Military Grade New Beat

This month’s guest selector is as cult and as underground as they come. Infact if it wasn’t for Dark Entires Records, we might never have heard of him at all – unless you were part of the Belgian New Beat in the late 1980s. He goes by the artist name of Lhasa, although he was born Alain Raes in Siegen, Germany.

As a teenager Alain was inspired by Tubeway Army's “Are Friends Electric” and Art Of Noise’s “Beatbox”. In 1985 he began collecting analog equipment (Prophet-5; Oberheim OB-X; Linn LM-1) as digital synthesizers had started to become more popular. In 1986, New Beat was born in Belgium. Dancers tapped into the darker side of synth pop, and DJs would play 45 rpm records at 33 with the pitch control set to +8. Alain was playing in New Wave bands and had started production work and synth programming for other acts.

In 1988 he self-released the debut Lhasa single ‘Acetabularia’ / ‘Acetatechno’, while serving the military. The record combined the icy melodies of Gary Numan and John Foxx with with the mechanical rhythms of Detroit techno and EBM. Thematically, both tracks revolve around the end of life on Earth, and include samples from ‘Dr. Strangelove’.

Earlier this year Josh over at Dark Entires reissued this seminal lost piece of electronic music for the very first time with an added 4 bonus tracks rescued from a 1990 recording session DAT tape. The demos show further development of the Lhasa sound with updated instruments (Roland D-20, Yamaha TX16W, Korg 707), faster tempos, and menacing proto-rave energy.

In the liner notes for the reissue of The Attic from 1990 Raes said that he was "part of a scene without really taking part in it." His lack of interest meant that Lhasa petered out after 1991.

So as you can imagine I was taken aback when he agreed to do a Synth Hero mix for me – and what a mix it is. I had never heard of most of these tracks, so there’s a good chance you won’t have either. With a heavy emphasis on New Beat, it also dips into avant techno, good Euro electro pop and industrial music as well.


0.00 Karl Biscuit – “La Morte”
French ballet artist that got exposed to the Brussels electro scene of the early 80s. Kind of witty and unsettling at the same time, but nonetheless an intriguing figure.

3.45 Nash the Slash – “Swing Shift”
A curious act that could be seen as the one and truly electronic shock rocker, Nash combined a striking appearance with the use of rhythm box, electric viola and his ultimate axe – an uncanny guitar tone from his Mini Moog. Never compromising.

7.55 David Van Tieghem – “These Things Happen”
What if hip hop was made in a mad scientist laboratory? What could it have evolved into? Maybe something out of this world by out of box rythmatist Adrian Belew armed with sticks, pots and a Fairlight.

12.30 Click Click – “Is This It?”

These lads were taking cues from new beat but combining them with something the fair sex or skinny puppy would come up with – but click has definitely the edge with a more structured sound instead of the brute approach. One of my favourites in the industrial genre.

17.31 Jo Lemaire – “Saint” 

A Belgian artist that single-handedly defined what would become emo-synthpop with the reworking of a Gainsbourg song in 1981. Saint comes from her 1983 solo album featuring brooding memory Moog with a passionate vocal, nighttime perfection.

21.53 Eddie Jobson – “The Sojourn”
With its exquisite use of synth clavier, Jobson’s Theme of Secrets album remains one of the most refined in electronic music. Incredible depth and moving spiralling patterns of electronic bliss, released in 85 on the private music label it certainly wasn’t new age to my ears and has stood the test of time.

28.00 Roger Powell – “Sands Of Arrakis”
He was one of the very first using digital synthesizers and developing his own pioneer music software. While definitely prog rock in approach, the keyboard work is stunning as showcased on Sands Of Arrakis. Intricate analog fairy dust for the space age.

33.18 Savage Progress – “Hip Parade” 

Purveyors of what Thomas Dolby ones called the krr krr sound, this outfit combined tribal vibes with the atmospheric sounds a ppg wave does so well. “Heart Begin to Beat” is the 12 inch but it is this track that captures the elements that early new beat would define .

35.50 Tonic – “Marilyn en Jean”
Belgium was quite an early adaptor in the use of electronic instruments mainly because of the lack of musical heritage which resulted in a out of the box mindset. Tonic’s quirky bubblegum electropop made it onto the soundtrack of the movie Zaman but it is this stunning Marilyn en Jean remains one of the unsung Belsynth classics of the early 80s.

39.02 Clock DVA – “Cycom”
1977’s Demon Seed was one of the first movies to touch on the subject of artificial intelligence going haywire. Clock DVA captures and underpins the narrative of the novel.

43.00 Wire – “Ahead”
Intellectual, quirky but above all in its own universe is how I describe the music of Wire. While not strictly electronic their tracks always struck a nerve with me. A Bell Is a Cup is a timeless album.

46.00 Serge Blenner – “Expansion 2” 

Blenner is one of a lost neoclassic romanticism and the futurist movement, heavily reliant on the complete range of ppg synthesizers, it is of a unique purity that gets more embellished in its follow up albums.

49.22 Kiem – “Do The Loo” 

The electronic manifesto for one of mankind's important daily habits, an interesting dadaist approach to synth music by this Dutch band, a bagpipe like korg ms and monopoly and weighty taurus bass being in counterpoint with the witty lyrics .

54.09 Fashion – “Street Mechanic”
Zeus B. Held caught my interest in the Moroder dominated electro disco with the leftfield avant garde of his Gina X project. This stripped version displays cunning use of vocoders and swirly Rolands fading in and out. It’s quite something to b held.

Synth of the Month:
Oberheim OB-X

The Oberheim OB-X is an analog polyphonic sound synthesizer.

First commercially available in June 1979, it was introduced to compete with the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, which had been successfully introduced the year before. About 800 units were produced with moderate success before the OB-X was discontinued in 1981, replaced by the updated and streamlined OB-Xa. The OB line developed and evolved after that with the OB-8 before being replaced by the Matrix series.

The OB-X was used in popular music by Rush (on Moving Pictures and Signals), Nena, Styx member Dennis DeYoung (used frequently from late 1979 to 1984), Queen (their first synthesizer on an album), Madonna for her debut album, Prince, a keen user, and Jean-Michel Jarre who used it for its massive "brass" sounds.