In Leuven, things were happening as well. Until then, the music scene in this rather provincial town had been dominated by straightforward rock and blues acts. Not for much longer, though: in places like Arno'z and (later) The Gladhouse, where young budding artists met with kindred spirits, bands were often formed on the spot and, more importantly, started to make ripples.
Ludo Camberlin and Karel 'Bam' Saelemaekers already had a certain track record in Leuven's burgeoning music microcosm. But what they shared would become the cornerstone of A Blaze Colour (Against The Dark Trees Beyond): a fascination for new forms and instruments, a penchant for sonic adventure and a profound love for gripping songs. The full band name, by the way, was inspired by a phrase from the Irish-American novelist J.P. Donleavy, a writer who belongs in the definitely-worth-checking-out section.
After appearing on the first No Big Business LP (1981) with the instrumental 'Fisk', A Blaze Colour's first proper release, as was so often the case in those days, was a self-produced cassette. The music – which would later be dubbed 'minimal' – was characterized by the use of basic rhythm machines (Boss Dr. 55, mainly) and analog synthesizers (for the synth geeks: Korg Delta and MS20, Roland SH-2 and Jupiter IV, and the infamous Casio VL-1). Camberlin’s vocals, meanwhile, displayed an aloofness totally in sync with the zeitgeist. Equally important, though: all five tracks on this cassette were bona fide songs with a clear sense of structure, aided by a sonic mastery that demonstrated a high level of experience: 'Means To An End' started out as a proto-industrial track before bursting out into a moroderesque finale. The remix of 'Fisk' was as sprightly as the next river salmon, while 'Or Lie Again' proved the perfect soundtrack to a nightly walk through wet deserted streets. On the other hand, 'Through With Life', rife with disturbing sound effects countered by a slow portamento, could have been a prize track on a post punk 'Lamb Lies Down On Broadway'. And in true dramatic fashion, 'Follow The Signs' was the perfect ending of this five-song cycle: a driving sequencer and gripping chord progression coupled with a simple but powerful vocal line. Considering the limited technical means the duo was working with, this was no less than a triumph.
A few months later, the band released a seven-inch single on its own ABLACO label. 'Dark Trees Beyond', a quirky pop song, was coupled with 'Addict Of Time', a dark and brooding spoken word piece. Not the kind of single to storm hit parades, but it didn't go unnoticed. The Minny Pops' Wally van Middendorp, who had founded the Plurex label in 1978, invited A Blaze Colour to his studio in the Netherlands, to record an EP. It would prove to be a massive step forward: recording in a semi-professional studio offered great possibilities, the recently acquired TR-808 drum machine allowed for a broader rhythm palette, and the three new tracks (next to the re-recording of 'Through With Life') showed a band on the top of their game: 'The New Ones' was a wry and haunting song built around a live drum loop and an ominous bass pattern, while 'Nowhere Else' was a near-pop track with very un-minimal vocal harmonies. And it's a mystery why 'Altitude' – another instrumental – was never used in a stylized, high-profile detective soundtrack.
Another song from these sessions, the revved-up 'Cold As Ever' turned up on the high-profile Plurex "Hours" compilation, where it shone brightly, next to songs of a.o. X-Mal Deutschland, Nasmak, Minny Pops and Section XXV.
Meanwhile, Camberlin had already carved out a bit of a reputation for himself as a producer, while Saelemaekers was a respected graphic designer. It remains uncertain if this played a big part in the end of A Blaze Colour, but the fact remains: as studio recordings go, 'The Ultimate Fight' on the "No Big Business 2" compilation, was to be their swan song. What a way to go, though: maybe their best song ever, this was a synthetic bastard funk groove, complete with shout-out chorus and punch-drunk middle-eight. It shut a door, for sure, but it did so with a resounding bang.
So there it is and there it was. Short, sweet, visionary, pioneering and highly influential. And as anybody listening to this first ever compilation will be able to assess probably one of the most colourful electronic acts of its time.
On a more a personal note, A Blaze Colour proved to be instrumental in my own coming of age as a lyric writer, when Ludo and Bam graciously adopted some of my earlier writings, warts and all. To hear them translated into songs was no less than magic, and it certainly gave me the confidence to start our own band a bit later. And the magic continued when Ludo became our producer and Bam designed our record sleeves. But that’s another story, obviously. Because this is the place and the time to dive back into the wondrous world of A Blaze Colour!
Bart Azijn (Aimless Device)