I only sell records I’ve listened to, whether we’re talking metal, 70s rock, reggae or chanson Française. I want people to come in here to buy a record. I want to meet them.
Interview Koen Galle (translated by Jill Mathieu)
Photographs Thomas Sweertvaegher
Along a thin strip of cobblestones in Brussels’ Steenstraat, right in the city centre, lurks Elektrocution Record Shop. Cosily tucked away in the shadow of the iconic Ancienne Belgique concert hall, this must be the smallest record shop in the capital. When the shop is closed, a huge white sheet is drawn, attracting your attention to the intricate logo imprinted on the glass. Dozens of words, such as “illumination”, “un beat exotique”, “une chanson révoltante” or “utoptia” swirl around, combined with stylised line drawings of an escalator, a jet flame, a traffic cone and a blender form one ginormous tree structure, symbolising the shop’s many-tentacled universe.
During opening hours however, the curtain is lifted and the spotlights outline vinyl records by Suicide Commando, Sex Pistols, The Doors, Queen, Kraftwerk, Bob Marley or The Specials. Inside, Michel Kirby is a fixture at the counter, softly beaming smiles at whoever ventures to roam the few square meters that are not lined with black gold.
What you see is what you get
Elektrocution specialises in second-hand vinyl and boasts a rather unusual philosophy. What you see is what you get — literally. There is no back stock, unless you’d count a tiny cellar with a moderate pile of rubbish. Kirby goes out to hunt a few times a week, making the rounds of second hand sales, fairs and other shops, unless people come by to drop off their own finds. The offer is always a-changing, the stack always manageable.
Michel closely relates to his modus operandi, claiming the shop is an extension of himself: “I think it’s important to stay very close to my passion. I don’t have a Facebook page and I don’t sell through the internet or via mail. I’m very old school: I only sell records I’ve listened to, whether we’re talking metal, 70s rock, reggae or chanson Française. I want people to come in here to buy a record. I want to meet them.”
Michel started Elektrocution Records in 2003. By then, he’d accumulated 15 years of experience at Disco Mania, a shop located on Brussels’ Boulevard Lemonnier, specialised in metal and punk. The entrepreneurial spirit had been instilled in Kirby at a very tender age. At 16, he sold his own fanzine, “Noise Metal”, for 35 franks. He and a friend would write every page themselves, before Xeroxing the whole lot for their audience. The publication allowed him to hang out at concert venues and interview his favourite bands.
Whenever he wasn’t fiddling with his guitar, Kirby would be whizzing through the Marolles on his skate board — the neighbourhood where his granny was raised. Brussels in the 80s had a few beautiful years : “We’d listen to metal and hardcore the whole time and go skating at the Mont des Arts. I rounded up some friends to start a band and got hooked on Deep Purple and Ritchy Blackmores guitar play. He’s still one of my favourite guitarists.”
A monument and mini-museum
Kirby’s discogs.com page is pretty straight-forward: “Brussels based metal/hardcore monument”, who has been or still is a member of bands such as Arkangel, Deviate, La Muerte, Length of Time, Mental Disturbance and Wolvennest. It is hardly a surprise, then, that Elektrocution Records doubles a mini-museum showcasing the history of Belgian punk, metal and hardcore.
At home in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, more elaborations on the same theme. Kirby’s shelves are overflowing with the recordings by Death in June, Kirby’s favourite band. “I grew up with metal and hardcore. But when I started writing my own lyrics, I sought out a little more realism in music. Those genres were a tad too dreamy for my taste. That led me to neofolk, a genre I explored every corner of. I have every single Death in June record. The band also very much influenced my own music.”
A passion for all things dark
Kirby’s records are all gathered on the first floor of his digs, sharing walls with a large collection of books, memorabilia, gadgets, picture, chandeliers, guitars, T-shirts and whatnot. This room is Kirby’s refuge as much as it is a space where all his interests and passions meet. French authors Jean Cocteau and Sylvain Tesson are stashed alongside articles about RSC Anderlecht (Kirby’s staple football club), Le Corbusier and Jean Genet’s poem Le Condamné à Mort.
“I have a passion for all things dark and occult”, Kirby confesses. “No matter what art form they appear in, these types of emotions call out to me. My record collection consists in large part of the darker realms of music. I think Charles Mansion was a musical genius, even though he was a serial killer. I understand it’s a delicate stance, but I’m all about the music, really. Bands like Guns ’N Roses and Lemonheads covered his music. That says it all.”
The Arabic Metal connection
Kirby’s on point when it comes to today’s releases too, though. He digs up records by Holland’s occult rock band The Devil’s Blood. Just like Kirby, guitar player Selim Lemouchi used to entertain a fascination for the dark side — even though it cost him his life. “Selim was a fantastic musician and a good friend. Gloom was so much a part of him and his music, though, that one day he decided life was not for him. He had it all planned, death had always been a part of his music and his life. His musical heritage lives on, however. He still moves people with his work and influences many other musicians. On his last album, Ghost dedicated a song to him. I’ll never forget Selim.”
Kirby’s collection does not confine itself to metal, punk and hardcore, though. Saucy detail: in recent years, Kirby’s been increasingly infatuated with Arabic music. One wonders if a parallel could be imagined between both genres. “Absolutely!”, Kirby says. “It’s the rhythm. I love the power and emotional pulse in Arabic music. One of my favourite bands is Nass El Ghiwane, from Morocco. Their music is very psychedelic, hypnotising. Pure trance. Their concerts would often be put on pause because people would completely lose it. Martin Scorcese used their music in a movie and actually contributed to a documentary about the band called Transes. Impressive!”
His face flushed with pride, Kirby unearths an Oud guitar from the depths of his cupboard. This traditional instrument with a short neck and eleven strings is often used in Arabic music. “I’m learning how to play it, but it’s rather difficult. In my own bands, I sneak in some Arab influences as well. I think it’s quite enriching that the attention for traditional music is on the rise. Labels like Radio Martiko, for instance, play an important part in this evolution. In society, we often do the opposite: emphasize the differences between cultures. I think music can be an important catalyst in the breaking down of such barriers.”
Name: Michel Kirby | Occupation: Record Shop owner | Age: 48 | Where: Brussels + St.-Pieters Leeuw | #records: +- 1000 | Genres: hard rock, neofolk, soundtracks, chanson Française, musique arabe, soul, … | Dj aliases: Jean Michel Satan (JMS) | Favourite record store: Elektrocution Records | Equipment: second hand Technics turntable | Classification: by genre and band | First ever record: AC/DC - Back In Black | Digitized: no | Collection listed on Discogs.com: no | Favourite record sleeve: every Iron Maiden sleeve, every cover designed by HYPGNOSIS, every photo by Robert Mapplethorpe for a Patti Smith record.