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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Music On Vinyl, a vinyl-only record label

Music On Vinyl, a vinyl-only record label

What if we could re-issue the records we used to buy?

Interview Joris Lenaerts
Photographs Alexander Popelier

Music On Vinyl is a Dutch label that exclusively releases vinyl. Classic re-issues, of course, but these needn’t impede ventures into the release of brand new records. Somewhere in 2009, distributor Bertus and the world’s largest vinyl presser Record Industry got together. Things got cosy. Real cosy. So cosy, the decided to set up shop together. And aren’t we glad these two shacked up?

Under the Brewed In Belgium label, MOV recently released a few classics albums by Luc Van Acker, Zita Swoon and Vaya Con Dios on vinyl. Because next to chocolate, fries and beer, music is our finest export product.

That’s the question that started off John Burgers and Michiel Kusters. “Halfway through the 90ies, vinyl was as good as dead. The only ones still interested were a small niche of DJs and collectors.” As no one seemed to give a hoot, John seized the opportunity to license a bunch of titles to Music on Vinyl - a boy’s dream come true.

To release a vinyl record, however, is no sinecure. “Making an LP is real craftsmanship, it’s manual labour that costs time and money.” The biggest challenge is to find the best audio sources available. Once the original tapes have been located, the record is cut at Record Industry in Haarlem. Next, the source material is translated onto vinyl. “We have a guy working for us who cut Michael Jackson’s Thriller for the whole of Europe, back in the 80ies. These are the people who know how to give vinyl its warm sound, who have the kind of skills which are crucial to us.”

Finding the original artwork is no walk in the park either, as labels don’t usually hang onto them. Unless they get lucky and either the artist or the designer has the files tucked away in some archive, the MOV guys dig into their private collection or log onto Discogs to find a copy in mint condition. “In our minds, all these 80ies record sleeves look picture perfect, but in reality, they sometimes look a whole lot better when you recreate them from scratch.”

Add the packaging and the distribution to the lengthy process described above and the knowledge that vinyl calls for nothing but handiwork, and you’ll soon realise vinyl simply cannot be produced at cheap rates. “The client’s demands are obviously high, nobody wants a dog-eared sleeve.”

John sees the vinyl future shining bright like a diamond. Ten years ago, about 200 records were released every month. Today, we’re up to 200 per week. That success is underlined by initiatives such as Record Store Day, which sees about 500 to 700 records released every year. Looks like things are getting crowded on the market.

The good news though is that a whole new group of buyers has materialised.

The good news though is that a whole new group of buyers has materialised. Young people ages 17 to 35 mostly use online music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, but they buy their favourite albums on vinyl. “Compare it to a coffee table book: it’s a form of lifestyle spending. 30 to 40 percent of younger buyers don’t listen to what they’ve bought, though, so that’s something we need to be aware of. Because how many times do you buy something you don’t actually use?” Nonetheless, vinyl does not appear to be on the downhill track to self-annihilation just yet. Predictions are the market will stabilise in a couple of years.

Under the label Brewed In Belgium, MOV recently worked together with V2 Belgium, Warner Music and Sony Music in order to rerelease a few classics. The list retraces a bit of Belgian history, featuring Jonge Helden by Arbeid Adelt!, The Ship by Luc Van Acker, I Paint Pictures On A Wedding Dress by Zita Swoon, Night Owls by Vaya Con Dios and The Great Subconscious Club by K’s Choice. “We did the same in The Netherlands four years ago with Dutch Vinyl Masters, based on Rembrandt’s painting The Night Watch”, John says.

There are no strict criteria delineating which records are rereleased and which aren’t. It’s about gut feeling and believing in something. There’s no such thing as a crystal ball either, predicting which records will sell. Only time will tell if the planned releases of albums by The Wallace Collection and Telex will tickle buyers’ fancy.

That’s what it boils down to for us: a heart-felt passion for music

Suggestions for albums that ought to be released on vinyl are welcomed with open arms. You might not get a reply straight away, but your idea might just be pressed and printed in a few years time. “Our wish list is already many pages long, plus there are a few we’ve been trying to get for a while now, which keep eluding us. There’s so much good music though, and that’s what it boils down to for us: a heart-felt passion for music.”

The Brewed In Belgium series is available through this link