In his latest interview for No Echo, Ed Crooks chats with Bjorn Dossche, vocalist of Belgian hardcore band Chain Reaction. In his note to me, Ed said they're "probably the best hardcore band in Europe right now." I can't disagree with that assessment. —Carlos Ramirez (No Echo)
So, first of all, I wanted to ask how the last year has been for you and your thoughts about it all?
That’s a big one to start with! Honestly, I’ve had my ups and downs, like everyone else I guess. For the first few weeks I was trying to keep up with all the newest developments, the ways different countries tried different measures to contain the virus, the numbers and stats and what have you, but that got old fast. It’s just too draining and, in the end, it doesn’t change a thing.
I’ve been trying to look at the brightside since. I guess I tried to adapt and make the most out of it. So, I’ve been outside a lot more; running, walking, or just exploring, with a few friends or my daughter. I took the time to (re)discover a ton of new and old music, to read, to communicate and also started doing Rage! Hardcore Fanzine with my man Geert.
Yeah, it’s been mad I mean some have excelled almost like I know Rev are insanely busy and I have friends who have had the best business year yet. Oh yea, Rage is yours and Geert’s zine? I actually never picked up a copy was it you that did Ball of Destruction?
Yeah, I get that. Work wise it’s been insanely busy for me too.
Rage! is Geert and I, yes. Issue 2 should be out next month. Stoked. Ball of Destruction is done by Angelo, he’s a great writer and his layouts are sick too. He’s a bit younger than me, I’d guess mid-30s.
What does Chain Reaction have out currently and what’s in the pipeline?
We just put out a 12 inch EP called Figurehead a few months ago, which came out on Control Records and Atomic Action! Records. The response to it has been great. Prior to that we did a demo, a debut 7 inch EP called Hangman, and a split 7 inch with Spark from Germany. All on Control too.
We’ve got a bunch of new songs that are close to being finished. We may be doing a new split 7” inch and some compilations but nothing’s set in stone yet.
I guess you’ve had time to write songs etc but it must be weird not being able to practice for so long? Have you been doing Zoom band meet ups?
There was a couple of months last year, inbetween 2 lockdowns, that band practices were possible to we did practice then. But you’re right, it’s weird for sure. No Zoom meetings or anything, but of course we keep in touch and discuss ideas and plans.
Stylistically speaking, which bands would you liken yourselves to? And where do draw other influence from other than hardcore?
What we really wanted to do from the get go was to merge that harder, grittier late '80s NYHC vibe with a groovier, even somewhat melodic early to mid-'90s influence. Like, the type of borderline ignorant bounce parts where it sounds like the band is falling down a flight of stairs mixed with the hooks that a band like Crown of Thornz or Cold Front has.
Obviously, as you go along, some songs fit that description while others don’t. I also do believe that the stuff we grew up on over here rubbed off in some way too.
As for non-hardcore influences, I’m sure those seep in too, both Clovis and Murph are really into hip-hop, for example, which would explain some of the groove we have, and I know Sim listens to a lot of really melodic and poppy stuff too.
How was the scene in Belgium just before it all shut down?
I would say Belgium has always had a very steady amount of shows and hardcore-related activity, it’s just that the quality and popularity that fluctuates. Things definitely weren’t at their best before the virus hit, but it wasn’t terrible either.
The scene just needs that kick in the ass, a dose of new energy and a band that can lead the way. There’s a whole bunch of cool bands around though, so it could be a matter of time. My money’s on Mindwar as the band that could really get things to pop off again.
Yeah. it’s always been a place for sick hardcore. I always wondered why it hasn't rubbed off on neighboring countries, what’s your take on that?
That’s a really good question and something I’ve often thought about too. The thing with Belgium is that we’re such a tiny country, sandwiched inbetween 3 bigger countries (a lot bigger in the case of France and Germany), with 3 official national languages.
Most of us do not have the illusion that we’re big or strong enough to function or thrive without any outside influence or input, nor do we think we’ll get far by just sticking to little Belgium.
So, our general mindset is already quite different in Belgium. I’d say we’re very focused on what goes on around us and learn from that. It inspires us and then it gets that Belgian treatment to make it different enough to be interesting. That’s one of my theories [laughs].
Next to that, our position on the European map makes it so that every tour passes through here, going to or coming from the UK usually. Our “big” cities are all just an hour away from each other so that makes travelling and supporting other scenes easy too.
Honestly, I feel like the Netherlands have a pretty similar position and history, if you look at their contributions to hardcore, that shit’s pretty impressive too. I mean they have BGK, Lärm, Manliftingbanner, Seein’ Red, Mainstrike, Restless Youth, Abusive Action, and the list goes on.
The strange thing is that when you look at the size and population of Germany, and especially France, and the number of bands they’ve produced, that ratio seems off. Then again, one had True Blue and the other had Kickback, so there ya go.
What’s it like working with Geert at Control Records?
It’s cool! We’ve known each other for so long, so things kind of work themselves out really. He helped us put out the demo when we started and since then it’s been a natural thing to keep working together.
The great thing about Control is that Geert only does a couple of records per year, things he truly backs, so he wants to make sure everything is just right. He’s always got a great eye for details and is always down to help with layouts and designs too. Briefly put, he’s our man.
He’s a big collector lots of things in his house I’m told [laughs]. Are you a record collector?
His house, the Control HQ, is also known as the Belgian Hardcore Museum. If you collect classic hardcore, a trip there is highly recommended. Same goes if you’re into Star Wars, The Goonies, or The A-Team. Or military camouflage.
I do collect records, but in the sense that I want to physically own records that I enjoy, preferably original pressings. I’m not someone that wants every variant of a certain record, though there are a few exceptions to that rule. I’m also big on merch. Love it, though I do believe it’s a sickness as well.
Speaking of merch what do you think on the hideous prices of old shirts these days? Namely Lost & Found stuff that’s not even official?
There’s some weird shit going on, that’s for sure. I totally understand that original '80s, '90s, and at this point, even '00s gear is getting rarer and harder to come by with every year that passes but the problem obviously is that there’s always a handful of geeks that want to pay an outrageous amount of money to earn a bit of cred maybe, or in the best case they just love the band but have no idea what they’re doing.
In any case, it’s hard to blame the sellers if that shit keeps selling.
The idea though that a shirt is suddenly worth € 250 because a band happened to put out a mediocre chugga chugga 7 inch in 1994 and played with Strife once is insane.
Let’s finish with a classic question: What’s your Top 5 hardcore bands of all time?
I trust you know how hard it is questions like these. I mean, my systems literally overload when I think of these things. But it so happens that I recently answered this on a podcast and I’m going to stick to the Top 5 I came up with there, or almost.
- Bad Brains always and forever on that number one spot. The absolute game changers. Their records still sound futuristic today and if it wasn’t for them we would not be here, I think.
- Cro-Mags, the pre-internet version and if I have to get very specific, in The Age of Quarrel lineup though you can wake me up for an Alpha-Omega listening session whenever.
- Leeway, a band that could’ve been the biggest thing in hardcore and metal at one point but alas. However, I love all 4 albums. The musicality, hooks and chops are undeniable.
- Blindfold are my favorite Belgian band ever and I’ve always loved them and with time have only grown to love them more. This is the best band you’ve never heard, if you got a soft spot for '90s groove, melody and metallic riffs.
- Quicksand. Incredible discography. Walter is an unmatched songwriter, surrounded by amazing talent too.
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