The Belgian musical movement known as new beat was in its hey day during the late 1980’s, a contemporary of the British orbital rave and acid house scenes. Like acid house, new beat brought more and more people into the clubs, received national media attention and spawned commercially successful musical acts and nightclubs that reached an ever widening audience. What made new beat significant is the fact that it was a home-grown scene, a rarity in Belgium which is so often influenced by it’s nearest neighbors France and The Netherlands, as well as England and the United States. When new beat started to make waves in mid-eighties Belgium, it heralded the first time that modern Belgian music received significant radio play or appeared in great numbers in the Belgian pop charts. The sheer amount of records that could be called “new beat” that were produced from 1986-1989 is in the thousands. Three nightclubs were at the center of the new beat movement —the Boccaccio in Destelbergen (a town just outside of Ghent), the Ancienne Belgique in Antwerp and Club Prestige, also in Antwerp.
The Boccaccio: 1972-1993
The Boccaccio opened in 1972 on the Solariumdreef in Destelbergen. It was a hip place playing disco and funk music to eager crowds. The Boccaccio was named after a famous medieval ship and the interior of the club had a nautical theme. The club was quite successful until a new and more modern club, the Carrera, opened next door in 1985. Losing many patrons almost immediately, the Boccaccio closed for remodeling later that same year. When it reopened in 1987, the name was changed to the “Boccaccio Life International” and the club’s decor and sound were nothing less than state of the art. Boccaccio Life International had what was probably the best sound system in Belgium, alongside elaborate neon and laser light displays. Shortly after its opening, the club became one of the best in Europe thanks to the Sunday night DJ Olivier Peters, with patrons streaming in from Antwerp, Ghent, Brussels and even France, The Netherlands and the UK. The Sunday night parties where new beat music was played became legendary, often continuing into Monday evening and attracting upwards of 2000 patrons. Soon, the New Beat sound was not only played on Sundays, but every day. The club remained open until 1993, but it’s popularity strongly decreased after the new beat trend became passe in 1989.
The Ancienne Belgique: 1985-1988
Before it was called new beat, it was called “AB muziek” after a club in Antwerp —the Ancienne Belgique, which opened in an old theater in February of 1985. A distinctive sound soon emerged from the club where new wave, ska, Balearic, Italo disco, post-punk, gothic and industrial music were played alongside the B-sides of some of the first hip-hop tracks from the US. Two resident DJ’s worked the AB and became known as the founders of the AB music style—“dikke (fat) Ronny Harmsen and Johnny Van Looveren. Both DJ’s would make weekly visits to a record shop on the Sint-Jackobsmarkt, US Import. There they would score the latest international records and when it came time to play them out on the weekend, they would play 45 rpm records at 33 rpm, but then pitch them up. The new beat of belgium was seldom played at more than 110 bpm, whereas most dance music of the time was 120 bpm and up. The first Belgian hits using the new beat sound were Flesh by A Split Second and Dead Eyes Open by Severed Heads, both released in 1986. The Ancienne Belgique was Antwerp’s most popular club from 1986-1988 and certainly was Belgium’s most influential during that same period.
The Prestige Club: 1986-1993
Opening it’s doors in November 1986, Club Prestige was the most exclusive in Antwerp for a time. The patrons were international, famous and oriented towards a wealthy jet-set lifestyle. On it’s opening night gala, Club Prestige guests included Frankie Goes to Hollywood and The Pet Shop Boys. The interior was luxe with a huge chandelier over the dancefloor and an ornately decorated antique ceiling. Although the club was patronized by many tastemakers of the time, it was not really underground and instead seemed somewhat tame and commercial when compared to the Boccaccio especially. Perhaps as a result of this, many of the fashion trends allied to the new beat sound could be seen on display at the Prestige. Both men and women followed the fashion choices of bands like The Pet Shop boys, but took inspiration from British acid house culture, wearing smiley face T-shirts and denim pants. Doc Martens were popular footwear and brands like Marithé + Francois Girbaud were preferred. Also for some reason the logos of Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen were often pinned onto baseball hats and printed onto large T-shirts. Other popular clothing items included suspenders, bandanas, spandex bike shorts and jackets with shoulder pads.