Belgian techno, a style that sprang up in an area called Flanders that’s hardly bigger than Connecticut, still survives—flourishes, even— 15 years after it began. Case in point: Lords of Acid’s Farstucker, a CD dark and woozy, hard and scrawny, a bit Billy Idol, a lot gothic, too nasty for its own good—and liking it. Yet not at all ironic. The Lords still have pretty much the same lineup that had a hit in 1988 with “I Sit on Acid” and persisted all the way to 1997’s Our Little Secret. Maurice Engelen—better known as Praga Khan—is here, keyboarding and tenoring and arranging. Oliver Adams is still mixing, and Jade 4 U (a/k/a Nikki Van Lierop) is still writing what she’s always written: raw ketchup-sex songs and strip-to-the-beat songs, not so much in your face as on your face. And while the inimitable Nikki no longer sings (screams?), in her place stands an even nastier Flemish chickie named Deborah Ostrega. Don’t believe me? Just listen to “Scrood Bi U,” in which Ostrega yowls, screeches, expectorates, “I don’t mind if it’s hard and rough!!” her voice shimmering through the song’s melodic mist and echo dust. Pure witches’ brew if you ask me; glam and evil, as with all Belgian techno. But how has this sound survived? Why are LOA still here, four non-platinum, non-gold CDs after they first published?
I first heard Belgian techno on Montreal radio in the fall of 1986, broadcast live from a disco called the Pow Wow. Had no idea what it was, or who the Neon Judgment and A Split Second, whose “Chinese Black” and “Rigor Mortis” I was listening to, were; neither did anyone in the U.S. for whom I played the tape I made that night. Not much has changed since. The Neon Judgment still record—their 1998 Dazsoo reached my turntable—but get very few U.S. reviews. Lords of Acid have done better. In 1997 they actually toured the U.S. in support of Our Little Secret, with its 13 tracks of impure ferocity and sleepy windy space music; I saw them perform to an audience of 100 or so, sardined into a club no bigger than an auto body shop. The fans there were hard cases indeed. They knew LOA songs by heart, even some of the 12 obscure ones compiled in 1991 on Lust, LOA’s first U.S. release. They reached for Darling Nikki and tried to shake the hand of the spikily bleach-haired Praga, and bent their bodies to LOA’s newfound house rhythms. Few though they were, there was trust in the air. It was a cult-music triumph.
That explains why LOA are still here. That, and because no widely successful pop-music genre has stolen Belgian techno’s jewels. It’s not enough to say that Ostrega shrieks with more raunch and grin than any dozen Kim Gordons or Christina Amphletts (remember the Divinyls?), or that Praga grinds out keyboard buzz and breezy dazzle just as dark as those in goth-rock, but with none of goth’s overreach. You listen to Farstucker‘s 19 tracks and you hear plenty of recognizable influences insufficiently adapted (Rob Zombie, AC/DC, Kraftwerk, German industrial, the drum intro from “When the Levee Breaks”) or consciously distorted (the Beatles in “Lucy’s F*CK*NG Sky,” Peggy Lee’s “Fever”). Nor is the inimitable in LOA to be found in lyric imagination—there is only one subject matter, all sorts of naked sex (doggy-style and rubber-fetish have always been favorites; here you’ll find them in “Rover Take Over” and “Slave to Love”). And as for melodic diversity, forget it. LOA stick pretty much to two-note blues chords. Like KMFDM, Billy Idol, even Godsmack, LOA’s jams chew a very slim, licorice-stick groove. But just as licorice splits into all manner of strands, LOA’s knife-edged, staticky rhythms divide and recombine, busy and complex like 1000 conversations overlapping and intersecting, just like the talk one hears in the clubs LOA plays to. Nearly all of Farstucker‘s songs—try the jubilant “Feed My Hungry Soul,” the raunchy “Stripper,” the housey “Get Up, Get High,” the luminous “Scrood Bi U”—are grounded in dark complex clutter. Above that clutter, however, an LOA song moves where almost no U.S. pop music moves: in and through the ether.
That ether is, however, the preferred medium through which Europop, with its dream states and tender idealisms, moves; and in songs like “Dark Lover Rising,” “Kiss Eternal,” and “I Like It” (in which Ostrega joyously teases her cross-dressing boyfriend!), ethereality gives LOA’s music a most unfamiliar cast (as well as revealing its less recognizable influences: Mylene Farmer, Enigma, Cradle of Filth, Sisters of Mercy), and certainly one not much linked—in U.S. pop, at least—to dark-clutter bottoms. One hesitates to call LOA’s music Manichaean, but it’s hard not to find an irresolvable dualism in these songs. The Gnostics held that since the material world was wholly evil, sex was preferable outside of marriage rather than within; they also held (like John of the Gospel) that what was good was the Word and the Light, which were wholly spirit. LOA’s sexuality spits in morality’s face. In “Scrood Bi U,” LOA’s most pointed track, Ostrega lauds, trumpets, demands sex; and as she rises to her message, her voice rises too, higher and higher into Praga’s orchestral echo glimmer—from raunch to sublimeness.
This is not to say that LOA always get it right. They don’t. The house-music beats they used during the Our Little Secret tour came close to being merely functional. 1999’s Expand Your Head was all standard club rhythm, no sex. Perhaps no surprise that it appeared at about the same moment as Praga Khan’s failed solo, Twenty First Century Skin—a venture into glam-boy crooning entirely out of character for such a raw and hooky distortionist. Farstucker returns LOA to their basics. They were the group who changed Belgian techno’s outlook from icy darkness to raving bawdy mischief. It’s mischief time again, and just to make sure, LOA are touring the U.S.A. once more.