The Ardennes: forests, rivers & a record shop

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The southeast Belgian region The Ardennes is well-known for its rolling valleys, meandering rivers and dense forests, the perfect setting for a few days of nature and calmness. Right in the middle of this beautiful scenery, in the charming city of Spa, you can easily combine some of the typical touristic activities with a visit to the only and last-man-standing record shop in The Ardennes. R Factory is the place to be, a colourful and fun storefront welcomes visitors just around the corner of the Spa Casino. I’m meeting Sebastien Rader, the owner and a local dj born and bred in the iconic Ardennes. 

Once one of the founders of prestigious Berlin record store Hardwax visited my shop. He was extremely pleased to find records from the Belgian label Les Disques Du Crépuscule.

“It’s R for recyclage, my last name Rader and my dj name Radzeb De Moscou”, Sebastien explains. It’s indeed difficult to find a new record in the shop. But who needs new music with an offer of second hand records as intriguing as R Factory’s anyway? Rock, pop, hiphop, reggae, disco, italo, new beat, dance, retro house, sounds from Belgium, … the genres written on the vinyl dividers read as a history class of the music culture in this remote region of Wallonia. “Les trésors des Ardennes”, as Sebastien names his collection. “I’m constantly buying records from old people who are selling at flea markets or retired dj’s who want to get rid of their collection. Once one of the founders of prestigious Berlin record store Hardwax visited my shop. He was extremely pleased to find records from the Belgian label Les Disques Du Crépuscule. Impossible to get your hands on in Berlin, as he told me.”

It’s all about passion and hard work for Sebastien. On weekend mornings he wakes up before the dawn of the day to visit flea markets, long before he opens the doors of his shop in the afternoon. During the week the shop is closed, but customers can always make an appointment for a private visit. Sebastien has to keep a side job as barman in order to survive, but it’s the energy he gets out of vinyl records that keeps him going. “I have been buying records all my life, first as a dj and later as an investment for my pension. My idea to start a shop had always been something for when I was pensioned, but when this space became available to rent three years ago, I decided to make the jump. This used to be a store for design furniture from the seventies and before that a bike and motorbike shop. I bought my first bike as a kid in here, I still remember making an enthusiastic test ride through the whole building. I renovated the whole place and made it my home as well. I transformed the bike atelier in the back of the house to a private listening area for regular customers. The huge wall fresco is the masterpiece of the building now.”

Sebastien shows me a few other gems from his collection, some of them worth quite a few euros, such as a Spanish version of Johnny Hallyday, a Beethoven recording or a John Cage copy. It’s quite remarkable what he has to offer, from first Metallica pressings to a large variety of signed Walloon comedians or avant-garde hard to finds. It feels like R Factory has a giant vacuum cleaner collecting all the best records hidden in this part of the country. The shop also makes a good reminder of a lively nightlife, music and dj scene in The Ardennes of the eighties and the nineties. “Techno and electro were big over here”, recalls Sebastien. “I used to dj everywhere in the wide area and the city of Spa had about 18 clubs and bars at a certain time, thanks to the Casino that stayed open until late. Dj’s such as JD Davis, known as a vocalist for David Guetta, Sasha and Surfing Leons were very popular. But this all disappeared when we entered the new millenium. There is a small revival going on though and I’m very pleased to be part of it.”

R Factory
Rue Delhasse 25
4900 Spa
Sat 13:00 - 19:00 · Sun & Holidays 14:00 - 19:00 · Mon-Fri closed.
http://www.rfactory.be/

Words & pictures: Koen Galle