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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Bart Sibiel (Onda Sonora)

I actually don't really care whether a mixer has sliders or knobs, as long as it doesn't distort the sound.

Interview Koen Galle (translated by Charline Stoelzaed)
Photographs Thomas Sweertvaegher

Bart Sibiel has got an eye for the finer things in life. Whether it's his collection of vinyl, the parties he throws, the radio shows he hosts or his soft spot for architecture: Bart digs deep, dredging the history and background of every topic crossing his path. At the moment, Bart is getting deeper into eighties Belgian disco music. Although Belgium isn't exactly renowned for its achievements in the genre, Bart found out that some pretty neat disco was released here. Going about his way, Bart collects everything he can get his hands on, often owning several copies of each record.

I Can’t Let You Go’ by Talk Back is one of those records of which Bart has four copies. “Talk Back was a project by Evert Verhees and Kevin Mulligan, the number one suppliers of Belgian disco at the time. Back then, there was this brilliant radio show called 'Funky Town' which was hosted by Gust De Meyer and produced by Wim Mertens. Their playlists were utterly amazing. They released this book too, in which they describe Talk Back as one of the highlights in Belgian disco history.”

Nice gear, but where are the records?


Bart lives in the heart of Schaerbeek, a stone's throw from the crowded Place Rogier. In his brightly lit living room, the DJ-booth catches the eye. Two Technics record players are set up alongside a vintage Urei rotary mixer. Unlike the one put up in the New York Paradise Garage, Bart's mixer dates from after Urei was bought up by Soundcraft. It's been his for over six years, long before the revival of rotary mixers. “I actually don't really care whether a mixer has sliders or knobs, as long as it doesn't distort the sound. The Urei ensures a crisp clear sound and no effects. But I might as well have bought a decent Rodec. I don't do Pioneer though, their gear affects the sound way too much.”

All things considered, we can't spot that many records in the living area. Bart mostly plays music in his working space, where racks and racks of records line the walls. In here: a Rega Hi-Fi record player. When asked how Bart organises his collection, he comes clean with a few confessions which will probably sound familiar to fellow collectors. “Just recently I spent an entire week re-arranging the records according to a system I thought logical at the time. Can't say I'm still as convinced about it today, though. I'd like to sell everything that's still laying around, but I know that I'll probably never get to that point. I put all of the house records in the rack that gets the most sunlight. Since they often have these generic black sleeves, it's okay if they fade out a bit.”


Brussels-bound


Bart didn't fall for Brussels by accident. Having grown up in the outskirts of the city, the capital always spoke to his imagination. “It's the city's scale that I find appealing. An intricate web of 19 districts, where there's always something left for me to discover.” And then, of course, there’s the large amount of record stores, all within walking distance. “There are two ways for me to buy records. I don't mind paying the extra buck in stores like Veals&Geeks, Arlequin or 72 Records when they've got something I've been on the look-out for. But I like buying stuff from the gut too, mostly records that only cost a few euro. Troc Dépôts, Salvation Army stores, Hors Séries or Pêle-Mêle are great for this kind of treasure hunting.”

To exemplify, Bart found the very first release by R&S Records this way, called Milos Music Belgium at the time. He found Belgian new wave by Sigmund und Sein Freund or A Blaze Colour, as well as the first compilation on Sandwich, the label currently known as Crammed Discs. When it comes down to new releases, Bart digs the work of Hip-Hop phenomena such as Romeo Elvis and Zwangere Guy. “Gorik has been attending our parties for over ten years and we’ve bonded over time. He's a one of a kind type of guy, who knows how to tell his story very matter-of-factly and with the right amount of mockery. Love it.”

The perfect party

As a teenager, Bart spent his days skating and checking out music. Hip-Hop, Hardcore, Indie Rock or Reggae, he devoured it all. Back in Halle, the suburban town where Bart's parents still live today, he was able to surround himself with the like-minded. “I got these mix tapes from friends who were a few years my elder. I guess what they introduced me to back then really defined my musical taste.”

With Doctor Vinyl opening up a store in Halle, Bart was given a spot where he could spend his weekends hanging around and buying records. After graduating from college, he started throwing parties in the local youth centre Eenders. Along with Yoerie Bellemans, he founded DJ-collective Onda Sonora and curated some fine line-ups with DJs such as Mo&Benoelie, Lefto, Benji B, Trusme and Rainer Truby.

In Brussels, Bart launched Our Party, a concept built to the model of Bart's ideal night out. Recipe? A top notch sound system, a killer DJ who gets to do his thing, a cool venue and an elaborate variety of beers. DJs to the Our Party's name? Sean P, Phil Asher, Maurice Fulton, Joey Negro... “These guys influenced me a great deal too. Sean P spent three whole hours spinning records I had never heard of. Afterwards, he wrote me down the entire playlist. I'd say that list was my musical guide for at least an entire year. I wanted to check out everything he played.”

Passion for radio

Bart has had a weekly radio show for over ten years, offering him a platform to share all of his trouvailles. Every Tuesday night, he heads down to the Flagey-building in Ixelles, where the Bruzz – formerly known as FM Brussel – studios are located. “Our show is like the Onda Sonora playground on FM-band”, Bart jokes.

Last week's show playlist feature tracks by Jean Hoyoux, Mac Demarco, Mount Kimbie and Goblin. The vibe is relaxed, the host speaks honestly and the music is selected carefully. “The show has evolved a lot over the years. Starting up, we focussed on emerging Belgian producers. We organised Release back then too, an event meant to draw some attention to young producers. For example, we got San Soda and Locked Groove on a stage and behind the radio microphone.”

“Since a few years, we tend to take it back in time more often. In that spirit, we invited photographer Philippe Carly over to the studio a while ago. He released a book about Plan K, the former concert hall in Molenbeek where Joy Division once took the stage. Those are the kind of stories we want to tell. Quite a few familiar voices have hosted our show by the way. Studio Brussel's Eva De Roo or Korneel De Clercq from Radio 1 both had their first radio experience in our studio.” 

Party crashing with one’s heroes

Some striking pieces of art adorn the walls of Bart's living room. Two pictures of swirling people form the permanent audience to his countless in-house DJ-sessions. A brightly coloured typographical piece by designer Swifty stands out. “I'm a great admirer of his work for British labels like Talking Loud and Mo'Wax. I'm fascinated by his designs to the point where I just want to have them all. I often buy records solely for the sake of their covers. You could say that Swifty was responsible for the style of the London Broken Beat scene during the nineties. It's an aesthetic that suits me perfectly.”

Listening to some of his travel stories, one cannot but acknowledge that Bart truly is a collecting fanatic. He has travelled to New York, Chicago, London, Manchester, Bristol, Brighton, Paris, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Toulon, Montpellier, Sittard, Ostend, Aalst, Braine L’Alleud and Arlon with only one thing in mind: getting his hands on as many records as possible.

And he's willing to go the extra mile too. “Paula, one of our most loyal radio show listeners, invited me to come down to Chicago. She took me along to Mr. Peabody, Mark Grusane's record store. It's located in the rough south of the city. Just to give you an idea: hamburgers are flipped behind bulletproof glass over there. After digging crates for several hours, we were offered a ride back by Mark himself. Thank god, because we probably never would have made it back home on our own. The public transport network is tricky and the neighbourhood is pretty damn hardcore.”

“A few days later we were invited to a party where half my record collection was walking around in the flesh: Frankie Knuckles, Ron Trent, Boo Williams, Glenn Underground… And Grammophone Records' Michael Serafini approached me with a remark about my We Play House Records T-shirt. I'll probably never forget that trip.”

Real name: Bart Sibiel | Occupation: Civil engineer architect | Age: 42 | Where: Schaarbeek | #records: +- 10000 | Genres:  Disco, wave, pop, house, rock, hiphop, jazz, reggae, beats, exotic  | Dj aliases: Onda Sonora | Favourite record store: Veals & Geeks | Equipment: 2x Technics SL1200mkII, UREI 1620LE mixer, NAD 306 amplifier, KEF Candenza speakers, Rega P1, portable Numark for digging | Classification: by genre | First ever record: Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band – Live/1975-85 | Digitized: no | Collection listed on Discogs.com: partly, to avoid buying doubles | Favourite record sleeve: U.N.K.L.E. – The Time Has Come E.P. - Mo Wax (Swifty + Futura2000 design)