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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Michiel Claus

You really need your own narrative, you can't stop at only getting the best represses of the hour.

Interview Koen Galle
Photographs Thomas Sweertvaegher

Michiel welcomes visitors with a cardboard 'for free' sign on top of a crate of records at the front door. Or rather, that's how he sees them off, as the 'pick a record' ritual usually happens at the end of a visit to Michiel's apartment. The vinyl in this specific crate is usually the result of forays into the 1 euro crates at Pêle-Mêle, the Brussels second-hand shop. Each record that doesn't make it into Michiel's collection finds its way out again this way. If a record does make it, it ends up in the flat's eye-catcher: an industrial yet stylish custom-made wall cabinet full of records, music equipment and memorabilia. Michiel made it with the help of his father and a friend. The idea is straightforward: you build it from the ground up, screw and slide it all together. Afterwards it’s easily taken apart again. This creativity and DIY ethic often defines Michiel: as a musician, artist, producer, DJ, salesman and digger. It's no accident that his father is an electronics engineer at Bosch, the former Blaupunkt. The small Blaupunkt speakers that hang elegantly inside the cabinet testify to that. And if ever anything breaks down in Michiel's studio, his father gladly helps out. 

In the end I really suffered a jazz overdose.

Music takes centre stage in the flat of Michiel and his two housemates Laurens and Tessa. Often they'll congregate around the turntables with a few friends, before or after a party. Laurens supplies a part of the record cabinet, and helps out with the Bepotel collective, one of Michiel's creative outlets. It's an art project that eludes definition and takes on different forms: a label, a band, a live performance... and even a video game, says Michiel: "we program objects in a digital environment to generate a certain sound when you touch them. Last week we did a try-out at Beursschouwburg which was very cool." Michiel studied jazz conservatoire in The Hague, but it was more the minor in electronic music that interested him most: "we had access to a modular studio with legendary synths such as the Buchla or the Arp. We played around with cables and buttons and recorded music as often as possible. Juju of Juju & Jordash was a classmate, he recorded some of my band's music. In the end I really suffered a jazz overdose. I haven't touched my drum set in four years, although I still drum in my head and on the machines obviously."

Michiel first came into contact with electronic music as a Brussels teenager. Dilbeek's Zomaar Youth Club's vinyl collection with many compilations by DJs such as Morpheus and Mo & Benoelie was right up his alley. When no one played records any more he was able to buy part of the collection: the beginning of a long standing passion. He got hooked on dubstep's futuristic sound and attended parties in Brussels and London. Whily studying in The Hague he also discovered disco, house and techno: "The Hague has a big tradition in techno and electro and every Friday night I'd go to a second-hand shop where many people from Clone and the radio station Intergalactic FM came. I often went to Amsterdam also for parties and I witnessed the first Dekmantel parties at Scheveningen beach." Michiel may have studied in The Hague, but as a DJ he mainly played at parties in his home town of Brussels, such as Holger, High Needs Low and at the famed Fuse club. After graduating he moved back to Brussels, further refining his style: "for a while I'd lost my way as a DJ. I grew somewhat tired of techno and disco and wanted to go back to more subtle and futuristic music. That's how I got into the minimalist house of DJs such as Francesco Del Garda, Nicolas Lutz, Zip or a place like Berlin's Club Der Visionaere. There it's about long vinyl only sets with a lot of 90’s UK and Detroit house. 

I'd like to travel more, look for interesting collections and add to the store. I love a record store where the music is allowed to live.

Not completely by chance, Michiel gets a lot of inspiration as a DJ from the Brussels record store Doctor Vinyl. One of his holy grails was just waiting for him on the counter one blue Monday: "to this day I don't understand. I'd been searching for Elypsia's Silicon EP for years, until it surfaced just under my nose at Doctor Vinyl. It may have been Fuse resident DJ Deg, a regular at the store, who left it there, as he produced it. It's really the kind of 90s record that I try to stand out with. You really need your own narrative, you can't stop at only getting the best represses of the hour. Finding that particular record was proof for me that when you really commit the right records will come to you." At a certain point he was at Doctor Vinyl so often that Geert, the owner, offically hired him to be there and to peddle some of that black gold in the meantime. Michiel intends to further devote himself to that in the next few years: "I'd like to travel more, look for interesting collections and add to the store. I love a record store where the music is allowed to live. I dislike places like Hardwax in Berlin, where some records have to be listened to on iPads in order not to scratch them and people look down on you. At Doctor Vinyl it can get chaotic and a bit cramped in the small space sometimes, but I try to bring a measure of order to that chaos and to get visitors in contact with the music."

Michiel fizzles with energy and literally jumps up when a courier rings the bell, carrying a new load of records. He talks about the new clubby label he means to start, named Basic Moves, and about the releases still in the pipeline. He muses about his DJing style and his output as an artist. He shares some thoughts about the state of Brussels record stores and seems in the know about what goes on behind the scenes of his city. Michiel is truly a man of many talents who will go on telling an abundance of stories in his own unique way.