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From Brussels With Love: Selections from the great 80s Belgian Music House Les Disques du Crépuscule
An ISC deep dive into the leftfield, intimate, and dreamy pop sounds of one of Belgium’s finest labels and our personal highlights from their diverse catalog.
Translated as ‘Twilight Records,’ Les Disques du Crépuscule was one of the finest indie labels of the 1980s. With deep investment in their local Benelux scene, the label showcased an eclectic range of styles, from pop to jazz, downtempo to new wave, classical to experimental; and releasing classics and offshoots by ‘80s luminaries like Durutti Column, Anna Domino, Isabelle Antena, Harold Budd, Bill Nelson and more.
The label was unintentionally founded in Brussels in 1980 by journalists Michel Duval and Annik Honoré and illustrator Benoît Hennebert after a run of promotional gigs at the legendary Plan K. The Brussels venue, a five-story dismantled sugar refinery turned music scene headquarters, hosted local music heroes as well as touring up and coming Euro acts. Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, even William S. Burroughs had organized events drawn up by the trio.
The Factory Records roster especially enjoyed their stay, so much so that label head Tony Wilson proposed the booking group if they’d like to run a subsidiary label and release some shelved Factory material. With A Certain Ratio’s 12’ single “Shak Up,” Factory Benelux was born.
A few releases later, including those by Swamp Children and Section 25 under the double identity of Factory Benelux/ Les Disques du Crepuscule, the trio branched off and continued Les Disques as their own.
With expert music curation, iconic illustration and design and an honest, no-frills presentation of their artists, the indie label remains a favorite among left-field music collectors.
Here are a few of their best.
Anna Domino – East and West (1984)
Most of the songs on Anna Domino’s brilliant solo debut East and West were written in her childhood bedroom in the late hours on a mini portastudio. These DIY bedroom recordings later found their way to Les Disques Du Crépuscule, who flew her out to Brussels to record with fellow 80’s art-pop purveyors Virginia Astley, Blaine L. Reininger (of Tuxedomoon) and Luc Van Acker. The troupe produced a textural debut filled with dark, icy, eerie production and cold drum machine sequences. A sound synonymous with the Les Disques family, meanwhile Domino’s beautifully fragile vocals are emotionally felt but often delivered with a slightly apathetic stiffness. As if she’s apprehensive, sulking and full of regret.
Surprisingly, the album’s accumulated unease and indifference create quite an emotional listening experience. It also contains the exceptionally moving cover of Aretha Franklin’s classic “Land of My Dreams.” East and West as a whole is an infectious and evocative dream and is up there with the best 80’s introspective art-pop records and one of the best LPs the label has to offer.
Antena – Camino Del Sol (1982)
A true Balearic classic, Camino Del Sol was initially released as a mini-lp in 1982 but has since seen multiple expanded reissues throughout the years. The debut subtly blends wildly contrasting styles, reigning in the cold, minimal sounds of Kraftwerk and Berlin-school with the tropical breeziness of Jobim and Gilberto in beachside Rio. Dubbed ‘electro-samba’ by future Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant, the group was leagues ahead of their time and laid the groundwork for the 90s wave of minimal and kraut-minded acts Stereolab, Broadcast and Tortoise. Singer Isabelle Antena would leave the trio after their celebrated but short-lived run and continue to release explorative Balearic classics on Les Disques, including one of our house favorites Hoping For Love.
Thick Pigeon – Subway (1982)
Thick Pigeon was an electronic art-pop duo comprised of dancer, singer and actress Miranda Stanton and composer Carter Burwell. Burwell would later provide the ominous scores for the Coen Brother films, and Miranda would soon star in Jonathan Demme’s cult classics, but before their respected film careers they came together as this unsung duo. With strong ties to the Factory Records crew and the NY underground, the two released a handful of singles throughout the 80’s, collaborating with artists like New Order, Arthur Russell, Kim Gordon, and Durutti Column. Here is their debut 7” – ’Subway.’
Durutti Column – Fidelity (1996)
Factory Records guitar virtuoso Vini Rielly signed to Les Disques in ‘96 and released this overlooked and widely forgotten classic soonthereafter. Here, the familiar forlorn bedroom atmosphere of his past recordings is met with the ‘90s contemporary flavors of the Manchester electronic dance scene. Fidelity is his most produced work, featuring immaculate drum programming, samples, horns and sweet piercing guest vocals by friend Eley Rudge. It’s a far more refined approach to downtempo than his first foray in 1990 with Obey the Time. Originally released on CD, the record was finally reissued on vinyl for the first time by Les Disques in 2019. Highlights include the most cherishable “Future Perfect,” the beautiful ambient techno tune “Grace” and and the vintage Reilly “Storm for Steve” and seven-minute closer “My Only Love.” The latter two are especially recommended for those seeking to hear more of his beautiful iconic effect drowned sound of plucky guitars wading through a pool of delays and reverb.
Ultramarine – Folk (1990)
‘Folk’ is the debut LP by Essex duo Ian Cooper and Paul Hammond, who would later become the UK’s foremost artists in the ‘ambient techno’ genre. Not widely recognized as a Les Disques artist, the duo caught the attention of the Belgian music house and sheepishly agreed to a record deal, knowing they wouldn’t snugly fit within its bohemian indie-pop sound. Recorded in Brussels on a two-week stint, the pair drew from a vast well of influences including the 70s Robert Wyatt led Canterbury scene, both in its pastoral folk and psychedelic jazz stylings; the modern rising techno sounds of the UK’s underground; as well as the surrounding Benelux scene and fellow Les Disques artists Anna Domino and Durutti Column. The debut would embody their broad and diverse approaches, reigning in the acoustic sounds of the past as well as embracing the cutting-edge recording techniques and modern electronics of the present.
V/A – From Brussels with Love (1980)
Les Disques curated a handful of compilations highlighting their diverse roster, including this initial label release and the equally favored The Fruit from the Original Sin from ‘81. Recently featured in our compilation retrospective, here’s what ISC’s Jocelyn Romo wrote on their first compilation effort:
“The first proper release on Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule, From Brussels With Love was released in November 1980 as a deluxe cassette/booklet package featuring 22 exclusive tracks of avant-garde, post-punk and new wave along with several artists from the Factory Records roster. Purposely international in scope, the compilation featured established artists experimenting with new styles, as well as rising artists on the cutting edge — A Certain Ratio, Harold Budd, Thomas Dolby, The Durutti Column, Bill Nelson, New Order, Michael Nyman, and many others. To mark the 40th anniversary of the album in 2020, Crepuscule reissued three remastered editions, with the most ambitious featuring a 60-page book including rare images, posters, sleeve designs, and period ephemera, plus a detailed history of the Crepuscule label between 1979 and 1984. Although Crépuscule was not the first modern independent record label from Belgium, the label’s legacy is rich and culturally significant. The label inspired a new era for the cassette format and self-released music in general. Even today, From Brussels with Love holds up as a masterfully curated and tastefully designed compilation.”
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