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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Dirk Dumoulin

It has to be a coincidence, but my first record ever was Let’s Dance

Interview Sam De Brabander
Photographs Thomas Sweertvaegher

Coincidence or not, David Bowie has become the focal point in the collection of forty year old Dirk Dumoulin. He was only eleven when he first took that record from its sleeve and vinyl has not lost its grip on him ever since. A year after the demise of the British rock legend, Dirk still reminisces on the object of his passion. “I can still see myself as a kid, behind the sofa, with headphones on and the lyric sheet in my hand. His video clips on MTV and the beautifully illustrated spreads in teenage magazine Joepie: they really got to me, back in the 80s.”

Today his apartment on the seventh floor looks out over Antwerp, but it’s not the view that draws your eye in the living room. An enormous cupboard stretches from one side of the room to the other. You won’t just find Bowie vinyl there, but a versatile collection of records, CDs, youth novels, reference books on music, VHS and other aesthetically worthy objects. Across the room, next to some Roxy Music artwork, old Warhol film posters grace the walls. These were a gift from his partner. “My boyfriend and I nicely complement each other in this collection. He’s a screen writer and is passionate about film. That frame over there with the pictures of David Bowie and actor Vincent Price next to one another? That’s how well our love for music and film blends.”

Dirk lights a cigarette, overlooks his collection and carefully takes a few treasured records out of their plastic sleeves. “This is an original Belgian single of Space Oddity I bought from a female baker at a flea market in Mechelen, for 50 Belgian franks. This 7 inch dates from 1969 but, surprisingly, the psychedelic coloured sleeve is still in mint condition. The state of the record is so very important to me.” These sort of singles are worth quite a dime by now, but that doesn’t really matter to Dirk. He’s not after the most expensive releases or the ones signed by The Thin White Duke himself, per se. “I don’t think I’ve ever paid over €50 for a record. I mostly find satisfaction in flicking through records and finding that one UK edition at a fair. These days you can find anything online if you’re willing to pay the price, but it doesn’t do much for me to just type a key word and hit enter. Sure, I know there are bigger collectors than me, but I’m not about finding the most exclusive items.” Then again, Dirk does have multiple pressings of several albums, especially of Low, his favourite.

Instead of buying records that cost an arm and a leg, Dirk is on point when special editions are released. That’s how he managed to secure a clear vinyl of Bowie’s latest record or why he jumped in the car for a replica of his debut Man of Words / Man of Music at the international Bowie exhibition in Groningen. With his vinyl buddy, Dirk often sets off for fairs and hangs in record stores whenever abroad. “Here in Antwerp, I’m usually found around Carlo at Tune-Up. I used to go to The Record Collector a lot. It was a real goldmine, but unfortunately, it’s gone now. They had a 1,5m high stack of Bowie records and were not always aware of the prices. Places like this have disappeared, but it used to be you could do great deals there. I also loaded up a bunch of Kraftwerk there, another collection of mine. Kraftwerk and Bowie are my guiding light whenever I set foot in an unknown record store.”

Discovering music through online streaming services is not something that tickles Dirk’s fancy, just like pre-listening to tracks in-store is not a priority to him. Most of Dirk’s preparation is done beforehand, at home, while reading up or checking online databases. “When I dig into the history of Krautrock, a lot of band names and sleeves pop up. When I come across one of these in real life, I usually buy them blindly because I’m already in love with them. The actual discovery of the music itself is something I prefer doing at home.” This encyclopaedic approach accounts for Dirk’s impressive memory and has helped him unearth many artefacts: the black and white picture of Bowie in 1969, to be seen in the hallway, concert tickets of the first time Dirk saw Bowie live in 1990, an authentic tour paper from 1976 containing experimental Kirlian photography, proof of the second concert Dirk attended in 1995 in London and the third, just a day later. Dirk knows all the dates and whenever something does escape his thoughts, he goes right ahead and looks it up.

Dirk is a product of his time. If only for the warm sound, he still stays true to the medium that was ubiquitous in his teens. Although, Dirk says, a lot of warmth is also found in the sleeve and the listening process itself. They are part of a ritual he likes to repeat time and again, which reminds him of the olden days. “I like to listen to music from those days in ways that were then common. That’s why I don’t find remasters very interesting. It’s so much more charming to play the original 70s record on my old Pioneer PL518. It’s the same reason why I appreciate those typical vintage bootlegs of Bowie live shows: they bear the mark of that era. I like to imagine myself inside the head of an enthusiastic fan back then, putting on the record.”

There is life after Bowie, definitely for a collector. Dirk admires not only the fact that Bowie’s death became part of his art in Blackstar, his hero also managed to close up shop by releasing his best record in the past twenty years. “I’m glad I had the chance to listen to his last album three days before his death, without reading it as a testament. It’s a radical record en that word is one that often describes Bowie’s finest recordings. That’s the way I prefer him. Radical, stripped of all of his personae.” The realist in Dirk knows that Bowie’s opus is not open-ended anymore, but he still has plenty to search for. That’s what it’s really about: finding peace in the knowledge that he can keep on collecting indefinitely.