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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

The Vinyl Frontier Live: Marc Hollander

The Vinyl Frontier Live: Marc Hollander

Listen Festival and Red Bull Belgium proudly present ‘The Vinyl Frontier live’: a series of 6 live interviews with vinyl lovers conducted during the Pre-Listen evenings at the ING Art Center in Brussels between March 16 and March 25 2017.

Interview Koen Galle / Bianca Boselli
Photographs Clotilde Peeters

Marc Hollander is a musician, producer and the creator of the independent record label Crammed Discs. This Brussels based record label is still active and released hundreds of records since its creation in 1980.

Marc founded the band Aksak Maboul in 1977 with Vincent Kenis. The aesthetics of Aksak Maboul (deconstructing and fusing many different genres, from rock, jazz, and electronics to fake African, Balkan & minimal music) can retrospectively be viewed as a blueprint for most of the music which was released by Crammed during the next three decades.

With the release of their third album Ex-Futur in 2014, an album that lay on the shelves for 30 years, a fresh breath of life was given to the band resulting in new live shows and a remix album.

Marc would not consider himself as a record collector, but more as a music fan. Vinyl is important to him, in the first place as being the sole medium to release his music when he started Aksak Maboul and Crammed Discs. Over the years his relation with vinyl has become more complicated, given the possibilities of digital formats. Each format has a different set-up, requires a different technique, and the commercial distribution widely changes from one to another. For Marc the recent vinyl trend is more about the objects rather than the music that comes out of these objects.

1. Howlin Wolf - Moanin’ At Midnight:

This record is from the fifties and introduced me to English rock bands, like the very early Rolling Stones. From there it drove me to find others paths. I think that when you’re a music fan, you follow paths without knowing where you’re going. So Howlin Wolf led me to blues, then garage psychedelic rock and to wilder instrumental things in the years that followed.

I discovered this record when I was 16. It’s very haunting, about wolves moaning and things happening at night. But there is also something special in the sound. Because of the limitations of that time, this crackling, compressed sound brings something strange to the entire composition. It really pictures the darkness of Brussels’ music scene in the sixties. I remember there was this department store on the Avenue Louise called Sarma. They had a record section, with turntables and headphones. I would stop there on my way back from school, and that is where I discovered a lot of rock and psychedelic tracks.

2. Edgar Varese - Ionisation

Edgar Varese was a 20th century contemporary classical composer. He was from France but moved to the USA, where his career started. He didn’t compose a lot in terms of quantity but his work was very influential.

This song is a percussion piece and is rhythmically very interesting. I picked this piece to show that I listened to a lot of classical things when I was a teenager, next to various other genres. Belgium is a strange place to grow up in because we don’t really have a dominant culture, there’s not one cultural path to follow. You can create your own styles, by picking stuff here and there. And that’s what I did.

3. Soft Machine - As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still

The English bands we encountered a few minutes ago (while hanging out at the record department of Sarma, around the mid-60s), had developed into psychedelic rock. All kinds of influences came together into that music, from jazz to electronic music. Soft Machine was very influential to me, and this record in particular. When I bought this record in 1969, I was fascinated by the organ sound made with a fuzz box. I immediately managed to get myself one, and I still use it today. In Aksak’s most recent set, there are short moments where I play it and these are a tribute to this band.

What I really liked about some of their tracks is the asymmetrical rhythms. The word Aksak is the Turkish word for ‘walking with a limp’, to describe an uneven rhythm in Turkish and Arabic music.

4. The Mothers of Invention - Zolar Czakl

This is Frank Zappa’s band before he put out records under his own name and before he drifted more into the ’joker / funny guy’ style. The records he made in this particular period are amazing. They opened an entirely new world for me. He used rock rhythms, with structures inspired by classical artists such as Varese. He created very exciting rhythms and complicated lines on top of a heavy beat. I love it when there’s an underlying beat and then you have all of these other things piled up on top of it. There is a lot of editing on this track, speeding or slowing down tapes. It’s chaotic yet very structured, and sounds like music played by a mediaeval Chinese palace from outer space.

5. Anestos Athounasiou - Asimenio Fengari

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This artist is Greek but the record is gypsy music from the Middle East. Here again, the rhythm is very important. It’s an odd one, similar to what you can find in Aksak Maboul’s music. I put it in my selection to give you an impression of all the different styles I used to listen to when I was younger. You could find these records anywhere in Brussels, but they weren’t very popular. What we call « world music » has evolved over the years. Globalization has opened our eyes to what is happening elsewhere, and this gradual change was mirrored in music too.

6. Juana Molina - Cosoco

This record isn’t out yet, it’s coming out on Crammed Discs in May. Obviously, I had to put at least one track from my label in my selection today!

Juana Molina is a unique artist from Argentina, with a unique story. She’s very minimalist, playing with very limited elements. The story of how we met is a funny one. In 2011 we were looking for artists to do remixes or covers for the Congotronics tribute project on Crammed Discs. The boss of the Domino label gave me Juana’s record, and I discovered something that was very special, at the same time very acoustic and electronic. We got in touch and she did this tour with us. We immediately clicked, as if we had known each other forever. When she was only 20 years old and playing music in Argentina, Juana realized she needed a job to sustain herself as an artist. Since she was very funny and good with interpretations, she applied for a job at a TV channel. She was hired in a humor show, and it went so well that a year later she got her own show. It was broadcasted all over Latin America and she soon became one of the most famous comedians. She was hugely successful but after seven years, she decided that TV had never been her plan and stopped the show to go back to music. It was 20 years ago but her fans still hate her for this decision. The music she creates now is much edgier than her audience was at the time. People would come at her shows, thinking it was just another funny character she had made up. But the joke never ended, since it wasn’t a joke to begin with. She pursued her path as a musician, built a large following in the UK, the US and Japan, and was (lazily) described by some US journalist as "the South American Björk"…

7. Miles Davis - Pharaoh’s Dance

This record is the beginning and the end of jazz-rock. Davis was inspired by repetitive rhythms and patterns. But, on these steady foundations, there are a lot of melodic, rhythmic and harmonic shifts. The interesting thing about this record is that it’s full of edits. They jammed for hours and then him and his producer edited the entire track. It’s actually made by editing analog tape with a razor blade because there were no computers at the time. They just decided “okay, this section could come twice or three times” and created different themes from recurring improvised sections. Some of the edits are pretty rough, on purpose, you can hear the different bits put together. It’s obvious when you start noticing it, but the roughness of some edits is definitely part of the composition.

Now with technology, there are no limits to what you can do with music. But at that time, you had no choice. You had to come up with that groundbreaking idea to create something different: select sections and treat them as themes and elements for a composition. Now you can process everything backward and forwards. It’s amazing on one hand but it’s more limiting in another way too.

8. This Heat - 24 Track Loop

This band was very influential at the end of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties. We now call this the post-punk period, although there wasn’t anything punk about it. They were very experimental and they sort of bridged the gap that existed between kraut rock and post-punk & dub. This Heat is like a dark star that shined for a couple of years, influenced a lot of people and then disappeared. They have reformed now though and are touring again.

9. Juryman - Prophet and the Fool

Juryman is an English artist and producer who released on Crammed Discs. He’s been doing electronic music for twenty years and was one of my favourites, but we never managed to popularize his music enough. It’s very soulful and jazzy. Juryman symbolizes one aspect of Crammed Discs during the nineties, it shows how broad we’ve always been. Crammed Discs was and still is very versatile, you can’t pinpoint one style.

10. Van Twist - Shaft

This is a rare track from an artist called Van Twist, and he only released this one record. It’s actually Marc Moulin who was behind it, probably with Dan Lacksman. They did a cover of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft in 1985, and I thought I’d show it tonight because it’s a very rare record. Marc Moulin kind of shaped my story, he made me record my first album. He almost commissioned it, saying “you should do a record for my label”. His label actually lasted for one day, on which it released 4 records and that was it. It was called Kamikaze, which was definitely an appropriate name.