Sparky motorik licks from Belgium’s industrial ruins
As the third most populated urban area in Belgium, the eastern hilltop riverside town of Liege was known for the huge factories that made it Europe’s largest steel-making centre in the 19th century, and for the part its 12 forts played in delaying German progress in World War One. The town was heavily bombarded and more swiftly overcome in the Second World War and, in the 60s, it saw the decline of its industries and violence-inciting strikes turned it into a decaying urban battleground, although recent years have seen some regeneration through the European Union.
Some areas remained in a state of decline for decades, which has invited comparisons with England’s run-down northern industrial cities and the deserted ruins of Detroit. Yet such ghostly surroundings can also inspire compelling electronic music, as proved by Sheffield in the 70s and Detroit the following decade. Freaksville Records’ dynamo Benjamin Schoos knew this when he took his instrumental collective The Loved Drones to Liege to record an album in the heart of city’s industrial wasteland, acknowledging the contrast between his sparkling aural visions and the area’s desolation.
‘Good Luck Universe’, the follow-up to 2102’s ‘The Tangible Effect Of Love’ album on cult Parisian imprint Gonzai, was actually conceived at Freaksville’s new HQ in the Arabic section in Brussels and realised in Liege by Schoos on synth, along with bassist Pascal Scalp, guitarist Marc Wathieu and Simon Rigot on Hammond organ and sparing sitar. The three-hour session was then sculpted into 45 compelling minutes by Stamford Hill’s electronic maverick The Man From Uranus (who has released albums of underwater action and duck calls, and can be seen playing Liege in 2008 on YouTube, arms outstretched with hands encased by a pair of yellow children’s wellingtons as he declares “I celebrate the weird”).
He’s done a great job, presenting six luminescent cosmic bolts that straddle krautrock, space-rock, heavy rock and post-rock, but actually manage to sound unlike any form of rock. The music here never allows itself to be confined to any particular musical straitjacket, after kicking off with the spaced cosmic jam of ‘Nomad’, where guitar and keyboards dogfight over a billowing drone underpinned by throbbing motoric pulses. ‘Escape From The Terror Drone’ sounds like they’re trying to do just that onboard a scintillating krautrock surf board, which inevitably hurls up comparisons with Neu!.
The tension breaks with the floaty, piano-garnished reflection of ‘Drone Alone – Crimson Skies’, although the glistening ‘Pulse Radar Love’ still lays its sublime sitar embroidery over liquid motorik throbbing, which again conjure the Neu! comparisons that continue through ‘Electric Blue Moon’, although by now the frequent flourishes are oddly evoking YMO.
The album closes with the cerebral calm of ‘Canyons’, its most spirit-soothing realisation of Schoos’ meditative mission. Maybe Liege isn’t the best place to be, but there are countless worse spots than the intoxicating headiness of this intriguing album.