Friday, June 13, 2014

Belgium's Popcorn, the last underground music scene in Europe

Popcorn is possibly the last truly underground music scene in Europe, one that has yet to be ransacked and reduced by adverts for Orange or KFC. Its narrative was formed by Belgians in the 1970s, largely from American records made in the 50s and 60s. It took its name from a club named in honour of James Brown's 1968 hit Mother Popcorn, but it has little to do with funk. The rhythm of a Popcorn floorfiller has to suit the unusual "slow swing" dance favoured by the Belgians; it could be Peggy Lee's sensuous Sweetheart, Hank Levine's filmic Image, Billy Storm's tormented teen ballad Easy Chair, or an early Tamla Motown single such as Little Iva's Continental Strut.
House DJ Eddy de Clercq started going to Popcorn clubs as a teenager in the early 70s, where he saw "couples jiving together in the most complicated steps and whirls. A mid-tempo slow jive, not acrobatic like in rock'n'roll, but very stylishly done, with the men leading the girls, or sometimes leading other men. Club Popcorn was also the first big club where gay people could dance together in public without being hassled. It was a very liberated, open and friendly kind of place."

Popcorn has a very similar timeline to northern soul: it started as a regional phenomenon in the 60s and peaked commercially in the 70s before going back underground in the 80s. The main difference between the scenes was the tempo of the records, with Popcorn crowds needing records with a drowsy feel; DJs even played 45rpm singles at 33rpm to obtain the requisite atmosphere. "It was driven by beer rather than amphetamines," says Brewster. "But culturally Popcorn and northern soul were very similar." (The Guardian)