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Belgium - The Vinyl Frontier

Gerd De Wilde

I want to enter a record store somewhere, go through the cases, and realize I don’t recognize a single thing.

Interview Koen Galle
Photographs Thomas Sweertvaegher

Gerd's flat is located in the heart of one of Molenbeek's loveliest neighborhoods, overlooking the stately Marie José park. The luminous living room is packed with vinyl records, and features a small DJ set-up in the middle. The speakers are carefully positioned, as to guarantee the best possible audio experience. It’s obviously clear: the regular and prolonged enjoyment of music takes centre stage here. The wooden walls, soft carpet and abundant sunlight bring a lovely warmth to the place, while the many record sleeves and travel memorabilia on display tie the room together. It’s pleasant to linger here, especially when one gets a passionate host overflowing with fascinating tales to top it off.

Gerd considers himself more of a selector. As such, crowd pleasing is not part of his vocabulary and during DJ sets he aims for the fringes of the dance floor. Already in his youth club he'd been that kid with the strange records, which caused beer coasters to be thrown at his head sometimes, and Gerd artfully dodging them, or the power cut off altogether. A sixteen year old adolescent, he would go off to record stores in Antwerp, Liege and Charleroi looking for 7-inch singles without really knowing what he bought: "Already back then I got weird disco like 'Heartbeat' by El Coco, or forgotten Popcorn classics, records that I enjoy to this day in fact. I often played Duffo's 'Walk On The Wild Side' then. One time Stephen and David Dewaele did a show as 2manydjs at the youth club and complimented me on my warm up set. I went completely bonkers." Pronto, Gerd dispenses a useful word of digger advice: "Always seek out those records that are not the store's specialty. That's a store's blind spot, where you'll find the best stuff!"

Even though Gerd's favourite record store is still Ghent's Kiekeboe, Belgium soon felt too small for him. He realized that the world is like an undiscovered treasure trove filled with black gold and that's how he was gradually consumed with wanderlust. Gerd headed to India, Morocco, Brazil, Korea, Indonesia, Trinidad, all in a quest to satisfy his appetite for records. "You can find decent enough stuff in Belgium, but honestly there's not that much left to discover. That's why I go into the world. I want to enter a record store somewhere, go through the cases and realize I don't recognize a single thing."

We stayed at only ten kilometres from an active war zone, close to the Syrian border.

Gerd's most recent outing brought him to Iraq, of all places, although it wasn't an actual digger's trip. He traveled through the country for a documentary production about Syria's Kurdish population. "We stayed at only 10 km's from an active war zone, close to the Syrian border. Even in those situations music is still vital. We witnessed a few victory parties: absolutely crazy. The band ripping away at their instruments, that truly impressed me. You won't find too many records there, though, music is distributed mainly through cassettes and CD-Rs. Those will have some solid techno bombs on them, really cool stuff. I'll exchange things like that with other vinyl diggers such as the Acid Arab guys. And they'll return the favour with some other goodies."

Gerd tells one story after another about his digging adventures, as if they all took place yesterday. He’s especially impressed with a recent trip to Casablanca in Morocco. “When I was there two years before, I had promised the seventy-year-old owner of a small record store that I’d get him a new needle for his turntable. Back again on a production job for the artist Jan De Cock recently, I had only one hour left at the end of a very busy schedule to visit the store. So I raced over there and much to the owner’s delight I brought him a brand new turntable. As it turned out, a Moroccan record that had been on top of my wish list for years was just dangling from a line above the counter. With some hesitation, it was part of his decor, the owner managed to let go and give me the record. I had gotten him a new turntable after all!” 

Not only does Gerd unearth treasures, he also makes sure to spread them around among music aficionados. Since it didn’t take him long to make friends with some reissue labels. Like with Jazzman Record, which was so much impressed with Gerd’s language skills that they promptly offered him a job. He also befriended Andy Votel of the famed Finders Keepers label. For both labels, he did some work on Belgian experimental electro acoustics, Popcorn music or even the soundtrack of The Antwerp Killer, one of the worst Belgian movies ever but with an extraordinary soundtrack!

There is so much out there in basements just waiting to be discover, and our taste is also always changing.

And then there is his own little label Out There. “In Trinidad, I stumbled upon heaps of records that were too good not to share with the world. So I re-released them with a self-made sleeve, which has a woman’s breast pressed up against it in yellow paint. I call them Lovingly Pressed Against a Ladies Chest, and the first edit is already sold out.” Gerd’s reissues sell like hotcakes, even without a distribution deal. Asked if the treasure trove will ever empty, Gerd decidedly shakes his head. “There is so much out there in basements just waiting to be discover, and our taste is also always changing. Ten years ago, there wasn’t any appetite at all for the Turkish music that everyone is so eager to rediscover nowadays. Who knows: in ten years, we might all be listening to Scottish bagpipe music.” 

Although his reissues are a success, Gerd is not getting filthy rich. Producing vinyl remains a costly affair and Gerd’s output is still too small to turn a real profit. If not a real salesman, Gerd considers himself more of a passionate music freak. “I could make a decent day’s wage at any Flemish flea market by fishing out the golden nuggets and selling them on for a pretty penny. No problem! But I just don’t care about that.”

Next up on Gerd’s schedule: Azerbaijan and Madagascar. It’s obvious that Gerd will dedicate the rest of his life to travel and music, creating stories as he goes along. “Everything is just that much more valuable when you have to make an effort”, he explains. “In this digital world, everything is just a search away, but it means so little. Even the most obscure music is up on YouTube. If you can find something that’s not, then you’re truly onto something really special. That doesn’t just go for music, by the way. I really try to take a stand against the impoverishment of experience. I already can’t wait to leave for Azerbaijan.”

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