Red Bull

Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

San Soda

Everything I do is about collecting music that touches me and that I’d like to share.

Interview Koen Galle (translated by Jill Mathieu)
Photographs Marco Di Stefano

An army of 15.000 strong

When the bell rings in Nicolas Geysens’ Berlin apartment, you can bet your ass on it the person at the door is a uniformed person carrying a stack of neatly wrapped vinyl records. The supply in these parts is constant, which has resulted in a friendship between Geysens and his DHL courier which takes place on either side of the front door. “Last week was his birthday. We always have a chat, he knows what’s on my mind.”

Geysens easily spends about ten hours a day on the black gold, not counting week-ends. His record collection holds about 15.000 items. With numbers running this high, the shelves require much of his energy. His headquartes have the looks of a small company with a sales and a purchase department. “I spend hours on the internet looking for new music, collections, bargains and auctions. Meanwhile, I’m constantly selling records from my own collection. But now I own way too many records, no lifetime needs more than 3/4000 - really - great records, I’d estimate. I go shopping in my shelves and take out what I want to keep. The rest can go. I’ll probably regret a few of those choices later on, but then I’ll just buy them again. I need this place to be in constant motion, perpetually filtering for quality.”

Music is the answer

Geysens lives for and amid his collection, night and day. How in the hell did he end up there, you may ask. The answer proves rather unexpected and involves a combo of musical expertise (don’t call it an obsession, now) and a degree in sales engineering. The first is the result of hours of studying and listening, first through Soulseek, then through some of his favourite DJs like Theo Parrish, Antal or DJ Deep. Geysens was blown off his socks by a Tyree Cooper DJ set at Clues, a bar in his home town, Deinze.

“He played Move Your Body by Marshall Jefferson and I was still singing that song at the top of my lungs while I was cycling home, unaware of where that song came from or even who wrote it. I couldn’t sleep not knowing, but there were innumerable songs with the words ‘move your body’ in them and this was before the internet held the answer to every question. That night changed my life, though. A whole new world opened up to me.”

Let’s play house

Geysens was absorbed by house and made his first records for We Play House Recordings, a label started by that other guy from Deinze, Red D. Meanwhile, Geysens was studying commercial sciences at the Ghent university. “I quickly discovered I had a talent for sales. I sold my first two pick-ups shortly after buying them and made a nice profit. Things moved to a new level when I bought an entire collection for the first time. I listened to all the records, selected the things I liked and learned to gauge their worth. I’ve gotten really good at that over the years. Walking into a record store anywhere in the world, it’s a favorite mission to pull out the ones that are good, rare or both.”

But there’s no dollar signs in Geysens’ eyes, though. Much to the contrary: the man is a real music freak and his apartment walls are lined with records that mean a lot to him, like Bougie by Bajy. “I get a thrill from finding interesting record collections in the shadiest corners of the internet. Once, I was touring the States. I was on a stop-over in New York where I stayed with my good friend Kamal and we came across a collection on Craigslist. We drove to Ithaca and were welcomed by an old, sweet man and his wife, who lived in a rickety farmhouse. He was selling 600 old jazz, funk and soul records he’d amassed back when he’d been a radio DJ. As a musician, he had played alongside James Brown’s band and had lovely stories to tell about many of the records in the collection.”

“The man clearly had a hard time parting with his records. It was as if he was saying goodbye to his own life. I realised they were worth quite a lot of money, much more than what he was asking. So there I was, caught in this dilemma between my rational and emotional thoughts. On the one hand, I wanted to negotiate the best price, but obviously I sympathised with the man’s feelings. He wasn’t selling them for the money. He wanted to sell them to someone who’d listen to them a lot. And so I do. I haven’t sold any of them so far. That man, to me, was the prime example of how much music and records can mean to a person.”

Music takes you places

Geysens grew into a house DJ, but over the years he’s picked up other interests as well. He goes off on long journeys to South Africa, Israel, Asia or the United States and spends hours in local record stores, scouring for hidden pearls and gauging the musical vibe of the place he’s in. His DJ sets thus remain a fascinating trip through this planet’s most danceable tunes.

It’s not just dancing tunes for clubs, though. “I’m working hard on a website that will be called Music Take Me Places. I’ll make mix tapes per city or region, bundled with info that will be useful for people who’d like to go there and buy records, like addresses and pictures of shops, markets or labels. It will be a place to gather all the music I own. Expect portraits of Israel, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, South Africa, even Belgium. It will be a great outlet for a lot of music that is more difficult to share in a club environment.”

Plans and more plans

Music does not only take Geysens places. Music Take Me Up is the name of his own label. One of its aims is to grant forgotten records a second life. The first release is but a year old and features, among other things, a catchy Malaysian cover of Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall. Geysens bumped into the song on one of his DJ tours through Asia and decided to share his find. Next up, there will be a rerelease of a gospel record from New Zealand. Geysens cleared the rights and had the original vinyl rerecorded in a premium studio in Paris.

Talking about the a project further down the line, though, Geysens gets all shiny-eyed. He digs up a green 7-inch that says “Zohra” in big, grotesque letters. “This one is really wanted but very hard to come by. I called the wife of the man who made it, a Frenchman. She told me her husband had been a professional musician in Paris and had recorded this track with Zohra, an Algerian cleaning lady who worked for a friend of his. I really hope I manage to get a hold of the rights, it’s such a great song!”

Would you like some detergent with that?

“Everything I do is about collecting music that touches me and that I’d like to share. My records spin at parties, they’re blended into mix tapes, they’re being rereleased through my label or written about on my blog. All of this gives me purpose.” Geysens is hardly finished uttering the words before taking out another sleeve from the shelves. Do we know this one? Some famous artist, he says, has sampled the first four bars.

We follow Geysens to his downstairs studio, where he sets up to record the album. To reduce any white noise, he puts the record in his Okki Nokki, a funnily named cleaning machine for which he’s brewed his very own cleaning product. The drums that have been sampled for Caribou’s remix of Virgo Four’s It’s A Crime sound good as new. Geysens flashes us a wink: “I stumbled upon this one in India. I immediately recognised the tune. Very well sampled, and now we can play the original.”

Real name: Nicolas Geysens | Occupation: Dj, producer, label owner | Age: 30 | Where: Berlin | #records: +- 15000 | Genres: Ambient, Downtempo, Soul, Funk, Rock, Industrial, New Beat, Wave, Dance, Triphop, Hiphop, Gospel, Jazz, Fusion, Latin Jazz, J-Pop, Latin, Kwaito, Salsa, New Wave, Cumbia, UK Garage, New Age, Adult Contemporary, Bubblegum, R&B, Neo-Soul, Blues, Dub, Roots Reggae, Afro Punk, Psychedelic, Traditional, Afrobeat, Boogie, Disco, Library, Hindustani, Carribean, Calypso, Club, Breakbeat, Brostep, House, US Garage, Hi-NRG, Jungle, Techno, Trance | Dj aliases: San Soda, Harry Baldi, Nick Berlin, Collect-ief Deruyter, De Ambassade, FCL, The Visionaries | Favourite record store: Music Mania in Ghent | Equipment: Rodec MX180 MKIII, E&S DJR400, Super Stereo DN78, Technics SL-1200 mk3 | Classification: by alphabet | First ever record: Mylo - Destroy Rock & Roll | Digitized: partly, to own a clean version in case of issues with the record, to not have to travel with expensive records or to edit | Collection listed on Discogs.com: partly | Favourite record sleeve: Minnie Ripperton - Perfect Angel

https://www.facebook.com/San.Soda
https://soundcloud.com/san-soda