THERE'S a new music, dance, and fashion rage on the horizon called ``new beat.'' Haven't heard of it? That's probably because it's not a hit in the US - not yet, anyway. New beat is a pop-culture force in Europe right now, which started in, of all places, Belgium.
``Belgium didn't really mean much in the world market, because everything that came out was either American or English; so it was hard for the Belgians.'' These are the words of singer Jade 4U, the reigning queen of new beat, in an interview after her New York debut. ``We were sort of dragged along like cattle, really, because we didn't have much to say. I think all the Belgians wanted was some recognition, because, after all, we do have some very talented people in Belgium. All we needed was a break, and this new beat thing was definitely a break.''
So just what is this new beat thing?
``It started in discotheques, ... with the disc jockeys. They started playing records at 33 r.p.m. that they were supposed to play at 45.''
So new beat developed as a kind of slowed-down version of ``house music'' (the hypnotic dance music that caught on in Europe and the US a couple of years ago). New beat has been described as a mix of ``electronic body music'' and European dance music.
Antler/Subway Records capitalized on the trend, and the company had a huge hit all across Europe in Jade 4U's ``Rock the Beat,'' the first self-proclaimed new beat recording. Now Polygram Records has released ``This is the New Beat,'' a compilation of 11 of the best-known groups, including the Erotic Dissidents, the Lords of Acid, and Jade 4U and her band, 101.
The names of the bands hint at the controversy that has grown up around new beat - one that has already divided the music into two camps. On the one hand, new beat goes for shock effect - with references to drugs and pornographic lyrics calculated to make parents' hair stand on end. On the other, new beat has been lauded as a safe and harmless music for the '90s - dance all night without drugs. So which is it?
``I would say that new beat is for young people,'' says Jade. ``So we do say new beat is clean.... The pornography that comes in is actually only played in the underground clubs; so the other ones - the safe ones - are what you hear on the radio.''
She says what counts with new beat is ``the rhythm and having a good time. If you get out on the dance floor, you find yourself still there hours later. I didn't believe it at first; I felt too old for all that,'' says the 26-year-old Jade. ``But then I got out on the dance floor, and I couldn't come off!''
Along with the driving grooves of the music, there's a weird fashion craze that goes along with new beat. Dedicated new beaters dress in basic black, adorned with crosses and large cameos, with a picture of a ``generic grandmother.'' Some of the cameos are replicas of the medallions found on tombstones in Belgium.
Says Jade, ``The designers of new beat clothes thought of the idea. They went to an old-people's home and chose three ladies. All three of them love to pose, and they knew what it was for, and they were thrilled with the idea. Of course, I understand that people think the pictures are a little bit morbid, maybe, but that's the whole idea. Besides, it's better than to wear a swastika on your sweater, isn't it?''
Unfortunately, some new beaters have gotten the idea that it would be better to have a real Granny badge, and have gotten caught trying to pry them off tombstones. ``I think that's really revolting,'' says Jade. ``Of course, they do get arrested and have to pay a fine.''
Aside from the hoopla surrounding the clothes and Granny badges, it's really the music of new beat that has captured Belgium's young people.
``I find it much more versatile than real house music, because in house music the only basic rules are the fast rhythm and the drum's high hat going `Pssfft! Pssfft!' all the time,'' says Jade. ``In new beat, you play a lot more with industrial sounds. Some people call it a cold kind of music, but then again that depends on the vocals you put over it, which add some warmth to it.''
Jade 4U, who was born of Yugoslavian and Dutch parents but has spent most of her life in Belgium, sees new beat as a positive development, especially for Belgium. ``It has opened such a great market to the world for us Belgians - us little Belgians!'' She laughs. ``We've started a new trend and made it more comfortable for other groups to travel abroad, to gain credibility. That's a very, very positive thing.''