Red Bull

Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Raphael

For once, I don’t mind you taking pictures of my records, but normally I only share my secrets with a select number of people.

Interview Koen Galle
Photographs Thomas Sweertvaegher

Raphael’s small flat in Brussels looks humble and sober. It takes him exactly ten seconds to give us a ‘grand tour’. The pieces of furniture can be counted on one hand, and there is no particularly impressive amount of vinyl on display. Is this even the house of a digger? The answer is ‘yes’ but let it be clear that Raphael is not interested in quantity, and he doesn’t even tend to call himself a collector. Just thinking about tens of thousands of records makes a thin layer of cold sweat break out on his furrowed brow. It is as if he fell victim to some unspeakable record-cabinet-related accident when he was a kid, and he never quite recovered from the emotional shock.

The sympathetic Bruxellois is focused on establishing a purified selection of his absolute favorites, and he cherishes those gems with fond affection. The pseudonym under which he shares his passion probably reveals the core of his philosophy best: his YouTube and Discogs moniker is Creme2laCremeRecords.

Although he is also active on the web, Raphael does his crate digging mostly in the outside world: getting up early to visit second-hand shops and scour the countryside to find obscure stores. The place where he does his laundry is located strategically in the vicinity of a few records shops on the Rue du Midi. While his underwear swirls around in suds, Raphael is busy scanning vinyl a few storefronts away. His ideal record store is the one that has an owner who doesn’t know the value of his products. “You won’t find those kinds of stores in urban areas anymore but in little provincial towns you can still dig up a treasure once in a while. You know, I discovered that a lot of great stuff is often categorized under pop/rock. I used to never go through those sections – why bother? But a lot of terrific records end up in those crates because whoever is selling them can’t quite figure out where else to put them.”

Digging is a lot like doing drugs or making love: it’s exciting, and once you’ve discovered it, you can’t do without it anymore.

“I love lots of different kinds of music and as a DJ I also like playing most of them. One of my greatest role models was the American DJ Ron Hardy. He could switch from the most obscure electro to a disco tune without skipping a beat, and it made sense. Magic.” Despite today’s technology, Raphael would love nothing more than to always play with vinyl. “The sleeve, the texture, not to mention the fact that playing a record reminds me of life itself – the Earth spinning on its axis. That’s also why I never liked CDs: you can’t touch them while they’re playing. And there is no way to touch an MP3 at all.”

The son of a Belgian father and a French mother, Raphael grew up in Paris. With his best friend Qpchan, he took digging trips through all of France. “We had a list with addresses of shops, depots and second-hand stores, and we visited all of them in one go during a ten-day trip – from dawn to dusk. We slept in little hotels, woke up the next day and drove on to the next town. Digging is a lot like doing drugs or making love: it’s exciting, and once you’ve discovered it, you can’t do without it anymore. Every single time, it gives such a kick to find that one special record.” Fresh in his memory lies a remarkable encounter with a Russian construction worker. The man got a number of records from a house he was renovating and he was busy selling them on a flea market. Raphael and his friend managed to convince him to take them to the house and ended up buying loads of discotheque records – made for DJs during the disco area.

Digging involves a lot of luck, but you also have to have a feeling for it. “I asked my aunt, who was working for a television company, if she happened to know any people who worked on sound editing. I was hoping to stumble onto some old library music, and sure enough: she gave me the address of the widow of the owner of the Belgian Selection label. Her attic was filled with boxes containing various original copies. I spent weeks up there and managed to scavenge the best parts of the collection.”

Does he have a tip for aspiring diggers? “Well, there are two ways to get to it. You either work fast and only pick out things you know, in some way or the other, or you work slowly and let yourself be guided by a number of factors like the cover and the credits. But sometimes, you get lucky in unlikely places. At a record fair in Brussels I had to skip through everything quickly because there wasn’t enough time, but as luck would have it, I inadvertently found a copy of One Giant Leap – a compilation album released on the British label 101 International. It had this one boogie song by Z19 on it that I had been trying to find for ages. At the time, it was my most wanted record. I had discovered it on a Redlight Records mixtape. They always share incredible music. So you can imagine how glad I was when I finally managed to get my hands on it as well. I left that fair a happy man.”

I used to never go through the pop/rock section of the store – why bother? But a lot of terrific records end up in those crates because whoever is selling them can’t quite figure out where else to put them.

Raphael’s digging philosophy revolves around mystery, and he strives for a limited collection spiced up with some secret weapons. “For once, I don’t mind you taking pictures of my records, but normally I only share my secrets with a select number of people. There’s nothing magical about giving people a list of what I have. That’s like asking a Michelin-star chef for a list of ingredients – like all you would then still need to do is throw everything in a casserole, et voilà!” Not surprisingly, for Raphael, there is absolutely no love lost on ID diggers (i.e. collectors who are constantly asking others for track IDs). “What’s the point of building up an endless wish list? You’ll never be able to buy all of them. And even if you could, would that really make you any happier?”

Recently, the trendsetting music blog Fact Mag had lauding words for Raphael’s Disco Ajustements EP. The vinyl-only release on the Macadam Mambo label comprises four of his edits – reworked versions of old songs. “I look for songs I consider to be very good but not fit to play because there is something not entirely right about them. So I change a few things. I have already put out quite a number of edits, and there are still quite a few that have yet to see the light of day. Funnily enough, I’m noticing that I’m barely playing them myself. I mainly seem to be making them for others. That’s why I don’t plan on doing a lot more of these releases. I’m focusing more on my own productions right now, together with a friend of mine. We’ll see what comes of it.”

Throughout the years, Raphael has already sold a lot of records. “If I saw a profit, I didn’t hesitate to sell a good record. I did my best deal ever with Il Corpo by Piero Umiliani – an obscure Italian soundtrack from 1974. I managedtosellitfor€660–uptothisday the only registered sale for that record on Discogs.”

These days Raphael takes a more relaxed stance when it comes to selling. “I have a full-time job at a second-hand clothing store and I just don’t have that much time for it anymore.” But he remains a headstrong digger whose limited collection does not exhibit the cliché trademarks that this peculiar species is known for. It is pure and sober, just like the decoration of his apartment.