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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Vinyl Frontier Awards 2017

Vinyl Frontier Awards 2017

All rise for the members of the jury, please!

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Various

Some dates are more important than others. Do take note and use your bestest pen: on April 12, we will announce the winners of the very first Vinyl Frontier Awards — #VFA17 for short. Then we’ll know which artists will be lauded for Best Debut Album, Best Reissue, Best Artwork and Best Album. And because we like to be thorough, we’ve asked no less than thirty jury members to cast their votes.

Election time has come and gone and among others, the following three members of the jury have performed their duties with utter diligence. Nele Buys, front lady over at Consouling Store in Ghent, which doubles as a safe haven for labels Consouling Sounds and 9000 Records, as well as Consouling Agency. Kurt Overbergh is programmer at Ancienne Belgique, the finest rock hall in the realm. Carlo Andriani, last but never least, runs the Tune Up store in Antwerp. We sat them all down around a table, made sure their glasses were never half empty, stuck a microphone under their noses and had a giddy ol’ chat about RSD, Belgian black gold and the fine art of record collecting.

“Made In Belgium”

“This year was quite a feast in terms of Belgian releases”, Nele thinks. “The Niels van Heertum release on Smeraldina Rima, for instance, what a delight that was! And I recall Dirk Serries’ latest Microphonics album, as well as the new Dans Dans record, which keeps on spinning on my pick-up. Of course, we’ve tried to do our bit with our own labels. We’re proud of our list: The Portables, Tommigun, Manngold, CHVE, Syndrome, Inwolves, Alkerdeel, 30,000 Monkies, Wiegedood, Barst...”

Kurt has to start the interview with a confession. “I’ve bought a ludicrous amount of records this year. Paper Hats was really up there at the top, as was A Tribute To Moondog by Condor Gruppe. I’m amazed at how danceable they made Moondog sound. Another one worth mentioning is the 10-inch Beraadgeslagen made, featuring STUFF’s Lander Gyselinck. I keep on playing Taxiwars’ Fever, too. I’m a vinyl fan but I’m just as big on artwork. Just like the new DEEWEE releases, there’s a clear vision in the Taxiwars series and a highly recognisable feel to them that I very much appreciate. Of course, I shouldn’t forget Melanie De Biasio. It takes some balls to record a song that’s about 25 minutes long. And that very dark cover picture instead of charming-looking cute Melanie really did me in.”

“It’s a disease, sir. Please help me!”

Besides all of the aforementioned purchases, Kurt blindly buys everything Impulse! Records makes. “I might have been a little out of line, this year. The Vinyl Touch in Antwerp had about fifty Impulse! records in their catalogue. Experience has taught me these babies are hard to come by. So of course, I bought the whole lot. It’s a disease, sir. Please help me!”

“I love hanging around in record stores”, Kurt goes on. “The scenario is the same, everywhere I go. I go in. I wait for the dust to settle. They try and figure me out. As soon as they feel you know your stuff, you might get to know a thing or two. Vinyl digging takes some real métier, you know.”

Even though Carlo runs a shop, he mostly wants to listen to his own music at home. To him, it’s a completely different experience. “This year was a good year. My highlights include Trixie Whitley, Maurits Pauwels, Hamster Axis Of The One Click Panther, Niels Van Heertum and Black Flower. I also buy everything Ekster releases. I’m very much impressed with the things Victor Robyn and Roman Hiele have achieved there.”

“On average, I buy about three records a week. Last week, the Wizards Of Ooze reissued all their albums. I already had Bambee! and The Dipster, but Almost... Bikini was never released on vinyl before. And there’s a fourth album, Unheard Stories Helga Schroder, with material that was never previously published. So I guess I’ve already exceeded my quota for the week.”

Rebel rebel

“In January, HUMO published an article titled ‘Thé trend of 2017: music that calls for mutiny.’ That pretty much sums up what we do”, Nele says. It’s not easy to guide our music to a larger audience, as the mainstream media scarcely concern themselves with the genres we’re into. Luckily, many reviewers really do go in-depth and there are cultural institutions who believe and invest in something else. The Consouling night we get to organise at TRIX on April 27th is a fine example and we’re very grateful for the opportunity.”

Carlo sees some genre-shifting happening as well. “STUFF. really has gotten things to move. Saying you liked fusion or jazz used to be guaranteed to elicit lots of rolling eyes. STUFF. may not be the most innovative band, but they’re so good at what they do! I think it’s better to be a good copy with new influences than to try to come as close as possible to the original.”

“Looking at the vinyl wall here”, Carlo continues, “I think Belgian bands are at the top of their game where artwork is concerned. STUFF. has Rinus Van de Velde on their sleeve, while the reissue of Zita Swoon’s I Paint Pictures On A Wedding Dress is in very good company next to Trixie Whitley, Star Club West and Niels Van Heertum.”

Any favourite spots?

Nele likes to pay a visit to every new record store to meet the owners and check out what’s on offer. “I think it’s important to be up to speed with our colleagues’ challenges. So we went to say hi at Kortom in Kortrijk and George And The Bear is on the to do list. If only there were 36 hours in a day…”

“The Vinyl Touch is my favourite at the moment, mostly because of my hunger for old jazz tunes like Impulse!, Prestige and Stax”, Kurt says. “The Antwerp store has doubled in size last year and the offer is really impressive. Where vintage originals are concerned, they’ve definitely stood up the competition.”

The vinyl countdown

Of course, we want to know just how badly the members of the jury are looking forward to RSD. “Badly!”, Nele enthusiastically concedes. “Even though there’s been a lot of critique of the concept being hollowed out and the goods being sub-par. I don’t care. It’s great to have a reason for extra cosiness in the store. And of course, we hope to reach a bigger audience through the gigs we organise.”

“It’s not wholly unjust criticism, though”, Nele explains. “We’d like to see some more local releases. If you want to make the official RSD list, though, you’re asked to increase your print run substantially. Understandable from the view point of the distributors, but surely a bit of pity as the initial idea was for RSD to promote limited editions.”

Kurt, too, has his reservations in the face of all these black gold celebrations, albeit on a more personal level. “It’s a great day, don’t get me wrong. But as a vinyl addict, I must not leave the house on such a dangerous day”, he jokes. “I don’t even have the time to listen to what I’ve bought so far. Plus, I do think the list is a bit thin. So I’ll skip this year, but since I have nothing but love for RSD, I’ll definitely be back in 2018!”

Carlo’s shop participates each year. “Matt Watts, Mauro and a few others will play a live set. I do worry about the prices, though. Some records have to be sold at 20 euro, yet I buy them for 23 euro. That can not and should not go on.” That being said, Carlo prefers to concentrate on all the perks. “It’s always a great day. RSD brings out a lot of customers you don’t see during the rest of the year. In the end, the goal is just to make people happy. ”