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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Lorin Deforce

My biggest nightmare is an unsorted record collection collecting dust in a garage.

Interview Koen Galle
Photographs Thomas Sweertvaegher

The ground floor of Lorin Deforce’s cozy townhouse in Ghent is bulging with black gold. Behind the doorway, a tall record cabinet ominously rises up in the narrow hallway. The majority of his collection is located in the central room of the house, neatly stacked in self-made furniture and what are, by now, rapidly becoming vintage Swedish shelving units. The atmosphere is warm; chaos lurks nearby under a thin layer of freshly settled dust. The chief record peddler of Gent’s Music Mania loves his music-imbued house where many parties and jam sessions have been held, and where he also used to rent rooms to Ghent night crawlers, musicians and DJs.

Lorin likes to listen to his collection at night – enjoying peace and a good cigar. Collecting vinyl has become his life, passion and breadwinning, and he can no longer imagine it any other way. Now who is responsible for that passion or even addiction, you ask? Saint Nicholas! See, once upon a cold December 6, a young Lorin found the album Love by The Cult between the mounds of candy and tangerines the bearded saint had brought him. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

There are plenty of cranky record shop owners who scare customers away with their stuck-up attitude about music. We want people to come and talk to us.

The shop owner hails from a musical home, dominated by classical music. As a teen, he evidently felt the urge to rebel against his parents’ taste in music, but he was also “genuinely aroused by rhythmic stuff like Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F from the movie Beverly Hills Cop and Herbie Hancock’s Rockit. At the same time, I was listening to AC/DC and Henry Rollins, but I also loved Wham! and I went to a wide variety of concerts. My weekly visits to the library also resulted in a pretty big and broad collection of tapes at the time.”

When Lorin flew out from under his mother’s wings in Bruges and migrated to Ghent, his eyes (and ears) were opened even more. “I discovered black music at the art academy and started organizing parties with DJs like TLP, Tom Derie and Dré. Those were always fairly DIY but at the same time very successful. Of course, back in those days, it helped that the police and the mayor didn’t care two cents about the party scene, and I could easily drive around the city with my moped putting up posters. My parties drew the attention of both Ghent rockers and the Ostend gay scene, and it didn’t take long before I got requests to spin records all over the place – from the popular Charlatan cafe to private wedding parties and trendsetting festivals like 10 Days Off.”

His open-mindedness characterizes him to this day. His record collection goes from funk and soul over rock and pop to blues, wave, synth, cosmic, Italo, Turkish psychedelics, jazz and house. Artists with a certain numeric presence are rewarded with their own nametag – like Pharoah Sanders, per example, or Roy Ayers. Perfectly arranged, with inner and out sleeves, Lorin’s living room has the look and feel of a record store, and that is of course no coincidence.

The move from record collector to seller was a fairly logical one for Lorin. As a record company representative, he had already built up a broad network of vinyl stores, and together with his partner Karel Van Audenaerde, Lorin organized his first record fair at Charlatan in 2008 – drawing a remarkably younger crowd than most other fairs. When the previous owner of the renowned Music Mania store, with its three branches and a surplus of employees, couldn’t keep his head above water anymore, the duo decided to make an investment and breathe new life into this struggling icon – selling not only new records but widening the offer to include a broad selection of second-hand records as well. “Most shops offer the same stuff so we try to make a difference by also selling second-hand vinyl and passionately sharing our musical knowledge with our customers. I mean, let’s face it: there are plenty of cranky record shop owners who scare customers away with their stuckup attitude about music. We, on the other hand, didn’t install an extra wide counter so only two guys could rest their elbows on it. We want people to come and talk to us.”

Thanks to the shop, I can regularly clear out my collection and allow it to breathe. Before, I might have had twenty Carl Craig records in my crates. I now have that number down to five.

Lorin does not want to reveal where he digs up all those second-hand gems but, listening closely, it becomes clear that they are the outcome of a broad network and a healthy dose of persistence. “It’s dogged that does it. One time, I drove all the way down to Disc Kid, a shop tucked away in the province of Limburg, Belgium. I spent hours there, next to a leaking boiler, digging up some incredible stuff buried underneath tens of thousands of horizontally stacked records. Life With you ... by Expansives, per example. The owner of Disc Kid might not be too happy to read it, but that record is worth a significant amount of money. Then again, it’s not like it just landed in my lap. My hands never looked as black as that day.” Lorin also regularly buys up entire collections, which he listens to and values with the utmost care. He will even travel to Miami for it, where he once bought a heap of records from an old American DJ, or to a small farmhouse in Italy that turned out to be packed with valuable records.

The record store owner does not buy for the sake of buying. His code of digging revolves around dynamism, meaning his collection is permanently in a state of flux. “Throughout the years, my broad taste has led me to discover what matters and what doesn’t. Really my biggest nightmare is an unsorted record collection collecting dust in a garage. Thanks to the shop, I can regularly clear out my collection and allow it to breathe. Before, I might have had twenty Carl Craig records in my crates. After weeding out the fillers, I now have that number down to five. That’s also the reason why I started selling stuff in the first place.”

The odds of Lorin quitting his hobby are, well, slim. Digging simply gives him too much energy. “That moment when I find a record and put it under my arm is indescribable. But I don’t necessarily need to own everything right away. If I don’t find a certain record today, there is always a tomorrow.”

With child-like enthusiasm, Lorin presents us with his Soundburger – a portable turntable in the form of a hamburger that looks like it came straight out of Back to the Future. It is Lorin’s favorite tool to instantly check out records when he’s on the road. Unsurprisingly, he retains a pre-internet philosophy when it comes to digging. “Listening to some snippets on the internet just doesn’t cut it for me. I need to able to listen to the whole record. Fortunately I have enough spellbinding records at home to not constantly feel the need to buy new music. Moreover, I’m weirded out by these ludicrously high prices for sold-out releases that have just come out. Sure, it’s a matter of supply and demand, but who says anyone will still be talking about that particular record ten years from now? Personally, I would rather pay a bit more for a rare old copy.”

Lorin’s ultimate dream is to one day buy the entire discography of MPS Records, a German jazz label which was founded in 1968. “In those days, they didn’t even sell that well. It was an experimental label that gave its artists complete carte blanche, so a lot of American artists who were not getting any attention back home would travel to Europe to perform, and release their music on MPS. The album The Inner Source by George Duke – dubbed by Carl Craig as the ancestor of techno – is one of my favorites.”

He has a plethora of stories to tell, and sometimes his storytelling becomes as chaotic as the atmosphere in his living room. At the same time though, his stories are always full of joy. “I may be a salesman but I also really want to share something with people. Which reminds me: do you already have this Rick Wade album? Because if you don’t, you can have this one.”