Sunday, November 13, 2005

Something Good From Belgium

'My boyfriend's a dick'. A Scala chorister sings her little Flanders heart out, using swear words.

From The Guardian, a few weeks ago...

The Scala Choir

Sean Thomas

'I touch Myself', by the Divinyls, a gloriously sleazy 80s single about female masturbation, is hardly an obvious choice of material for a chorus of teenage Belgian maidens. But that's the kind of song the Scala choir chooses to cover. Even more surprisingly, in their innocent mouths it becomes a spiritual psychodrama of quite unsettling power.

The Scala choir was formed in 1996, in the Belgian village of Aarschot, by two brothers named Steven and Stijn Kolacny. The brothers chose sixty adolescent village girls, who were then given an intense vocal training.

Of course there are many gifted choirs. The paradigm shift came in 2000 when the Kolacnys' choir of girls started performing pop songs, both standard and obscure. The effect was revolutionary. As Scala aficionados already know, there are few things as electrifying as hearing a chorus of wide-eyed Fleming sixthformers sweetly enunciating the words 'her boyfriend's a dick, he brings a gun to school' (from Wheatus' Teenage Dirtbag) as if they were singing the Kyrie from Verdi's Requiem.

Since that watershed in the choir's history, they have gone on to serious cult status, much of it achieved via the Internet. Their occasional shows are sold out; their albums of cover versions (like Scala on the Rocks) have done well in France and the Benelux; their inexplicably spine-tingling versions of Travis, Jacques Brel and U2 have even been heard on the radio. And now, with a big European tour, they threaten to break into the mainstream, and into the English-speaking world.

Weird enough, you may think. Yet Scala are just the latest in a slew of curiously off-centre outfits to impact on the musical scene. In the last few years, a whole genre of unlikely people making inspiring music has sprung up. It has even been given a name: Outsider Music.

Other examples of Outsider Music include the Langley Schools Music Project, a decades-old recording of Canadian infants singing famous popsongs, and the Shaggs, a bunch of American hillbillies with a piercingly creepy discography. Some musicologists would cite Gavin Bryars's Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, a fifty minute fugue incorporating a London hobo's drunken hymn, which was composed by Bryars in 1973, as an early and excellent example of the genre.

But you don't have to dig that deep to appreciate Outsider Music. Just listen to the Scala Choir mixing Bach and blatant lunacy on their new version of
Radiohead's Creep. You may never be the same again.

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