One of the most important tape labels from Europe was ( and is ) Insane Music run by Belgian, Alain Neffe. In addition to his own music ( with Nadine Bal) as Bene Gesserit, Human Flesh and The Chopstick Sisters, Alain also issued many excellent compilation tapes on Insane.
The tape above featured over 40 different international artists and , like many of his releases, covered a lot of musical ground.
More information on Alain Neffe and Insane Music go here.
“Ode To Samantha Fox” was a tribute/love letter to the famous British softcore porn pin-up star. Contributions from Sack, Lord Litter, Yximalloo, Nostlagie Eternelle and many others.
Above, the Insane Music release, “Music In This Present Sense” and below, a Human Flesh release from 2006 on Eriek Van Havere’s EE Tapes label.
Both Van Havere and Neffe produced unusual packaging on many releases including oversized plastic covers and large foldout style inserts.
In my opinion, Neffe, Havere and Matthias Lang of IRRE Tapes ran some of the most important European tape labels. That, of course, is up for debate but the sheer eclectic and artful approach put these imprints in a special category.
This interview by Veronica Vesicka was originally published in Minimal Wave.
THE ALAIN NEFFE INTERVIEW FOR MINIMAL WAVE.
1) Where are you originally from, Alain? Was there a music scene around at all?
Well, I was raised in La Docherie, an industrial suburb near Charleroi, Belgium, an area I refer to as “the asshole of Belgium. It was a noisy and dirty place; between coal mines, iron and steel factories… a really polluted place…most of my friends were from abroad / of foreign origin .This may t explain somewhat my phonetic fascination for languages…As per a music scene??? The drunken accordion players of the local bars where workmen spent (wasted?) Their salaries and some Italian ballroom orchestras, that is about it .
2) Did your family have any influence on your interest in music?
Yes, I guess… my father used to listen to jazz and French songs, but he never liked rock and roll…But my mother owned a 78rpm of Little Richard …and we all listened to the radio a lot …Still, I must admit that I had no real interest in music before hearing The Beatles’ first song …for me, it was a sort of revelation, a kind of epiphany…(yes, I am THAT old !!)
3) Describe one of your first experiences with sound.
As a child, I used to hit absolutely everything to enjoy the different sounds (my parents hated that !!), I loved the sounds of my screaming under water( putting my head under water and screaming at the same time) and (already) the sound of voices in big empty places, mostly empty factories and churches.
4) How did you first meet Nadine Bal and how soon after did you start working together?
In January 1980, she came to a Pseudo Code rehearsal …we began recording jingles for her radio show six months later, then I convinced her to make some music together. Later, I convinced her to be my wife…
5) What kind of process was involved in song making in those early years?
Well, we totally improvised on a 2 track machine, and we used to decide on the beginnings and the ends of the not so bad parts, and give them some title…and find a way to make the project coherent.
6) What is your approach to lyric writing?
Only emotions force me to write lyrics, I can stay years without being able to write a text… usually, I must feel unhappy, desperate or angry to be able to dare to write a single line…I write mostly in French and sometimes in sloppy naïve English, and often ask my friends from abroad to adapt the result in their own language.
7) Do you remember where and when you bought your first musical instrument?
I was 16 or 17. I bought a wooden flute that I painted in psychedelic colors …I still have it…
8) How did you release your first piece of music? What was it?
…In 1980, the first Pseudo Code EP…oh no, I almost forgot, I had played synth and vocoder on an LP of “la Maison du Jardinier”…a bizarre jazz orchestra, it was in 1977, I think…
9) What is the story behind the various pseudonyms and band names?
The story ?? Let’s say that I had a lot to express, and those names were all corresponding to specific styles…and you don’ t know the names of my groups in the 70’s !!!
10) What inspired you to begin the Insane Music label?
I was fed up of being betrayed by those labels’ owners…the only guy on earth I trusted was myself (I still do !!).
11) How do you compare the image you believe your music conveys with the response from the public?
Coherent…people who like my music are a little bit insane, or at least, musically insane…and most of the time indifferent to fashion, …they seem to have a peculiar sense of humor, and a need for “human” contact…I received thousands of letters, and some (mostly girls) revealed intimate things about their life, as if we were close friends…believe me or not, some of them said that my music saved their life because they no longer felt alone (mostly in regards to Pseudo Code and Human Flesh)…but it was in the 80’s, the world was less absurd and “craziness” was not the norm back then…
12) What’s the story behind the track “Tonight” from a High Happy and Cynical Cry of Joy?
Nothing in particular…we improvised some music, Nadine improvised some lyrics based on the feelings she felt at that moment, I added some little sounds and mixed the whole stuff… usually, it was quickly done because I needed the open-reel tapes to record other songs.
13) Where did you play live and was there ever a tour?
We played in Belgium, Germany, Norway, and often in Holland, in the 80’s we always refused to play in France (we played in Nantes in 2006)…a tour?? Yes, a tour of 2 dates (!!!)…The problem was that we both had heavy day-jobs in order to be artistically free (no commercial compromises, we did not need THAT money…), and therefore not a lot of “free” time.
14) Tell me about your most memorable live performance. What happened?
It was in Den Haag, Holland, Pseudo Code volunteered to substitute for Front 242 (!!!), and the (extremely heavy) audience wasn’t aware of this and came to see that band… nobody announced us…we played our 1st song, and the response was a silence…for the second song, we could hear some reactions from the crowd…we thought we would be thrown out of the stage by those savages, but gradually, we won their attention, and we got 3 encores…the funny thing was to watch Nadine (our manager then) surrounded by these cyberpunks asking her for the name of the band and the name of the singer, and then shouting “Xavier!!!” while pogo dancing…the backstage was crowded, and they all were asking us what kind of dope we were taking…the deceiving answer was “tea and pies “…There is also that concert in Norway…
15) What are the bands you love?
There are many, tons of them …Urban Turban, AREA , Elisabeth Valletti, the early Pink Floyd (“the Piper at the Gate of Dawn” is amazing), Epica, Radiohead, Stina Nordenstam, Marilyn Manson, Robert Wyatt, Akiko Yano, An Pierlé, Phonoroid Phonoroid, Babes in Toyland, L7, Tuxedomoon, Daevid Allen ( Gong), Hawkwind, Peter Hammill, Captain Beefheart, Amon Duul 2, Nick Cave ,Brigitte Fontaine, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Dick Annegarn, Robyn Hytchcock, Roy Harper, the Ramones, Legendary Pink Dots, Tori Amos, Jennifer Terran, The Mothers of Invention, Nico, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Pierrot Lunaire, Savina Yannatou, Psarantonis, Madredeus, Anna Homler, Trespassers W, L’ Edarps a Moth, Gryphon, Sex Pistols, the Dickies, the Bouncing Balls, the Saints, Doctors of Madness , the Stooges, Sapho, Arthur Brown, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, Annette Peacock, Bashung , les Lolitas, Lady June, Terje Rypdal,… just to name a few. I also love all sorts of orchestras playing medieval music… Can’t name them all…but for me, the best ever record is the Yoko Ono’s double LP “fly” …
16) Tell me about the essential differences in attitude between your current projects and when you started out. Are you still as excited?
There are no essential differences, except that I try to record the music with more care…I also try to avoid the rhythm boxes, because everybody use them. I tend to record more acoustic music since electronic stuff is so easy to make these days.
Maybe I have lost a little bit of excitement but I can still be passionate when I find something new or unusual. I mean something that I was unable to do in the past…my dream is to be able to sing, play an acoustic guitar and an harmonica at the same time, just like the Bob Dylan of the sixties…
17) Do you care about technology?
Yes and no…I mean “no” but” yes” a little bit…
I always used old second-hand technology (I just recently started using a computer for music) due to the lack of money…so I never handle brand new technical tricks I find technology in itself extremely boring, but it can help to get better results, so I try to learn the basic things and use them the best I can most of the time in an instinctive way. If you focus too much on technology, you lose your creativity, your humanity…Remember that “Sergeant Pepper” was recorded on two 4-track machines and still sounds great…not to mention “Satisfaction”, recorded on a single track and having the best sound I ever heard.
18) What do you envision for the next 5 years of your life?
Getting older, physically weaker, angrier, maybe acquire a gun or try to get enough energy to escape on a not-too- hot sunny island.
19) And aside from all this what did you do today? What was the last thing you listened to?
I cleaned the bathroom, did the washing up, repaired a wooden box, watched t my second favourite tv serie, mastered music for a further release and listened to some excerpts of 4 cds I bought yesterday in a second-hand shop: “Return of the frog queen” “by Jeremy Enigk ; a Japanese lyrics (texts) cd by Kim Gordon and a Japanese girl; “Brand New Age” by the UK subs;and lastly “We’re all frankies”- a compilation tribute to Suicide.
Below, another interview with Alain Neffe by Luna Kafe.
Tales from the underground
A Belgian winter report by Johan Schlanbusch.
Belgium hasn’t been featured in more than a handful of menus here at Luna Kafé. About time then, to dwell on the musical whereabouts of Alain Neffe, a looming giant on the Belgian alternative scene for three decades, if ever there was one. On the international alternative scene probably covers his whereabouts more accurate. He was extremely active during the 1980s. He played in several underground bands; not least the international oriented experimental project Human Flesh and the vocal- and electro-pop-experimental duo BeNe GeSSeRiT along with his wife Nadine Bal. Alain also ran the highly respected Insane Music Contact that released several dozens of tape compilations with contributions from a vast number of alternative and experimental bands and artists from all over the world. Alain included contact addresses of the featured musicians on every Insane compilation. This way he created a unique international network based on snail-mail, not only for himself but for everyone interested, 20-something years before MySpace, Facebook etc. made this kind of international communication a lot easier.
Alain has been faithful – or stubborn – to his original ideas and ideals. He has kept going on the underground scene for three decades by now. His closest connections to the overground, as far as I recon, include involvement with the late Lady June’s second album Hit & Myth in the mid 1990s (she was helped out by Kevin Ayers and Brian Eno on her first) and Univers Zero’s comeback album The Hardest Quest from 1999. He was also involved in an interesting project with Univers Zero’s leader Daniel Denis that included acoustic recordings in local churches and using old church organs, but sadly never materialized (very interesting recordings were put together on a project cdr, but at the time, no label they contacted were interested). There has been a renewed interest in Alain’s many projects during the last few years. Only last year saw the release of two new CDs by Human Flesh, a 10” ep by Pseudo Code ( Light ) and the LP Music For The Fun Of It of old material by BeNe GeSSeRiT that sold out immediately. Recently, a compilation LP called “This is an insane insane world” featuring the main Insane bands was released by a German label. The following is a crazy, sorry, insane – of course, attempt to sum up thirty years of alternative musical activities. This naturally and unfortunately means we’ve had to be rather superficial here and there.
Luna K.: Let’s try to start chronologically, shall we? I guess your interest in music started early on. I know you went to gigs with Zappa and Yes at an early stage. Other favourites back then?
Alain: A lot to mention… The most impressive? Nico, alone with her harmonium, in front of an audience who came for The Scorpions or imposing respect to a bunch of punks. Edgar Broughton Band, Steamhammer, Roy Harper, The Yardbirds with Jimmy Page in front of a small audience (40 people) in a tent on a market place in a small village, The Groundhogs playing great music on rotten instruments, Khan with Steve Hillage, Gong with Daevid Allen, Supersister, Pink Floyd in 1968 in a small theatre playing a sort of concert about one day in a man’s life with stunning sound travelling all around the place, Genesis (the Trespass LP period) in a small theatre decorated with Paul Delvaux surrealistic paintings (there were 30 to 35 persons present), Gun (they played so loud that we had to listen to the gig outside the place…), Yes at the Marquee Club in London jamming with David O’List (guitar player of the Nice) or with Iron Butterfly, Comus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Caravan, Savoy Brown,Terje Rypdal, Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator (7 or 8 times), Fläskkvartetten (Swedish The Flesh Quartet) etc. etc. just to name a few.
Luna K.: Two favourite records from the late 60’s 70’s ?
Alain: Yoko Ono’s double-LP Fly and the first LP by Silver Apples
Luna K.: These are mainly artists from the late 1960s and early 1970s that don’t sound a lot like any of your own musical projects. Can you mention any bands or artists that have inspired you directly within the punk, industrial, alternative, experimental or electronic genres?
Alain: Inspiration ?? Well, in the early stages mostly Pink Floyd in their instrumental experimentations…Ron Geesin too, particularly “music from the body” that he recorded with Roger Waters… Trevor Wishart , Silver Apples, Faust, Harmonia, Neu ! , Brainticket , “limited edition” by Can…but I believe that everything I liked influenced me … more essential, the place where I lived (dirty industrial suburbs in decay in a surrealistic and totally absurd country) and the way I was raised and educated.
Luna K.: When did you start to play with a band yourself? Was Pseudo Code your first band?
Alain: I started playing flute in a band with no name, trying to create a sort of rock opera in French and Latin (the Latin version was named The Cosmic Tourists or AVNI, for Abjects Violents Non Identifiables)… The band did not last. I asked two of the musicians to stay and we began Kosmose, a group improvising long pieces in the krautrock style. I played with Sic, a punk band, and with a mix of the two, named Katalepsic… I formed Cortex (French poetry and electronic music)… After that, Pseudo Code was born, together with an ex- member of Kosmose, Guy-Marc Hinant. We rehearsed for one full year before Xavier S joined for the definitive line-up. In parallel with all those bands, I recorded alone on a tape recorder and performed some gigs under the name I Scream.
Luna K.: As far as I know, Pseudo Code is the most successful live band, in Belgium at least, that you’ve been involved in. How long did you keep going and how far did you reach?
Alain: It was quick and very productive. We really began in January 1980 and kept going until mid 1982. We recorded two EPs, two cassettes and contributed to a lot of vinyl and cassette compilations. We also recorded an LP that was released after the band folded. We played live mostly in Belgium and Holland.
Luna K.: Then on to Insane Music Contact, Human Flesh and Bene Gesserit. What came first?
Alain: In fact, it was Bene Gesserit, around 1981… Human Flesh was created in that year, too, basically to replace Pseudo Code.
Luna K.: Bene Gesserit was and is a rather characteristic duo. Please let us know how you got started, something about what happened in the 1980s and today.
Alain: It began as a joke: Nadine was Pseudo Code’s manager and we decided to record some music together for fun. I loved the result, but Nadine did not feel comfortable with it… So we decided to take pseudonyms and release an acid red fluorescent cassette (named Best Of!), pretending we were from Switzerland. We printed absurd and surrealistic reviews of our works, spread it to the press and radios and put the cassette in consignation in a well know record shop. The contact address was at a friend’s in Switzerland. Some months later, everybody in Brussels was talking about that “group from Switzerland” and our Swiss friend sent us dozens of letters from Belgian fans… Nadine was forced to admit she was the singer of Bene Gesserit. Nobody believed her!! It took months and our first concert for people to accept it. Mostly, we played live in Holland, Germany, a little bit in Belgium and even once in Norway. We submitted a lot of music to international compilations, made three LPs and two singles. Actually, we mostly participate to compilations and specific projects, and we are recording new music for a cd release.
Luna K.: What was the idea about Insane? There were some ideological thoughts behind the cassette domination of the label I suspect?
Alain: The first thing was to try to promote the bands I was playing with, Pseudo Code, Bene Gesserit, Human Flesh, I Scream, Subject, Cortex, Japanese Genius… I launched a sort of virtual label that was putting together compilations that were released on other labels. For instance Sandwich Records for the Insane Music vol. 1 and Grafika Airlines for the Insane Music vol. 2 and 3. Having money problems with those labels – they “forgot” to give me my share of the benefits – I registered the name Insane Music Contact and began my own label. I went on releasing cassettes and occasionally vinyl.
About the cassette domination. Well, it was mostly a matter of costs. I bought thousands of virgin cassettes and some cassettes recorders. I could copy the tapes on demand. Releasing an LP required that you printed at least 500 copies and 1 000 copies of the cover sleeve, and everything had to be paid up front. The cassette had some good sides: if the buyer didn’t like the music, he or she could wipe it out and record something else on it. Cassettes also gave you more freedom, no sensorship, and was very quick to release. They were light ( less postal costs) and you could listen to them everywhere, on your walkman or portable cassette player… You could make cheap coversleeves by photocopy, and you could do it all by yourself, without depending on factories. One could really control the overall quality. Also, they were not in limited editions, you could reproduce them anytime. To finish, the cassette might have longer playing time than an LP and be sold at a cheaper price.
Luna K.: Why the name Insane? The music wasn’t that insane? Btw. we had a festival in Norway in the early 1980s with bands mainly from our local/national cassette movement. The name of the festival was Sprø Musikk Festival that might be translated to Weird og Insane Music Festival in English. I guess it might be an accidental connection here… :-)
Alain: When I was making music in the early 1970s, people told me my music was “crazy” or “insane”… When I had to choose a name for the label, I took that term, and, to be explicit, I named it Insane Music Contact. After a while, it was shortened to Insane.
Luna K.: Yes, the name of our Norwegian festival had about the same origin. How long did you keep the Insane label active and why did it fold?
Alain: I began in 1980 (with the virtual label) and it ended in 1990, I mean the production thing, because I continue to conceive and produce CDs or LPs which are released on other labels.
Luna K.: How many tapes did you release on the Insane label? Are they still available? Have you considered releasing them as CD-Rs?
Alain: 45 tapes… the cassettes are not available anymore because I haven’t duplication tools and labels any more… But 42 of them have been released on CD-Rs with their original coversleeves and nice labels .
Luna K.: Can they be ordered from you?
Alain: Yes, they can.
Luna K.: There were several volumes of your compiltaion series with international artists called Insane Music For Insane People and Home-Made Music For Home-Made People. What was the difference between them?
Alain: The Insane … compilations were without theme and with no specific length of the tracks. The Home-Made ones had a theme and the length of each track was maximum 1 or 2 minutes.
Luna K.: Human Flesh was and still is a very special and very international project with you as the only common denominator. Can you tell us about it?
Alain: Excerpts from a 1983 interview: The concept really began in 1981 when I bought a second-hand 8-track reel-to-reel recorder. I began to conceive a system using the machine as the centre of the group. I would invite musicians to play with me on some tracks, then ask other people to add instruments or voices months or years later. So these people could play together without even knowing each other… Being the only constant member of Human Flesh, I’m the one to decide who to add, and on which track. However, it (still) is a kind of improvisation: The musicians listen to what has been recorded so far once or twice while I ajust the sound of their instruments and add some effects. Btw, the effects are always added while recording and never during the final mix. Then we begin to record their musical part. Sometimes the result is not technically perfect, but the track possesses freshness and spontaneity. This aspect is very important to me. The hardest thing is to find the final arrangements and to mix the track. I always wait at least one year before I mix a song, until I’ve forgotten what it sounded like. Mixing is also a kind of improvisation for me; it must be rather quickly done. It is also a very important part of the creative process, I think. Some tracks remain on the 8-track tape for years and years before I find something or someone to finish them. Some will never be finished.
I also work with people living on the other side of the globe, people I probably never will have the chance to meet. I write lyrics in French or English and ask others to translate them into into their own language and to record it. Then I put their recording onto the 8-track and build a musical piece around the voice. Most of the time, the simple sound of the voice and the music of the language inspire me… Most of he participants of Human Flesh are friends, they trust me and I really thank them a lot for that.
Back to 2008: Nowadays the Internet is a great way to exchange and collaborate. I’ve done it several times. It works well and it is very quick. You can send musical files and discuss the results, make graphic projects and share a lot of ideas. Internet is bringing back the idea of network we had in the cassette scene in the 1980s. It’s about the same, very international, but faster and with better interaction. The MySpace pages have brought me a lot of new contacts, new collaborators, new outputs and new fans.
Luna K.: What about the lyrics?
Alain: Only emotions force me to write lyrics. Years may pass without being able to write a text… Usually, I must feel unhappy, desperate or angry to be able to dare to write a single line… I write mostly in French and sometimes in sloppy naïve English.
Luna K.: EE Tapes has recently released two CDs by Human Flesh, Songs For The Victims (From A Decaying Country) and Penumbra, both with impressive 7 inch sleeves, including recordings mainly from the 1980s and 90s. Can you tell us something about these particular recordings and why it took so long for them to be released.
Alain: Songs For The Victims is a bit harsh. The music is angry and desperate. It depicts what I feel concerning the victims of crimes. In Belgium they are not considered at all, receive no help… The “politically correct” system prefers helping delinquents, rapers, thieves, rather than protecting the victims. The Dutroux case is one of (too) many examples (Belgian serial killer who kidnapped, locked up, tortured, sexually abused and murdered several young girls – two of them were “forgotten” in his cave and slowly died- ). I wanted to express my disgust for the decaying country where I live…
Penumbra is more close to the spirit of the first LP by Human Flesh (from 1985), bitter sweet, nostalgic… This time most of the lyrics are interpreted by young women, for the sake of capturing the freshness, the innocence and the pure emotion. Some of them are non-professional and others well known in the world of alternative music. The tracks have been inspired by the sound of their voices and the musicality of their languages.