INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Quietus DECEMBER 3, 2020 - by Richard Foster
VARIOUS ARTISTS: FROM BRUSSELS WITH LOVE
The first release from Les Disques du Crépuscule gets a lavish re-issue
Sometimes the past is better experienced in the now. The reissue of the legendary From Brussels with Love cassette wallet is a case in point. First released forty years ago as the debut issue of the iconic Les Disques du Crépuscule, this elusive, almost mystical artefact has now returned, in a guise of high luxury.
It wouldn't be the twenty-first century if the potential purchaser wasn't dazzled by the choice on offer. One can be as authentic as possible and buy a facsimile cassette package in the PVC wallet. Otherwise one can plump for a gatefold double vinyl edition pressed on coloured vinyl (one black, one white) with the booklet pages printed on the inner gatefold. Or be seduced by the glorious 2CD pack, demurely encased in a stunning, (it really is stunning), hardback sixty page ten-inch square earbook. There is even a "multibundle format" of various post-punk sweetmeats, which I dare not describe here...
This particular repackaging of a past aural/oral and visual culture is a resplendent one; you can while away the time by perusing beguiling old photographs of Annik Honoré and the Bunnymen's Will Sergeant, or read typically acerbic reviews by the likes of Paul du Noyer. A far cry from that musty and murky DIY era, when the photocopy machine and stereo radio/cassette recorder shaped an uncertain world.
These formats also serve a purpose in that they act as upgraded memory bridges, to the sort of multidisciplinary actions and statements those in the punk and post-punk worlds were so driven to make, back then. The Saville-esque cover art and inclusion of composers like Karel Goyvaerts, and the interviews with Brian Eno (evasive, oblique) and French actress Jeanne Moreau (romantic, expansive) reminds us that this particular "international avant-garde" did its very best to be artistically inclusive, transnational and omnivorous. Those who missed out can get a real sense of that homegrown world of tape swapping, letter writing and posting photocopied art, which shaped the global underground's aesthetic for a good chunk of the 1980s.
What makes From Brussels with Love such a glorious experience is, of course, the music. We get 1980 served up as a two-hour sonic time capsule: from modern classical cuts courtesy of then-trendy, now-household names such as Harold Budd and Michael Nyman, to the earnest funk of early ACR. Many will buy it for the fragile and momentarily beautiful Kevin Hewick and New Order track, Haystack. It's probably worth buying for the three beautiful Durutti Column tracks alone; the sublime, slightly trippy For Belgian Friends has to be one of Vini Reilly's greatest moments.
Of course there are quibbles: John Foxx's jingles are far too short and Richard Jobson's poems are far too long. But there are pleasant surprises from half-remembered heroes. Forgotten man-of-the-future Thomas Dolby appears, with a gentle version of Airwaves (which appeared in a more dandyfied form on his 1982 album, The Golden Age Of Wireless). It's a beautiful track, very much like Wiliam Doyle's recent work. Dome's Twist Up reminds us of their cussed brilliance and a number of Gavin Bryars and Bill Nelson cuts surface, which is a great thing. I always liked Nelson's Kraftwerky take on sound, heard here with The Shadow Garden. Better still is his Dada Gitare, which gives Marc Hollander's Aksak Maboul a run for their money in the quirk stakes. Gavin Bryars' piano pieces (despite the cringeworthy Nazi joke titles) are still very affecting, too.
The earnest thuds and thumps and tape hiss veneer that characterised a lot of music at the cusp of that decade, can be heard in tracks from London's Repetition, and a spaced out Martin Hannett track, The Music Room. Away from the memories of graffitied, cold water squat toilets (with no seat), glamour, wit and amateur hilarity can be found with "Auld Reekie in Benelux" faves Josef K and their wrist-pump anthem, Sorry For Laughing, and Belgian outfit Radio Romance, who bop unsteadily through their allotted slot. Best has to be their fellow citoyens, Polyphonic Size, whose Nagasaki Mon Amour is a lost pop classic if ever there was one.
That perennial elephant in the room, "Europe" (a concept that fascinated so many British musicians of the time) is further represented over the 2CD set by the great Aksak Maboul (who show their quieter side with the piano thinkpiece, Double Bind Baby) and two typically haughty cuts by The Names, a band who were part of a rapidly thriving Brussels post-punk/cold wave scene and made it onto Factory Records proper. NDW harbingers Der Plan deliver a typically funny cut with Meine Freunde whereas Marine and Digital Dance deliver slabs of committed, typically '80s high energy funk that, however enjoyable a listen now, was always really difficult to dance to then.
Multiformat reissues of old albums, however "iconic", are now part of the never-ending treadmill of pop eating itself. I can forgive those who think it's all a bit too much, especially in the times we find ourselves in. But, at the end of the world or not, there is something wonderful when fond memories of forgotten or lost music can be given a new life and meaning. From Brussels With Love (or Witlof, if you want to hear an old in-joke) is one such.