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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Musical journeying in Ronse

Musical journeying in Ronse

Vinyl & Voyages bridges the gap, combining both fine tunes with handy bus trips

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Mike Verleyen

After years of tumbleweeds scurrying past and Ennio Morricone playing imagined background tunes, Ronse finally sees the opening of a new record store. Huzzah! Until recently, Ronsicans were forced to travel many miles to Oudenaarde, Ghent or Kortrijk to get their fix. Today, Vinyl & Voyages bridges the gap, combining both fine tunes with handy bus trips. Wait, what?

Admittedly, the Wijnstraat, just a stone’s throw away from the Grote Markt, looks a tad miserable. Vacant lots line the street, but Mike Verleyen is all about the future. Teaming up with a recently founded action committee, he is determined to make this street hum with life again by sprinkling a good portion of families, stores and services into the now sleepy mix.

With his store, Verleyen has created a concept centered around music. Next to a broad selection of vinyl, both new and second hand, the store is equipped with a state of the art bar, just what you need to invite the occasional DJ or host a gig. But having lived a previous life in the travel business, Verleyen dreamed of linking music to his old globetrotting habits. Right now, this translates into bus trips to concerts with stops in Ronse, Oudenaarde and Ghent. The aim is to have a full bus once a month.

Verleyen: “I’m still looking for the best formula (with or without the concert ticket) and how to gain some publicity. So we’re very much open to partnerships to increase our reach. With these bus trips, we’d like to offer a safe and easy way to go and see your favourite band. No need to worry about having had one too many and no parking issues either. Plus, you get to chat with likeminded people on the way there. We don’t focus on a specific kind of concert, I’m sure these things will just happen naturally. In the coming months, we’ve got plans to go see Bastille, Bonobo, Golden Earring, Rival Sons, Snarky Puppy… Later on, I’d like to organise trips spanning several days, but always concentrating on music. It could be a musical city trip to Berlin or week of holidaying in Spain, checking out flamenco or salsa.”

Verleyen: “Our concept includes late opening hours. Until 22.00 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and up to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. On Sunday, we take it easy and close up shop at 20.00. There are (organic) softs on offer, as well as coffee, organic wine and a bunch of beers from micro breweries in the area. We give customers a chance to check records while discovering a nice local beer, or the other way around. That way, we aim to be a meeting point for a very diverse audience. Everybody’s welcome, as long as you’re the kind to enjoy life, just like me. The interior consists mostly of recycled retro and vintage furniture, with a dash of colour here and there. All together, it looks rather cosy and calm.”

Verleyen: “We have pop, rock, jazz, blues, funk and soul on offer, as well as a smaller selection of hip-hop, world music and electronics. Some new, some second hand. I’m not a collector myself, but I love the tactility of vinyl and the opening of this shop has allowed me to discover so much fantastic music. To learn and discover new things is my favourite thing in the world. I became a fan of Black Flower – Artifacts, for instance. Those ethio influences on the record are just magnificent. I’m also really looking forward to a/t/o/s – outboxed and the first release by Hypochristmutreefuzz. Last year’s favourites were definitely Het Zesde Metaal – Calais and Warhaus – We Fucked A Flame Into Being. Both releases sold like hot cakes, by the way.”

Beside the bus trips and the in-store events, April 28th has been baptized ‘Lokale Helden’ day (day of the local heroes), a night coproduced with Poppunt and full of local DJs spinning tunes into the night. More news soon!

Check out our list of all Belgian record stores.