Rancho Pint - The Mexico Page

Text and Photos ©2011 by J. Pint unless otherwise indicated

Sites where Nektar, Brainticket and Huw Lloyd-Langton will play during the Space Rock Invasion USA tour

08/17/11 New York City BB King Blues Club & Grill
08/18/11 Foxborough, MA Showcase Live
08/19/11 Springfield, VA Jaxx
08/21/11 Sellersville, PA Sellersville
08/24/11 Milwaukee, WI Shank Hall
08/25/11 Sauget, ILL Pop's
08/26/11 Lincolnshire, ILL Viper Alley
09/02/11 San Juan Capistrano, CA Coach House
09/03/11 West Hollywood, CA Key Club


Photo Gallery

Brainticket's first album, Cottonwoodhill, 1971. Image courtesy of Cleopatra Records.


Joel Vandroogenbroeck Live in Pinar de la Venta, Zapopan, Mexico. An open-air concert in 2008.


"Count Vandraculabroeck," Halloween, 2007.


"Gravity? Who needs gravity?" VDB soaking up cosmic vibrations at the  Foco Tonal, Ocotlan, Jalisco, Mexico in 2005.


Xochilpilli Vandroogenbroeck and her father at his birthday party, 2004.


Newly re-released Brainticket album. "I didn't even know it had been recorded," says Joel VDB. Image courtesy of Cleopatra Records.


Joel Vandroogenbroeck unmasked at his home in Pinar de la Venta, Zapopan, Mexico, 2011.


"This is my kind of place." Joel at the bizarre Castle of  Don Manuel Dominguez near Lake Chapala, Mexico.


Captain VDB playing the acoustical fork, Halloween, 2008.


The younger Joel Vandroogenbroeck, still alive and well inside today's version. Image courtesy of Cleopatra Records.




Mexico's Belgian-Swiss Composer-in-the-woods on tour in the USA

By John Pint

Joel Vandroogenbroeck in his bamboo groveIn a cabin at the top of a mile-high mountain in western Mexico, surrounded by tall pine and oak trees, psychedelic music pioneer Joel Vandroogenbroeck's alto flute, sitar and synthesizer harmonize with the sounds of melodious mockingbirds and saucy woodpeckers outside his window, as he rehearses for one of the most unusual concert tours in musical history, featuring the rebirth of his revolutionary band of the 70’s, Brainticket.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and perseverance of Cleopatra Records founder Brian Perera, Brainticket will tour the USA for the first time (see sidebar) in August, 2011, along with vintage space-rocking bands, Nektar and Huw Lloyd-Langton of Hawkwind. “Brainticket is bigger than ever here in the US and influencing new bands around the world—as far as Russia,” says Perera, who recently succeeded in reissuing eight of Brainticket’s best albums. “It’s great!”

Hoping to learn a few secrets about the man with the long and mysterious name, I asked Joel Vandroogenbroeck when his musical career began.

Out of the Dry Swamp

"My family name may be long, but it's not that mysterious if you speak Dutch," says Joel with his characteristic, shy smile. "My ancestors were among those daring folk who worked against all odds to take land from the sea. Droogen means dry and a broeck is a swamp." Though his forefathers may have been Dutch, Joel VDB was born in Brussels, Belgium where he started his musical career at the age of three. "There was a piano in the house," he says, "so I just started to play it." Following in Mozart's footsteps, Joel gave his first concert when he was five years old, to a plaza full of American soldiers who had come to liberate Belgium in 1944.

Joel's career came to an abrupt halt when he was thirteen: "I hated the piano because they forced me to play it. I refused to touch it, so my father sold it and for the next three years I had nothing to do with music. But then a friend came to me with a 78 rpm record in his hand. It was a new kind of music played by people like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. I listened to it and said 'Wow!'"

Jazz in the Congo

It was love at "first listen." Joel began to play Jazz on a friend's piano, forgot about school and regularly slipped out the window at night to frequent Jazz clubs which resulted in his announcing to his parents, at age 17: "Goodbye folks, I'm off to Africa." He had been accepted as bass player in a Jazz group invited to play in what was then the Belgian Congo. From that moment on, Joel toured Europe, started his own band and met Jazz greats such as Quincy Jones and Stan Getz. He didn't give up classical music, however, and continued studying in a conservatory "until they discovered I was playing Jazz. Then they kicked me out."

In time he broadened his musical horizons as he discovered African and Indian music as well as the 60's sounds of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and later Hawkwind. These influences eventually resulted in the evolution of the group called Brainticket and their first album, Cottonwoodhill, which was released in 1971. “We did this before the synthesizer,” comments Joel, “and we actually used an untuned short-wave radio to produce a lot of the surrealistic sounds in the album.”

Listen at your own Risk

Brainticket took the world by surprise, but not exactly as the musicians had hoped.. “The record sold,” said VDB to Space-Rock historian Dave Thompson, “but it was banned in far more countries than it was released in, including the USA as far as I know.”

It seems the deliberately provocative liner notes for that first album—invented by the publisher and unbeknownst to the musicians—warned buyers to listen to the record only once a day, lest their brains be destroyed.

But in time, the world woke up. According to The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, the encyclopedia of German electronic music, “Brainticket is one of the most revered and quoted of psychedelic albums. For 1971 it was nothing less than revolutionary… a strange and unique album that’s still surprisingly startling and fresh today.” The co-author of this book, by the way, Alan Freeman, is a member of Nektar and will be among the musicians touring the USA along with Brainticket in August and September, 2011.


In 1972, Brainticket moved to Italy and produced a “brighter and friendlier” album, Psychonaut, with a remarkable painting by Umberto Santucci on the cover, which, in every detail, says Joel, described his psychological world perfectly.  A year later came a new album entitled Celestial Ocean, inspired one day when VDB was reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead. According to Dave Thompson, this LP and Cottonwoodhill represent “what Joel Vandroogenbroeck still considers to be the definitive Brainticket experience.”

Image courtesy of Cleopatra Records

Joel enjoyed the warm weather and la dolce vita in Rome. He played music with Mussolini’s son,  recorded pieces for Ennio Morricone, and once had a cappuccino with Federico Fellini.

Somehow, in that stimulating environment, Joel Vandroogenbroeck heard the call of Bali. "In Bali they have a collection of instruments──mostly percussion──known as the gamelan. The music that they play is very important for their religion. They're obliged to play it and that's why everyone is so artistic. They have to make music morning, noon and night; there's no way out! So they shut off the radio and start to play. They even have special instruments that are only played at night and in the privacy of the home. By the way, out of Bali came what we call minimalist music today, the kind of music played by Philip Glass and Steve Reich."

Building a Bamboo Bumbung

In Bali, Joel learned both to play and to manufacture curious instruments. "They think that if you construct your own instrument, you have more affinity with it. I became specialized in the joged bumbung, bamboo tubes hung like vibraphones or marimbas. They cut parts of the tube away and tune the hollow section to resonate with an adjacent tongue. The two parts have to be almost but not completely in tune. The sound is fantastic. And this is played with hammers made of bamboo and recycled tires! Another instrument they have is the selunding. It's made of metal and many of them come from the cut-up walls of sunken ships.

"So I went back to Switzerland and started a Joged Bumbung Band. Everybody thought I was crazy, but it was a big success. We even did concerts accompanying these Balinese instruments with gongs, strings, flutes and other classical instruments, which made a very good combination. I would like to do something like this here in Mexico; it's such happy music."


Image courtesy of Cleopatra Records

Vandroogenbroeck's Biomechanoid, released in 1980, features this painting on the cover by Swiss graphic artist  H.R. Giger, most famous as the designer of Alien. "I did the music for a short documentary on Giger's work," says Joel, and later he presented me with this painting."

Magic in Mexico

Joel claims he first came to Mexico "by accident." The roots of this accident are in a composition of his called Animal Farm, which won first prize in a Japanese competition for the best electronic music. This resulted, in 1984, in his being invited to San Francisco for three months by the Djerassi Foundation, along with other Swiss artists. "I loved San Francisco and wanted to stay for an extra month, but the dollar was so high (in relation to the Swiss franc) at that time that we had no choice but to go back home. But then somebody told us, 'Why don't you go to Mexico? There was a devaluation yesterday: more than sixty percent!' So we took the train to Los Mochis and stopped in Creel where I experienced a real case of culture shock. I saw pistoleros and Indians and felt like I had gone 200 years into the past. Eventually we reached Guadalajara where I made friends and spent a month in Ajijic, which I found fascinating. I was so impressed that I came back again year after year and then one February I returned to Switzerland and found temperatures of ten below zero and a meter of snow. Somewhere under that snow was my little white car but it took me two days to find it. And that was it. I said, 'No more winter!' I sold everything, gave away or burned the rest and came to live here. And I like it──there's something magic about Mexico."

There's something magic about Joel Vandroogenbroeck's music too. Take his Coyote Song which was written one dark night in Woodland Hills near San Francisco...

Coyotes in the Mist

"I was all alone in a farmhouse, working on a composition with my instruments, computer and tape recorder. Outside was the heaviest fog I have ever seen. All of a sudden I heard a weird, mewling noise. It was a pack of coyotes, but I didn't recognize the sound because we don't have these animals in Europe. 'What in the world is this?' I said. Then I screwed up my courage, opened the door and started recording that incredible concert. The coyotes were circling the house and it sounded like they were talking to one other. Suddenly the wind slammed the door shut, and they vanished into the darkness. What I recorded is now part of Coyote Song, which was first for piano, coyote voices and electronic drum. Later I rewrote this for the string quartet, in which I tried to reproduce the sound of a coyote with the violin. It was really strange."

Strange, magical or just plain inspiring, Joel Vandroogenbroeck's music always makes an impact, as a lot of people who stumbled upon it have discovered. “There are about 100 bootlegs of Brainticket out there,” says the composer with a laugh, “and one of the albums included in this new release by Cleopatra, called Live in Rome, is a recording I never even knew existed!”

The Space Rock Invasion USA Tour was organized around the beginning of 2011 and since then VDB has flown to Los Angeles several times for rehearsals. “We’re lucky to have Abby Travis with us doing vocals for Brainticket, he says. “She’s just amazing.” When asked if he’ll be taking his Synthi A synthesizer on tour, Joel looked wistful. “This is the same kind Pink Floyd used in Dark Side of the Moon and I love the sound, but nowadays you can’t take something so big and suspicious on a plane. Instead,” he said, picking up his iPad, “I’ll be using this.”

The technology may have changed, but it’s the master’s touch that makes the magic and after all these years, Joel Vandroogenbroeck still has that magic touch.

Image courtesy of Cleopatra Records


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