February 1995 A4 40 pages
MADE IN SWEDEN, 90'S
original (last 104 copies)
Example article extract
ROCK IN OPPOSITION
Most musical movements seem to move with fashion, youth culture, or technology, or are created by the media to classify a trend, capitalise on a popular genre, or purely to hype up something. But, aside from such commercial pigeonholing, the most important of musical movements have been created by people with a common political stance or ideal, and often with a focus on other arts and media. Of course, here I'm thinking of movements like the Dadaists and Futurists, who were overtly political and groundbreaking, but were unfortunately ultimately self destructive. In rock music, no such movement has ever existed that I know of, as with the political and international nature of rock as a popular form of music, it's unlikely that there could be any movement so radical that it could make such an impact. Yet, there was one movement in rock music that did cause quite a stir and gain much notoriety, and that was the strangely named "Rock In Opposition" (RIO for short), a coalition of European groups at the forefront of musical innovation. Okay, it's unlikely that you'll read about RIO in any major textbooks on 20th Century music, and as to what exactly Rock In Opposition is, it's not easy to clarify, but amongst those into adventurous music in the late-70's, it opened up a whole new world of radical and challenging musics.
RIO was the brainchild of Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler and one Nick Hobbs. Nick had been working with Henry Cow in a managerial/administrative capacity for a few years, and in organising concerts with the likes of Etron Fou Leloublan, Stormy Six, and others in Europe. The notion of getting all the like-minded bands that Henry Cow had encountered, together as some sort of alternative movement, seemed like a logical idea. Chris is well known for his left field politics, his attitude to music, culture and counter-culture, and has written much about this. I understand he had long been dissatisfied with the way the general music scene was heading. Henry Cow had split from Virgin Records, it was the time of the Punk boom, and the chances of any aid from a major label were zero. So, they needed to establish their own alternative, thus Chris and Nick established Recommended Records to distribute and release records, and also established Rock In Opposition as a vehicle for concerts and promotion. Really though, RIO wasn't tied down to a particular style of music, as it was more of an attitude, a creative outlook without concessions to the general media or popular trends, whether motivated politically, socially or musically, in opposition to the "lowest common denominator" attitude of the record industry. An RIO group needed to fit the following criteria: A) That of musical excellence, B) That of working outside the establishment music business, and C) That of having a social commitment to rock. Of course the definition "rock" didn't mean "pop" as it does to the media today, it meant that classic form that grew out of rock 'n' roll in the late-60's, music of a modern stance, straddling genres, structured and generally electric, what we at Audion call "progressive".
The official launch of Rock In Opposition was a seven hour festival at The New London Theatre, Drury Lane, London, on the 25 March 1978, featuring five groups: Univers Zero (from Belgium), Stormy Six (from Italy), Etron Fou Leloublan (from France), Samla Mammas Manna (from Sweden) and Henry Cow. Though not well attended, the concert was deemed a great success, with glowing reports from the alternative press, and even features in some of the major weeklies. Shortly after this there was a UK tour, followed by another festival in Italy, tours in France, etc. In late 1978 the RIO roster grew by another three acts: Art Zoyd, Aksak Maboul, and the Art Bears, and also Recommended Records began to make closer ties with other similarly minded labels abroad. It was the start of an exciting new movement, one that was to grow and flourish for several years, and although RIO as an entity was eventually disbanded its legacy lives on with countless musicians and bands from around the world.
It is strange to look back now, and see that although RIO wasn't actually a style of music, what grew out of it eventually has become a genre in itself, a music that no one has yet managed to pigeonhole. Witness the music of Decibel, Miriodor, The Muffins, Nimal, Nazca, U Totem, and a seemingly endless list of others, there's a common form to all these. If you look at Recommended Records features in earlier Audion's you should learn how all this fits together.
As a regular
feature for the next few Audion's, I intend to cover all the bands active in
the RIO movement, with histories, reviews, interviews, and possibly other related
matters. In this issue we focus on the Belgian band Univers Zero and related
offshoots. Why start with Univers Zero? Well, when in Brussels in July 1994
we met up with Roger Trigaux (an original Univers Zero member and
As I so often read in magazines in the late-70's, Belgium was hardly famous for its music scene, and what little music of merit that had existed in the early-70's was remembered only by a few aficionados. Nowadays however, the tables are turned, as throughout the 80's Belgium became quite important on the indie scene, and because of its cosmopolitan position in Europe labels like Crammed Discs and Les Disques du Crepuscule have thrived presenting local and international talent. It's astonishing really that such a small country blossomed so, from the progressive rock of Machiavel, to the eccentric inimitable Cos, the radical Canterbury-esque Aksak Maboul, onto the systems music of Wim Mertens, but the most fascinating and influential of all were Univers Zero. It's all the more surprising really, when you consider how mixed up a country Belgium is, with its conflicting traditions, that any band could survive there. But despite this, and now as Brussels attempts to promote itself as the cultural capital of Europe, the legacy of Univers Zero is strong, as many of the musicians are still active with other projects, and there's also a younger generation of musicians attempting to develop this music further.
Univers Zero were indeed a rare phenomenon in the late-70's, their music could only barely be called "rock", and it came across as dark, cold, and unnervingly strange, complex in the extreme, often closer to medieval or classical musics, and thus hardly the music for mass consumption. When the rest of the world was being bludgeoned by Punk and the New-Wave, Univers Zero were contrastingly at the forefront of a much more creative new form of music. But, what did this unique music evolve from?
The history of Univers Zero is very complex and not that well documented, but the roots go way back to the early-70's. In those days drummer Daniel Denis had a band called Achime who played fusion akin to classic Soft Machine. Achime didn't continue that long however, as Daniel and the keyboard player joined an early incarnation of Magma. For a while Magma existed with two drummers: Christian Vander and Daniel Denis. Sadly no recordings from this era exist, and inevitably Daniel realised that alongside Vander he would never get a chance to really express himself, so he returned to Belgium with the aim of getting together a new band. Guitarist Roger Trigaux and violinist Patrick Hanappier had been playing together for a while and joined up with Daniel in 1972 to form a modern jazz group. What they played was apparently a very freaky jazz fusion in the realms of Tony Williams' Lifetime. Bassist Guy Segers was also working in jazz, but he'd also experimented with other forms of music like rock and pop.
The embryonic form of Univers Zero dates from around 1973-74 when the above four musicians got together (along with a saxophonist and a trumpet player), the music they played was a step on from Achime, but much more jazz-rock, and reputedly close to Miles Davis. But, of course, Univers Zero proper didn't exist until classically trained Michel Berkmans joined the ranks. The line-up was quite volatile at this point, and the music was largely improvised, it took a while for the unique visionary Univers Zero style to develop, and a gradual move to purely composed music ensued. It would take a whole year of refinement before they could tempt Michel Berkmans to bring along his bassoon and join them in rehearsals.
By 1977 Univers Zero had changed somewhat and become a seven-piece ensemble: Michel Berkmans (bassoon), Daniel Denis (percussion), Marcel Dufrane (violin), Christian Genet (bass), Patrick Hanappier (violin, viola), Emmanuel Nicaise (harmonium, spinet) and Roger Trigaux (guitar). There's a lot of history from this period I don't know, but I do know that recording engineer Eric Faes (a long-time bastion of Belgian new-music) was so impressed by the music Univers Zero were making, that without any hope of a major label release, he decided to finance and release their debut album himself.
Artivle by Alan Freeman
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