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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Thierry Steuve

My mother gave me 3,000 Belgian francs to go to the dentist. I spent it all on records.

Interview Koen Galle
Photographs Thomas Sweertvaegher

Thierry Steuve was one of the first foreign DJs who got invited to the UK by the mod scene. The modernists stood out by their dandy clothing, eye-catching scooters, and their fondness for soul and rhythm & blues. To this day, Thierry feels completely at home there; even though he remains a full-blooded Belgian and Bruxellois at heart.

Nevertheless, the British culture was grafted onto him while growing up – the sisters of both his father and mother married Englishmen after the Second World War. Spending his summers across the Channel, Thierry was introduced to the popular television show Ready Steady Go! – a name which led to his DJ moniker Thierry SteadyGo. He also got to know The Specials, and upon his return to Brussels he was eager to find out more about the band. “My mother gave me 3,000 Belgian francs to go to the dentist one day, but on my way there, I was hypnotized by the album covers in the window of Top Trente – a local record store. I walked in, and the owner shoved a huge crate of ska records under my nose. Needless to say, I walked back out with a stack of records and – to my mother’s dismay – sans 3,000 francs.” Thierry’s gapped smile reveals what the consequences were for his teeth. “Take as many pictures of my records as you like, but don’t get a close-up of my teeth!”

I once found this unique soul record – wedged in between Motörhead and The Police. It was worth €798 more than the €2 piece I traded it for. I have to admit: I really had to try my best to keep a straight face.

Thierry feels a pang of nostalgia, looking back on his first years of digging – when a little bit of money could buy you a huge amount of records. “Nowadays, everybody knows the exact value of a record, because of the internet. You really have to stay one step ahead of the pack to find something special. Digging has become hard work: scour a lot of flea markets, and never give up until you flipped the last record in a stack.” Also, once in a while, you will need a healthy dose of good fortune. “Not so long ago, I was at Kdx in Hasselt, one of the biggest record fairs in Belgium. I had pretty much seen the entire fair, when all of a sudden, I found this unique soul record – wedged in between Motörhead and The Police. It was worth €798 more than the €2 piece I traded it for. I have to admit: at times like those, I really have to do my best to keep a straight face. But you know, even then, I’m mainly interested in the music – not so much in the financial value. I never buy in order to sell.”

His statement appears to ring true when Thierry pulls out two copies of It’s Not Too Late / If It’s Love (It’s All Right) by Eddie Holland. He proudly regales us with a curious anecdote about an English pressing with a Belgian cover, which makes these copies extremely rare. Each one is said to be worth a two-week vacation – all included! “But I would never sell even one of them because I’m just too proud of them. I would also never ever buy a record for that much money myself. I have been doing this for too long, and precisely because of that, I’m fairly confident that I will cross paths with most records eventually.” It is hard for Thierry to put an exact figure on his vinylrelated expenses but he has noticed that he tends to spend more money when it’s hot outside, and the weather allows him to visit up to three or four flea markets in one day. He does not think of himself as an addict but he would consider being locked up for a month with no vinyl a serious crime against humanity, or at least his humanity. “I once had to sell a number of records, and I regret it to this day. I sold most of them to a good friend, so I know where they are, but it’s not like I can go over there and ask if I can have them back, right? What would you do?”

Thierry maintains an extraordinary classification system when it comes to his collection: by genre, and by country. His collector’s corner features an assortment of special records – protected by a plastic sleeve and nicely arranged in racks. He holds the original American pressings the dearest but also has a penchant for his Belgian, French, Dutch and Italian selections. “Each country has its own specific merits. For instance, the French versions are known to have very beautiful pictures on the cover but less dynamics in the sound because they tended to press entire EPs on a 7 inch. Sometimes however – because of licensing problems – a foreign pressing would be put in a Belgian sleeve, making it hard to decide which shelve to put them in. This one per example, Do You Love Me Now (That I Can Dance) by The Contours, is an English pressing in a Belgian sleeve. Do you know, by the way, why labels put so much attention and energy into the artwork? Back in the day, jukeboxes were everywhere and bar owners ended up hanging the empty sleeves on the wall.”

I once had to sell a number of records, and I regret it to this day. I sold most of them to a good friend, so I know where they are, but it’s not like I can go over there and ask if I can have them back, right? What would you do?

Thierry is obviously quite concerned with his records and with the quality of the sound system he is playing them on. His favorite venues and events are the legendary concert hall Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, concerts by Ghent music promoter Democrazy, and inside the immense Petrol club in Antwerp. He also regularly plays in France at happenings like Le Mans Classic, a race for vintage cars that takes place on the well-known Le Mans racetrack. Or that one time in the big room of Razzmatazz, the most acclaimed club in Barcelona. “People came up to ask if I was playing a remix of this particular song, but I was playing the original version on a radio station copy. Those copies are always way more dynamic, which is why the sound they generate on a big sound system is a lot fuller.” Make no mistake about it: for an audiophile like Thierry, the warm sound and feeling remain the most important characteristics of vinyl.

Thierry’s son cannot understand why his dad keeps on buying all that vinyl. He reasons that all that music can just as easily be found on YouTube. But his son’s skepticism has yet to give Thierry sleepless nights. “I take him digging sometimes but I’m not trying to convince him – I don’t think it’s ever really going to appeal to him as it did to me.” Thierry’s life partner on the other hand has no qualms about him spending most of his days at flea markets and record fairs. Mind you, he no longer buys for the sake of quantity. He has already had to discard too many records in his life due to inferior sound quality. That is why the Vestax has been his best friend for years. The portable turntable accompanies Thierry on every trip, enabling him to listen to any record right on the spot – in his eyes an indispensable tool for every digger.

Remarkably enough, MI6 special agent James Bond keeps popping up in different crates and cabinets around Thierry’s cozy home, and also The Beatles and Batman make a sporadic appearance. Thierry is a genuine collector, that’s for sure – a man who can spend hours rummaging around in boxes, looking for objects that hold little to no value to most other human beings. Or he dives headfirst into a crate of vinyl, looking for that one Italian cover with a British pressing of – jackpot! – an American rhythm & blues rarity from the ‘60s. “When we go on vacation, I need at least an hour or two in every town to sniff out the flea markets and record stores. I can almost smell the possibility of a good deal from a mile away. That’s when you’ll find me in a state of bliss.”