July really flew by, wow. I’m excited for the many activities in store for the month of August on my end and from others. Look for this column to be updated a bit more frequently. In this volume is the first interview I’ve done for this column and I couldn’t be happier with the subject: an Interview with Roger-Marc Vande Voorde of Polyphonic Size.
In the last volume of Underground Urges, I covered Polyphonic Size’s recent release, a compilation of the band’s earliest material called Earlier/Later on Minimal Wave Records. The brains behind this operation, Roger-Marc Vande Voorde answered a few questions about his experience as an electronic musician in its early days. Also, check out some rare pics from those days showing off vintage hardware.
Mr. Manic: What was your introduction to electronic music?
Roger-Marc: Autobahn by Kraftwerk. I was living in Germany in 1974 and it was a revelation for me!
Manic: What styles of music were you exploring or performing before you picked up your first synthesizer?
R-M: I started playing guitar in 1972 and the easiest songs to play with my first bands were Rolling Stones songs! Music before 1976 : Stones, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Genesis with Peter Gabriel / After 1976 : Patti Smith, The Ramones, The Clash and of course, The Stranglers.
Manic: What was the electronic music scene like when you first started and how did it develop as Polyphonic Size gained popularity? To further elaborate, did you find yourself playing with other electronic based acts or a mix of acoustic and electronic?
R-M: The Belgian electronic scene did not exist at all but independent record labels began to emerge in Belgium in 1978 – Antler Records, Les Disques du Crepuscule, lots of auto-productions on audio cassettes, etc… and a friend of mine, Michel Lambot (co-founder and director of Play it Again, Sam) also created his own label, Sandwich Records. Polyphonic Size was his first release. Also, in the same period, “free” / “pirate” FM radio stations started and developed quickly. They were pushing local music and music that you did not hear on the official national FM stations. Public interest began to grow very quickly for this new kind of radio station and the new “underground” bands. In 1981, Sandwich Records organized The first Rhythm’ n’ Box Contest in Brussels, one of the very early electronic festivals. We played there along with Snowy Red, Prothese (former line-up of Front 242), etc. Belgian Electro music was definitively born!
Manic: What challenges did you find in recreating old material for stage performance when Polyphonic Size reformed? Are you using vintage gear or have you adopted modern technology as well?
R-M: The biggest challenge was to recreate early 80′s electronic sounds. Unfortunately in the 80′s, I had to sell my equipment every time to buy the newest synthesizers, drum machines, effects, etc. because the price of these new instruments were REALLY expensive; newest technology, newest sounds every year, etc. I bought my first Roland Jupiter-8 for more than 5000 euros. Today you can download a computer musical plug-in for free if you search 10 minutes on the internet. Unfortunately, the internet did not exist in the 80′s. We also resampled sounds from our original recordings like the “Mother’s Little Helper” rhythm box pattern and used it for our 2010 live performances.
Manic: How would you compare the electronic music scene by the time Polyphonic Size disbanded in 1991 to when you first started?
R-M: Underground music and independent record labels had disappeared, most of them bought by major companies. The aim and spirit of the 80′s electronic music were dead in profit of commercial electro-pop dance music.
Manic: How would you compare the electronic music scene now to the past and where do you find Polyphonic Size fitting in presently and retrospectively?
R-M: Electronic music is now affordable to anyone with computers, internet, millions of available sounds and loops. This is great for all the musicians around the world but sometimes, with all these pre-formatted samples, musicians do not experiment enough with all the possibilities of these new electronic technologies. Retrospectively, Polyphonic Size were pioneers in the 80′s but we did not know it!
Many thanks to Roger-Marc and to Polyphonic Size’s archivist, Doro, who provided me with wonderful rare pics. Hats off to artists like Roger-Marc who took it upon themselves to experiment in as yet uncharted musical territory long before it caught on! Check out my Underground Urges Vol.3 out today on Bloglin, for updates on present day underground releases.