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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Slam dunk

Slam dunk

Our audience has been true to vinyl for decades.

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Wout Lievens

The least we can say about the ladies and gents running dunk!, is that they’ve been hot-headed about their endeavors over the last few years. After the dunk!festival and a label called dunk!records, they’ve now opened a dunk!store. And that’s not all: the festival in Zottegem will soon have a spin-off in the US, no less.

Dunk!festival is deeply rooted in Velzeke and its surroundings, but the dunk!store sets up shop in Ghent for practical reasons: the office has been there for several years already. Wout Lievens now has his office in the store, or the other way around, depending on how you look at things. 

The wolves that started it all

Don’t expect a huge store with a plethora of crates to dig your way through. Things here are cosy. When I was there, a bunch of students just came in to have a look at the CDs — a slightly slinking collection. As it turns out, one of the fellows buys the record that was the spark to start dunk!records. Wout: “Kokomo ‎– If Wolves was our very first release. After their passage at the festival, they jokingly asked me to release their album. They were very surprised when I just said yes. That day, dunk!records was born.” It’s no surprise the bands featured at the festival and those whose name appear on the release roster are all intertwined.

In the meantime, the Kokomo album is being repressed for the third time. With each release, dunk! made small edits. Details that might look unimportant at first, but that really do make the difference. Every dunk! release is one that will make you drool. Of course, music still comes first, but having studied the arts himself, Wout knows what tickles his audience.

That audience has been true to vinyl for decades. Dunk! used to release CDs, but these days, it’s vinyl only — making it quite funny that student was able to pick out the one CD that started the whole story.

Always say yes to the pelican

Next to their own releases, the store offers records which are hand-picked from the wide network that has been created through all these years of running the festival. You’ll find releases from befriended labels and co-releases with Time As A Color, A Thousand Arms and i.corrupt Records next to Mogwai, Russian Circles and Nick Cave.

Wout is particularly proud of his limited but high-quality assortment. Among other releases, he has the new Pelican record on the shelves, a live album that was recorded at dunk!festival in 2016, which became a gorgeous gatefold, with two coloured vinyl LPs.

When Pelican came to Wout with the audio files of their gig, they were pleasantly surprised with the sound quality. Wout contacted graphic designer Xavi from Error! Design, happy to be releasing an album by one of the bigger bands in the post-rock genre. More of these live recordings are planned in the future, by the way, so do keep your eyes peeled. 

Get a notepad out

Asked for some favourites, Wout tells us to have a look at Belgian formation Terraformer, while in the category “don’t judge a record by it’s sleeve” Flash The Readies ‎– Kayos stands out. Wout: “Definitely great artwork, but I’m afraid the fans won’t get it. The link between the design and the music is a bit lost, which is a pity since it’s such a great record.”

More Belgian yumminess, you ask? “Check out Ilydaen from Liège”, Wout says. “After Cocaine Piss, It It Anita and La Jungle, the city keeps on spawining grat bands.” On the other side of the country, Wout looks forward to All We Expected’s debut, made in West-Flanders. 

Something to look forward to: dunk! has plans to start pressing their own albums soon, starting off with their own releases while already making plans to work with friends from all over the European post-rock scene. The plans for world domination don’t end here, though: chances are a music centre might open its doors in the Zottegem area in 2018.

The idea is to house a concert hall as well as a rehearsal space for bands, as the demand for both is high. Many people are making music, yet there is too little support. The music centre aims to be a place where (future) musicians can come together. Wout describes it as follows: “You don’t need to play in a band to hang out there, but you might find some band members there. We want to host try-outs and gigs, be a low-entry place where you can start from scratch, but maybe, later on, you’ll walk out with a record in your pocket.”