At the end of the 1970s no one would have thought to apply the currently used term post-punk to the motley mix of genres and sub-genres that grew out of the musical continuum of the punk movement. Whether they diverged from punk for aesthetical and ideological reasons, growing away from it, or claimed lineage to it, post-punk musicians searched for different identities while other labels rose up among them, starting local rivalries as they split hairs and created exacting monikers –which meant very little but were brandished to either show loyalty to the title or to repel others who were not a part of it. Among these distinctions was new wave, by far the vaguest of labels, one that was more often used by critics than the groups themselves. It promised a new, continuous wave of revolution, constantly outmoded and cast off to the point where it finally needed even more divisions: cold wave, dark wave, synth wave, electropop, new romantics, gothic, etc. The latest to date, minimal wave, then a contemporary construction, was totally unprecedented at the time and included marginal but important recordings from the 1980s. Under this umbrella term, there were musical styles that were quite diverse, ranging from lo-fi pop to industrial music and noise
In a relatively conservative environment that had little care for new things, the alternative scene had to take charge of every aspect of its own music production.music. As their common denominators, these movements had particular methods for creating, producing, and distributing their music, which were as much deliberate choices as simple necessity to compensate for the disinterest of media and mainstream labels. While rock was just starting to find its place on commercial radio and television, and official concert venues, it was completely unthinkable that a major fringe movement in the music of that period, with the most audacious creations of the time, could find any other way to work other than in the underground. As it went in Belgium, unless a band was well known in other countries, the public’s lack of interest pushed many groups to define for themselves just what style and form their music took. In a relatively conservative environment that had little care for new things, the alternative scene had to take charge of every aspect of its own music production. The artists had to create their own labels, which were at times limited to their own personal output while at other times destined to become major companies. Bands needed to get creative when it came to finding ways of distributing their records. They started tape-swapping networks where by sending the cassettes through the mail in extravagant packaging, the post became an unlikely forum of expression for the artists. Tiny concert venues sprang up, driven by the ingenuity of the artists, while several fanzines helped to spread word about the groups. Today it’s tempting to romanticize about those rough days and celebrate the moment’s energy, but for the majority of the artists that lived through them, it was simply a matter of survival. Taking a step back from that time, the thirty years that have passed gives us some hindsight, but leaves a hazy picture of the period. The current wave of reissues put out in Belgium by labels like Onderstroom, Walhalla, or Sub Rosa, and those done in France by Born Bad and in the U.S. by Minimal Wave can at times make the scene seem larger than it really was. However, the effort has the virtue of bringing some of those excellent discs back into focus, ones that unfortunately had a limited impact when they were first released. In the end, these rediscoveries give a view of a musical life that, for the most part, took place far from the eyes and ears of the media and the general public.
photo by plochingen