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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Seymour Kassel Records

Seymour Kassel Records

This is a place for discoveries, yet it is also a place to visit early in the month, when your paycheck still smells fresh and your account is ripe with abundant funds.

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Various

Last November, the Dansaert area in Brussels was host to the opening of another new record store, which brings the total to 22 shops in the capital. In his previous life, Stéphane Aisinber was a screenwriter and actor known as Seymour Kassel, a pseudonym that now graces the façade of his store. Original, yes, but not original original, as Aisinber drew inspiration from his great example Seymour Joseph Cassel, the now octogenarian American actor who rocked the silver screen in Honeymoon in Vegas and Indecent Proposal.

The black raven

The name is accompanied by a logo featuring a black bird, a clear reference to a whole bunch of album titles and bands who’ve hidden such a little bundle of blackamoor feathers somewhere in their lyrics or artwork. There’s Nina Simone’s song Blackbird, there’s The Beatles, of course, and then —why not— there’s even room for Linkin Park.

Blackbird is also what Aisinber’s friends used to call him. Being always dressed in black and having sharp facial features, it didn’t seem like that much of a stretch. Aisinber: “I wanted a name that meant something. I admit, I could’ve chosen a parrot, but it would have cost me a whole bunch more at the printer’s.”

Aisinber is no rookie in the record industry. Years ago, he was shown the ropes by four collectors, three of them Belgian, one American, who would travel the world in search of hard-to-find releases. The next logical step was for Aisinber to start buying the finest black gold himself. On his website and on Discogs, you’ll hardly find anything other than 1st pressings and impossible to find editions. However, his online existence proved to be a rather lonely one. As a remedy, Seymour Kassel Records became a fact. Aisinber: “The shop is basically an upgrade of what used to be my office. The only difference is you won’t catch me wearing pajamas anymore.” 

The white raven

The shop’s collection is rather succinct: you won’t pass the count of 500 when tallying all the sleeves on display. This might explain why any labeling or even alphabetical order has been deemed dispensable. This is a place for discoveries, yet it is also a place to visit early in the month, when your paycheck still smells fresh and your account is ripe with abundant funds.

Having looked for first editions and rare copies of albums for years, he is a man for whom stories matters.

Prices vary greatly, but keep in mind that 20 euro won’t buy you more than a can of cleaning liquid. The higher the vinyl is up on the wall, the more expensive it is. From 70 euro, it’s a steep climb to 130 euro, then 300 and all the way up to 500. The most expensive, a Steve Reich record, is only on sale online, for a whopping 5000 euro.

Aisinber knows his records, including the stories that are intertwined with their existence. Having looked for first editions and rare copies of albums for years, he is a man for whom stories matters. That also makes him a man who sells to others who like a good background story to their music rather than just to buy out of a bout of collector’s fever.

Beware of the Swiss

Aisinber himself was infected with the Morbus Gravis bacteria, years ago, which is known as the root cause of a dawdling disease known to turn peaceful music lovers into raucous collectors. As a result, Aisinber has many stories of the strange happenings in the collecting business.

For the collector’s realm is a strange one. “In Geneva, Switzerland,” Aisinber says, “there are warehouses where art objects of all kinds are stored in very controlled surroundings: top security, constantly monitored air quality… The works. Hundreds of thousands of records are kept there. And because one doesn’t pay taxes in Switzerland, collectors can buy from one another at rather interesting rates. So what happens is some records move from one box to another without ever leaving their privileged warehouse. How crazy is that?”

And of the Koreans, while you’re at it

“Speaking of strange goings-on”, Aisinber warns, “there’s a peculiar phenomenon affecting several shops, record fairs and flea markets in Brussels and beyond. Koreans are buying anything that has the slightest link with Asia. A classic Bach album conducted by an Asian, they buy without thinking twice. Often, these are rather cheap, especially because the condition seems a negligible feature for most of these buyers.”

Aisinber presumes a rich Korean has sent out some of his compatriots around the world to score as many records as possible which have a link to a certain theme, genre or category, with the purpose of being the sole proprietor of an extensive collection at some point in the near future. “That way, of course, this person controls the market.”

There’s stuff from the 70ies that no one has ever heard about, but which is incredibly good.

Generation X

Aisinber’s customers generally fit a different profile than the one described above, though. Of course, there are the hard core collectors. But there’s also a whole new generation who has rediscovered vinyl and has learned to appreciate it. Aisinber: “I want them what ‘new’ old music can sound like. The material on offer here is very diverse, including a lot of minimalistic and avant-garde records. There’s stuff from the 70ies that no one has ever heard about, but which is incredibly good.”

“And then there’s the slightly older customer. The one who’s grown up with vinyl records, then sold his entire collection to start hoarding CDs. All of them are now aiming to reassemble their old collections, which means they’re all fishing in the same waters.”

The dishwasher

Needless to say, Aisinber only buys records in mint condition. After a thorough cleaning, they’re paired with a sturdy piece of cardboard, put in a plastic sleeve and put up on the shelves. You may touch them, but with care. Listening is an option as well, as long as you can prove you have decent insurance.

So we’ve got records from all genres, ranging in the higher price categories, in mint condition. I wonder if anything Belgian might fit the description and spot a few homegrown records awaiting a new owner in return for a serious amount of cash. Remember this article we wrote a few months back in which we’d listed the most expensive Belgian records on Discogs? Belgium’s got some serious gold on offer. “It’s not so strange”, Aisinber says. “We’re a small country and records used to be printed in small print editions. If Irish Coffee had been a band from Luxemburg, prices would’ve gone through the roof even more.”