Dance music history: Injected with some Belgians (and Germans)

In an earlier piece, I mainly focused on the influences on the UK dance scene. Of course, the UK isn’t the centre of the world and Europe also has a huge dance scene.

Of course, you can’t write about European dance music without mentioning Kraftwerk. But, everyone knows about Kraftwerk.

Then came punk and industrial, spawning European bands, of whom Germany’s Einstürzende Neubauten and Slovenia’s Laibach are the longest lasting and best known.

Then came 1981 and something new emerged. Two German bands who had released experimental and industrial material turned their attention to the dancefloor. Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF) released ‘Der Mussolini’ and Die Krupps released ‘Wahre Arbeit – Wahrer Lohn’, while over the border in Belgium a new Belgian group called Front 242 released their first single featuring ‘Principles / Body to Body’. Electronic Body Music (EBM) was born.

Over the next few years, Front 242 were soon joined by The Neon Judgement, A Split – Second, Poésie Noire, à;GRUMH…, The Weathermen, Klinik and more. While Belgium was the core of the EBM scene, it spread around Europe – for example, the UK had Nitzer Ebb, while Slovenia had Borghesia.

A key part of the Belgian scene was a record label, Antler Records, founded in the early 1980s by producer Roland Beelen and promoter Maurice Engelen – two people who soon became very important in the history of dance music.

Germany wasn’t getting left out. Probably the most influential figure in the 1980s was Andreas Tomalla, better known as Talla 2XLC, who popularised the name techno. His Technoclub, started in 1984, was one of the first electronic music clubs in the world. Over the decades since, Talla 2XLC has produced music in virtual every electronic style – including EBM with elements of acid, house and techno with Bigod 20.

On the poppier side was OFF featuring a young Sven Väth with Luca Anzilotti and Michael Münzing. OFF had a massive European hit with ‘Electrica Salsa (Baba Baba)’ in 1986, which made a star of Sven Väth and started to kick off the dance revolution. It also became part of the Balearic scene .

Anzilotti and Münzing followed that up with ‘Where Are You?’, a hit single as 16 Bit.

Things started to change in Belgium in 1987, as it did elsewhere. The legend goes that DJ Dikke Ronny (“Fat Ronny”) in the Ancienne Belgique nightclub in Brussels played the A Split-Second ‘Flesh’ at 33rpm, with the pitch control at +8, instead of the intended 45rpm. And New Beat was born.

While New Beat started as slowed down version of EBM, it drew in influences from everywhere – house, Balearic, italo-disco, disco and the emerging acid house scene. However, what was most interesting about this scene was the plethora of singles released under a huge variety of names. But all was not what it seemed – a handful of people were involved in most of the releases.

Maurice Engelen, who adopted the names Praga Khan and Somora, and Roland Beelen, who became Belluci and joined with Jo Casters (Morton) and Herman Gillis (Sherman) of Poésie Noire to form Morton Sherman Belluci, were central to the scene. They started a new division of Antler Records, Subway Records and started releasing singles.

The four of them, plus Nikkie Van Lierop (Jade 4U and Miss Lie, amongst others), Olivier Adams, Rembert De Smet (Agaric, Ro Maron), Koert Hendrickx (Harry Van Oekel, Köth, Mr. London), Jos Borremans (Chris Inger, Peter Ramson) and Patrick De Meyer (Tragic Error and more) produced over 50 singles on Subway Records. New Beat became hugely popular in Belgium and spread.

Not everyone was happy with the slower sound of New Beat, so Antler formed another sub-label, Kaos Dance Records and started releasing Hard Beat – a version of New Beat that was harder and faster. Within a year or so, Hard Beat developed into Belgian Techno.

Maurice Engelen, Nikkie Van Lierop and Olivier Adams became the production unit MNO and created more enduring acts – first was Lords of Acid, who are still around, who straddled the New Beat, Hard Beat and Belgian Techno periods and beyond.

Digital Orgasm, Channel X and Phantasia followed – as well as material released as Praga Khan (Maurice), solo and with Jade 4U (Nikkie), and by MNO. And the music they released – Praga Khan feat. Jade 4U’s ‘Rave Alert’, Digital Orgasm’s ‘Running Out Of Time’, Channel X’s ‘Groove to Move’ and ‘Rave The Rhythm’, MNO’s ‘God of Abraham’ and Phantasia’s trancier ‘Inner Light’ became part of the rave scene in Europe and the UK.

Channel X were included on the soundtrack to Basic Instinct. However, the biggest smash of all was a remix of ‘Injected with a poison’ – a mash-up of the two tracks on the debut single by Praga Khan featuring Jade 4U (Free Your Body and the original Injected With A Poison).

Jo Bogaert started another band who became even bigger globally – Technotronic – where he was joined by producer Patrick De Meyer. De Meyer also released material as T99.

Some other names ravers from the early 90s might remember are:

  • Quadrophenia featuring new beat veteran Olivier Abbeloos;
  • Frank De Wulf, under his own name or as Modular Expansion;
  • Cubic 22 featuring Jos Borremans;
  • Spectrum, a new beat band who went techno with ‘Brazil’
  • Pleasure Game, formed by members of industrial/EBM band Signal Aout (SA) 42, who started as new beat and went techno in 1991.

Back in Germany, Luca Anzilotti and Michael Münzing’s 16 Bit became the hugely successful Snap! And it hardly needs to be pointed out Sven Väth went on to become a hugely influential figure in dance music around the world.

The influence of Belgian techno peaked in 1991-92, except for one release. A big part of dance culture that started in the 90s was the crossover with computer gaming. And Mortal Combat which was released for home consoles in 1993 came with a thumping techno soundtrack by none other than Praga Khan and Olivier Adams. They released a full album of music related to the game in 1994 as The Immortals.

As I argued in the previous article, culture rarely moves one way. From 1981 up to the mid-90s, electronic music from Belgium and Germany was feeding into the mix in the UK and US and creating the rich tapestry of electronic music.

To finish, here’s a video from 101, another new beat band featuring the trio of Jade 4U, Praga Khan and Olivier Adams, along with Jos Borremans and Koert Hendrickx. This was released in 1989 and eagle-eyed watchers might spot a young Keith Flint – a year before the Prodigy was formed.


Author: Donnacha DeLong

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Donnacha DeLong is an NUJ activist, journalist and online communications consultant with more than 20 years' professional experience.

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