The Wire

The world's greatest print and online music magazine. Independent since 1982


New smartphone app explores Belgian underground music

The Belgium Underground app maps four decades of independent music from punk to noise

"Belgium, or perhaps Brussels, is kind of a no-man's land", says one of the interviewees on a promotional video for a new app about Belgian underground music. Given the country’s interconnected scenes, from new beat and new wave to underground rock and noise, and the linguistic divisions of the country, perhaps that's why a new project has taken the unlikely move of making a smartphone app to try and to map the country’s music of the last four decades.

The amount of data contained in the app – details of bands, venues, record shops, as well as images, interviews and links to music – is extraordinary, and browsing it is a little like accidentally falling into the back end database of Discogs. When you open it up, you're faced with a multicoloured cloud of dots representing artists, labels and bands. Over here, there's a purple block representing microlabels; look a little closer and you find lines linking the 1970s avant prog of Univers Zero with the underground scene of today. You can listen to music from many, perhaps most of the hundreds of dots on the screen, and spend hours lost in tiny niches of Belgian independent music.

A geographic option offers an even more scrambled take on Belgian music. Hitting the map button throws up maps of Brussels, of its surroundings, and of Belgium itself, with nodes on the maps representing venues, record shops and other important places (though finding out which is which is a charmingly confusing experience). There are articles in various languages buried in several of the entries, alongside the odd video interview and information on the locations (it's not always clear if the information is new or old).

Browing the Belgium Underground app feels like a lucky dip – articles pop up in different languages, instructions are minimal, and you run into some dead ends. But if you take the casual surfing approach it throws up some intriguing connections. Dipping into the prog scene of the 1970s, you find the name of Marc Moulin coming up frequently. Follow the various links, and you end up at Vincent Kenis, producer of both Tuxedomoon and Konono No 1.

The app is a project of Belgian organisation PointCulture, is available on both iOS and Android, and claims to have entries for "3000 cornerstones of the Belgian artistic scene: musicians, labels, producers, graphic designers", from the punk era up to the present day. It's available on the iTunes store, and more information can be found online.