Stephan Barbery

Camera Obscura
Stephan Barbery
Camera Obscura

Outstanding cassette comp of archive material from the Digital Dance co-founder and Snowy Red member.

"Situated in a time span between the downfall and rise of the iconic punk and new wave movements, a modest and defiant post-punk scene surfaced in the city of Brussels during the late 70s and early 80s. Mostly driven by ambition and anarchist mainsprings, many bands saw the light of day. One of the main figures who played an eminent part during this period was Stephan Barbery. Being involved in pretty much everything going on during the prevailing Brussels (post-)punk movement, Barbery’s signature guitar sound was a thread through many of the ever-changing band formations that took shape. As an innovator, an experimentalist and a gifted musician, Stephan Barbery has left his indelible mark on one of the most intriguing and fertile chapters of Belgian music history. 

"Barbery, born in 1961 as Stéphane Maes, grew up in a rather bourgeois family in the Brussels municipality of Etterbeek. At the age of twelve he got his first guitar. Not knowing how to properly tune the instrument, he taught himself a bunch of arpeggio’s that came to typify his early experiments as a kid. These experiments also contained bedroom recordings of some self-made drumkits that he and his brother used to put together with all the household material they could find. Later, Barbery would properly describe these first musical enquiries as “chipoter de son” (translated as messing around with sounds). Years passed by and teenager Barbery went to school at the Athénée Adolph Max in the centre of the city. It was here that he ran into guys such as Claude and Alain Ongena (respectively Klaus and Kurt Klang). At that time the Klang brothers formed, together with Jean-Pierre Poirier (alias Jerry WX or Jerry Wanker), the band X-Pulsion. It was the band where Jerry WX found shelter after Brussels very first punk band Chainsaw, in which he had taken part, had split earlier in 1977. 

"Inspired by his schoolmates, Barbery got very intrigued by the developing musical affairs within the small local scene around the Athénée. Together with his buddies Xavier Stenmans (alias Xavier Ess), Alain Lefebvre (alias Robert Leff) and Luc de Meersman, he formed his own punk band called Thrills. The quartet managed to get some recognition due to their Super Nouba concert at La Bourse in May 1978, and the positive coverage they got in the local music magazine “En Attendant”. It was around that time and in the same magazine that the influential local journalist Gilles Verlant sarcastically described the Brussels punk scene to be “quite niche, as it only consists of 50 people”. Despite the early ambitions, Barbery and his friends decided to break up a little later and Thrills came to an end. 

"It did not take long before Barbery embarked on new musical adventures. Given the fact that Thrills and X-Pulsion used to share the same rehearsal space, Barbery had gotten to know Jerry WX on a personal level. Despite the 5-year age difference, the two got along well and seemed to be complementary sounding guitarists. Their shared talent and musical synergy paved the way to the formation of a new band in the summer of 1978. Digital Dance was born. The band quickly seemed to be very promising. An early deal with Sinus Music, which at that time was affiliated with the big record company Vogue, secured the release of their first single. But very unhappy with the mixing and the final result of the 7”, the band decided to release their following records in own management. The bad experience with the giant called Vogue made them decide to do it their own way and in 1980 they founded Digital Records, a new label that would eventually lodge one single and one album of the band. Later on, Digital Dance would take a, looked upon with hindsight, fatal break after their final live show in December 1981. Continuing on the ideal of an independent label, Barbery also launched Camera Obscura in 1983, a label on which he would release music of many bands to which he contributed throughout the years. 

"Another significant legacy of the Brussels punk movement was the rise of many fanzines. Barbery had already established himself as a modest graphic designer back in 1977, when he ran his punkzine Bobel Simplex. During the Digital Dance-period he also took responsibility for the graphical work in Digital magazine, which of course was a band-related fanzine. Around the same period that he founded Camera Obscura, he also started working as a graphic designer for Play It Again Sam Records (PIAS), which eventually would become one of Belgium’s most important music labels. 

"After the successes with Digital Dance, Barbery remained a productive musician for many years. Having made a name for his own, he became a regular in many of the successful projects that came out of Brussels during the early 80s, like Snowy Red or Kid Montana. After the unofficial end of Digital Dance by the end of 1981, Barbery nevertheless continued to work together with friends like Alain, Xavier and Thierry Quotermans (alias TVIC). Some of the work that came out of these collabs was released throughout the years on Camera Obscura under various aliases. Even today, Barbery still is the industrious musician he has always been. Next to Ink, the project in which he makes music together with his wife Drita Kotaji (mainly known as the singer of Bernthøler), he also is part of the experimental rock formation Babils since 2009. 

"Stephan Barbery has, throughout the years, built an impressive oeuvre that stands out from anything else. Our compilation Camera Obscura assembles 9 tracks which are all released on the label of the same name between 1983 and 1984, while the songs are piece by piece memories of his creative boom. An exception to this is track B2, which was released as part of the Terra Incognita compilation of Auxilio De Cientos in 1985. Four out of nine tracks were strict solo efforts (A3, A5, B2 and B4). The other Instead Of productions were the result of a collaboration with TVIC (A1 and B1). For the A4 and B3 the duo was backed up by Robert Leff. Finally, the Moving Baa track (A2) was a product of the musical encounter between Barbery, TVIC and Xavier Ess. 

"On a more technical level, the compilation bears witness of a real “do it yourself”-mentality. Next to some Casio keys, a couple of (bass) guitars, a 606 drum machine and a bunch of effect pedals, the songs on this cassette were composed by means of all kinds of percussion (bottles, iron boxes, xylophone…). The mixdown of these tracks happened in the humble Camera Obscura office, which at that time was also used as an art studio… and the roof above Barbery’s head. Creatively the period between 1983 and 1985 was marked by Barbery’s roaming about as much in music as in his personal life. Digital Dance lost the drive of its beginning years. Jerry WX and Jean-Marc Lederman (who had joined the band for a short period) were evermore drawn to noisy and industrial electronic music, whilst Barbery wanted to keep on experimenting with all kinds of sounds. Our presented compilation “Camera Obscura” is a comprehensive artefact of that period. In fact, almost all tracks were the result of pure improvisation. As Barbery recalls, the music was an evident link to his life back then: "A mix of paranoia, disillusion and a young couple trying to get on its own feet".
  - Kontakt




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