A while ago I was tagged in one of those Facebook threads to share the 10 albums that have influenced you the most. There’s a lockdown happening during a certain pandemic, so with nothing else on my hands, I spent some time thinking this through and I was able to narrow down the list to 20 (10 was just a too small number).
Here they are. I made an attempt at chronological and genre order, but then just gave up.
Hip hop beginnings
My introduction to hip-hop didn’t come from N.W.A, 2Pac, or Grandmaster Flash; the first music I bought was from Christian record stores. There I discovered Gospel Gangstas, a collective of former gang members who had turned their life around.
Since then, I’ve come to enjoy a lot of the more mainstream hip-hop but Gospel Gangstas’ Gang Affiliated is still an album I like to play regularly. The rhymes and rhythms have influenced my own musical endeavours, even though those were in different genres.
Punk rock high school
Pretty much my whole high school life was about being in a punk rock band. If we weren’t rehearsing, we hung out around the skate park or went to gigs. I was horrible on a skate board and not too much better as a band member, but we had a tremendous amount of fun.
During this time, I was influenced by a lot of different bands: Lagwagon, Dogwood, Ghoti Hook, Slick Shoes, NOFX, Pennywise, Propaghandi, and so on. The list is very long.
Two bands stood out in particular. MxPx was the first punk band I ever listened to. I doubted for a while to include Pokinatcha as the most influential album but I went for Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo in the end because the musical styles of that one played a bigger role for me. By sheer coincidence, MxPx’s Mike Herrera was the first live show I took pics at so they also influenced my live photography as well.
The other band is Millencolin. I learnt to play a lot of guitar riffs and punk rock structure by trying their songs. I also particularly enjoyed their humour in all things. Their music videos and lyrics are hilarious, and it resonated a lot with me; I didn’t want to be one of those overdramatic, anti-everything punks. I enjoyed the genre and wanted to have a good laugh. I have performed live in a chicken suit, so Life On A Plate was with me throughout the punk rock years.
When you start playing in a punk rock band, you first focus on punk only — or at least that was the case with us. You soon discover that there’s a lot more to learn out there, so you allow yourself to be influenced more actively. Dire Straits is one of those bands that played a role. My dad was a big fan but he had all the songs on Live at the BBC on other albums as well so was going to get rid of this CD. I was able to grab it from him before it was lost forever.
And then I discovered Thrice.
Of all the albums in this post, I don’t think any influenced me as much as The Illusion of Safety. Thrice has everything: lyrical beauty, complex but compelling guitar riffs, and vocals that cut to the bone. When I was planning to move to South Africa where fewer bands tour, I told Kim that there were two bands I wanted to see before that move: Thrice was number 1 on that list. Not only did I get to see them at the Groezrock festival, I was also able to interview them for an e-zine I had helped found.
Next to being more exposed to complexity in guitar riffs, in my first years of university, I also ventured into the heavier rock genres. Three bands had more influence than any other. The first one of those was Stretch Arm Strong. Both Rituals Of Life and A Revolution Transmission were albums I played on repeat for weeks in a row, but the musical maturity on the sophomore album made me opt for this one as more influential. Seeing Stretch Arm Strong live in a small venue in Ghent is still one of the favourite shows I’ve ever attended. I saw them again for a crowd of 5,000 people but that just didn’t compare.
Haste The Day is the second of those bands. I have listened to every one of their albums over and over again, but When Everything Falls was the one that opened me up to metalcore, a genre I would later play in a band called Tiger Tanaka. Before seeing them live, they had just switched vocalists and I was quite disappointed about that prospect, but I didn’t need to worry; their show was superb and I savoured every moment of it.
A last band to mention here is The Devil Wears Prada. I had met some boundaries within the rock genres and Plagues showed me that there weren’t any boundaries. They fluently mixed electronic music with metalcore and did a great job at it for that matter. I loved the synths they brought in and how they let it flourish their music. A lot of the riffs we created with Tiger Tanaka were particularly influenced by The Devil Wears Prada.
The Devil Wears Prada not only influenced my own musical “creations”; their electronic influences also encouraged me to venture into a genre that I used to scold — because it was cool to do so as a punk rocker (at least in the mind of a 14-year-old).
I remember sitting in a car with a 3-hour drive ahead of us and one of the passengers putting St Germain‘s Tourist in the CD player. I hated it. I look back at that now and I have no clue why that was the case. I now love the lounge beats and the jazz the DJ mixes with it.
Another one of those albums was Music For The Jilted Generation by The Prodigy. The rave scene has always been close to the punk scene in its underground approach, and the explosiveness of the techno beats was invigorating. I am known as a fairly calm person so several people have expressed surprise when they find out I listen to techno and metalcore. They are even more surprised to hear that I find this music having a level of relaxation to it due to its repetitive patterns.
I think there are few debut albums as amazing as Faithless‘ Reverence. The build-up to explosive moments in songs as “Salva Mea” and “Insomnia” made me fall in love with their music as soon as I first heard their tunes. I also thoroughly appreciate that they don’t stick to just one musical influence but are very open to an eclectic approach.
The beats in both punk rock and hardcore have quite a bit in common with the pace of drum and bass. If you think drum and bass, the Australian band Pendulum is one of the first to come to mind. In Silicio has been on my favourites list for a long time with highlights such as “Midnight Runner” and “The Other Side”. Drum and bass has an extra spot in my heart because I met my wife at the doorstep of a mutual friend before heading to a drum and bass party in Leuven.
The slower beats of Bonobo‘s Black Sands are perfect for a relaxed vibe. Bonobo is my preferred choice for when I want to zone out or if I’m needing to do concentrated work. Bonobo’s music allows for good background music during that. The owners of Espresso Lab, the coffee roasters above the office block where I worked at for four years, often would play Bonobo in their shop. For that reason, I have a strong connection between Bonobo and coffee. That’s a pretty good association to have.
The next one on my list that simply has to be there is the Belgian prodigy Stromae. His sophomore album Racine Carrée is close to perfect and would be in my all time top 5. Stromae mixes lyrical poetry with an amazing mix of musical influences. But he goes beyond that and also doesn’t shy away from addressing several social issues. In my review for the e-zine I used to run, I also highlighted how beautifully he had made his music videos. Choosing my favourite songs on Racine Carrée is not possible because there are too many good ones on there.
The final album I wanted to add to the years of where I extended my musical preferences into the electronic sphere is Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories. Similar to Oblivion getting me interested in the band M83, Tron: Legacy did the same for Daft Punk. Shortly after the movie, they released Random Access Memories and the album got my entirely hooked. We got married about half a year after it was released and “Get Lucky” was still very popular. It was played at our wedding and for some reason, we got a lot of winks during it.
Up until now, I’ve mostly shared a chronological overview that happened to be connected with musical genres. Of course, I didn’t just get into one genre at the time. Several albums have influenced me at different moments throughout.
The first one is Thrice‘s The Alchemy Index. I loved the concept album in all its facets; the six songs per volume that were influenced by the nature element in both lyrics and music, the way the sixth song was structured similarly on all volumes, the beauty of the songs, and so on. “Come All You Weary” is still my favourite song in the world more than 10y after the album has been released.
Rage Against The Machine‘s self-titled album got a lot of popularity in Belgium due to a comedy sketch show called In de gloria, wherein “Bombtrack” was the soundtrack to one of the recurring skits. But the album’s powerful song didn’t just influence me due to a TV show. For example, “Killing In The Name Of” was one of the first songs I learnt to play on guitar. Throughout the decades, Rage Against The Machine has been one the albums that popped up time and again.
I like a lot of my parents’ musical taste, but for some reason, my dad wasn’t a fan at all of Frank Sinatra. I don’t understand why. I love Frank. During the first road trip my wife and I did — a week after we started dating — we had My Way: The Best Of on repeat. When we were choosing a song for our wedding dance, we didn’t think long before deciding we’d definitely go for a song by Sinatra; but it took a while to choose which song because there are so many different options. In the end, we settled on “Fly Me To The Moon.”
I have listened to hip-hop since I bought my first CD player. Watching the movie Straight Outta Compton triggered me to re-explore hip-hop legends. While I thoroughly enjoy N.W.A’s music, I think Public Enemy has a more complete package. The music is creative and catchy, but their lyrically much more engaged that N.W.A is. As I have myself become more aware of racial inequality in the last decade, mostly to increased exposure in South Africa, Fear Of A Black Planet has been the album that has been my guide.
The album I’ve kept for last is the one that if I was forced to choose a single favourite album would be the one. Oh, Sleeper‘s Children Of Fire blew my mind from the first time I heard it and still does. Both the lyrics and music are all connected into one storyline and build-up. The songs are raw but at the same musically complex. I mentioned earlier that there were two bands I wanted to see live before moving to South Africa; next to Thrice, Oh, Sleeper was the second one. Contrary to Thrice — whom I saw at the music festival Groezrock — Oh, Sleeper we saw at an intimate setting. During that show, I was able to take pics, we did an interview with them, and we recorded a pop-up song. I couldn’t have asked for more.