Popcorn (music style)

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Popcorn (sometimes Belgian popcorn or oldies popcorn) is a style of music and dancing first established in Belgium in the 1970s and 1980s. The style includes a wide variety of mostly American and British recordings of R&B and pop music made between the late 1950s and mid 1960s, often relatively obscure, and characterised by a slow or medium, rather than fast, tempo. The style has been described by musician and writer Bob Stanley as "possibly the last truly underground music scene in Europe".


The Popcorn music scene first developed from dances held at the Groove discotheque in Ostend, where mid-tempo soul and ska music played by DJ Freddy Cousaert became popular in the late 1960s.[1][2] Cousaert was later responsible for Marvin Gaye's move to Belgium in the early 1980s.[3]

In September 1969, a café, De Oude Hoeve, opened in a converted farm barn at Vrasene near Antwerp, and began holding dance competitions on Sunday afternoons. Soon up to 3,000 people began attending each week, dancing in a "slow swing" style to soul and funk records. The café was renamed the Popcorn – after the James Brown hit "The Popcorn"—and DJ Gilbert Govaert began playing more early soul and other records from the 1960s to suit the dance style.[1][3] According to Stanley: "The beat was slow and slightly rickety, martial drums rolled under melancholy minor chords—the Marvelettes' 'Please Mr Postman' (1961) would have been typical."[4]

Following the Popcorn club's popularity, other clubs sprang up playing music in a similar style. These included the Festival in Antwerp, the Gatsby in Vliermaal, and the Versailles, beside the beach at Ostend. As well as Cousaert and Govaert, other leading DJs included Jeff Callebaut, Gerry Franken, and Georges Toniotti. Radio stations were set up to play the music, and rare music on obscure labels became especially prized. The scene in Belgium, in many ways, paralleled the Northern soul scene in Britain, but with a slower swing style of music favoured, rather than the fast dance styles characteristic of Northern soul. In some cases, DJs slowed down records, by pitch control and by playing 45 rpm discs at 33 rpm, to achieve the desired tempo and rhythm. The range of the music also broadened, to include some British and Italian pop music from the early 1960s, and eventually local bands were formed to emulate the style.[3][4][2]


According to Bob Stanley, "the purity of Belgian Popcorn is its very impurity. R&B, Broadway numbers, tangos, Phil Spector-esque girl groups and loungey instrumentals, they are all constituent parts of a rare, and still largely undiscovered scene". Examples of highly prized popcorn records include "Sweetheart" by Peggy Lee, "Image" by Hank Levine,[3] "Now I Lay Me Down to Weep" by Simone Dina, "The Tingle" by Jackie Weaver, "Who's Got the Action" by Phil Colbert,[4] "Heartless Lover" by Dick Baker, "La Tanya" by Jay Abbott, "Carmelita" by Jeff Lane,[1] "I'm Crying in the Rain" by Major Lance, "You Beat Me to the Punch" by Mary Wells,[2] "Comin' Home Baby" by Mel Tormé, and "Twine Time" by Alvin Cash.[5]

Continuing popularity[edit]

After a period of mainstream popularity in Belgium, and to a lesser extent in France and the Netherlands, the Popcorn dance scene retreated to smaller venues and specialist clubs, while retaining a core of aficionados. By the 1990s, the style was beginning to be known and appreciated at soul music clubs in Britain, Germany, and the US, and its level of recognition has continued to increase.[3] At least 30 compilations of American and other R&B and pop music in the Belgian Popcorn style have been issued in Europe.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Michel Scarpone, "History of Belgium Popcorn", first published in Discoveries magazine Archived 27 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 6 February 2014
  2. ^ a b c "Brief overview of the birth of 'Popcorn' oldies.", PopcornOldies.be. Retrieved 6 February 2014
  3. ^ a b c d e Bob Stanley, "Belgium's 'Popcorn': the last underground music scene in Europe", The Guardian, 5 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014
  4. ^ a b c Bob Stanley, "A voyage of discovery to Belgium's Popcorn clubs", Frieze, no. 147, May 2012 Archived 23 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 6 February 2014
  5. ^ Foisy, Patrick (21 September 2012). "A Beginner's Guide to Soul Music: Part II – The obscure sub-genres [sic]". Parka Avenue (blog). Retrieved 6 February 2014.

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