week they would be filled up with students. It wouldn’t be just a student party, because the fashion academy would do it their own way, mixing up with other people from other cultures The fashion academy played a huge role and especially “The Antwerp Six”. This was a group of students who graduated from the Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. The press began referring to them as a group beginning in about 1990, though the designers are united mostly by origin and common experiences rather than style. And you will probably know a couple or even all the designers from the Antwerp Six, members of this group were:
Dries Van Noten - Dirk Bikkembergs - Walter Van Beirendonck - Ann Demeulemeester - Marina Yee - Dirk Van Saene
“I wanted to realize something that could rival New Beat music in terms of extravagance and absurdity. The monotonous beat of 100 beats per minute, It brought me into a state of mind that was out of this world. Apart from reality. The "Bomma Badge" was therefore not so much a photo of a dead person, but rather a step back in time; a gate to the mystical; a rush of nostalgia. ” Said Idriz Jossa, Antwerp designer and former classmate of Walter Van Beirendocnk.
The new beat fashion was famous for their “Bomma Badge” (translated “grandmother badge”). A fashion idea from Idriz Jossa. The name stands for the old keramik porterts found in graveyards. Followers of the look, at the mercy of The Rhythm or The Beat, were found in dance temples such as Boccaccio and La Rocca. Tone and trend were set. The fashionable clothes, made of lingerie fabrics for both boys and girls, consisted only of black shades. The outfits were combinations of cycling shorts, knee socks, bowler hats with crosses, paternosters and heavy black shoes. The girls had black-rimmed eyes and bright red lips on their pale faces. The boys showed guts by dressing extravagantly.
The look was so "in" that the youngsters started stealing the original ceramic emblems in cemeteries, to wear them around the neck as a jewel when going out. The collection was sold in London, the Netherlands, France and Belgium. There were presentations on TV shows in France for TF1, where church windows were projected in the background.
For those who started with new beat in the beginning, this thing was blowing up to much. Also “The Confetti’s” decided after their successful first release to make their new tracks with a more commercial mind, something they regret years later. They were considered as commercial from the beginning. Even a couple artists from the underground scene started to make more commercial songs instead of thinking about their origin. Rocco Granata as well, he was famous for his track “Marina” and also wanted a new beat remix for this track. The music wasn’t so underground anymore and you could notice this on the quality of the tracks. Too many people we’re jumping on this train what led to a commercial business. Fashion shows, musical tv shows, anything you want. The new tracks that came sounded all the same and it wasn’t inventive anymore. New Beat slowly fainted away. Most of the ‘underground new beat artists'' started to work on other projects and music styles. One of those projects came from Jo Bogaert with “Technotronic - Pump Up The Jam”. Also Praga Khan became a huge success and they performed worldwide. R&S Records became an international label, Serge Ramaekers became a well known producer, he also made a remix of the Freddy Mercury “Living On My Own. And the list of Belgian musicians or producers who made or have their fingerprints on something involving music goes on and on. From tracks to festivals and clubs. Their legacy left behind for us is far bigger than expected.