“There’s no way to define it simply. It’s music that evolves in a Bermuda triangle between rock, world and electronic music.” Deciphering the bewildering world of Brussels-based record label Crammed Discs

More than anything, Marc Hollander’s phenomenally-diverse imprint Crammed Discs has always had an eye towards the future. Be it in the release back in 1980 of Aksak Maboul’s second album Un peu de l’Ame des Bandits, its work with post-punk outfit Tuxedomoon in the mid-80s or in its most recent release of Matias Aguayo’s latest project Matias Aguayo & The Desdemonas, the label has ingenuously straddled the often-treacherous waters of the music industry for close to 40 years despite its mind-boggling catalogue. Indeed, this is a label that managed to emerge from the limitations of genre-defining to create a home for artists as far apart as, say, Israeli new wave band Minimal Compact, top-selling Brazilian lounge act Bebel Gilberto and Norwegian synth-pop two-piece Bel Canto without batting an eyelid. A label for whom artistic freedom and musical experimentation came first, and who just happened to make a commercial success out of it. Over 350 releases, numerous sister labels (SSR, Made To Measure, Language, Selector) and countless special series (Congotronics) later, the label remains as relevant as ever, its seemingly indefatigable founder not for one minute bathing in the luxury of his past successes – and they were many, not least his recent reformation, together with Véronique Vincent, of Aksak Maboul which resulted in the much-anticipated Ex-Futur Album. In a candid two-hour interview conducted in the unassuming Ixelles townhouse that serves as headquarters to the label’s global operations, we talk to Marc about the fetishism surrounding vinyl records, not being a legacy label and how a chance encounter with Marc Moulin gave him his first big break.

Listen back to Marc Hollander’s two-hour debut for The Word Radio.

Visuals by Thomas Ost (c).

When we first exchanged emails, you were very adamant that you were not too keen on us talking about the past too much.

I meant not focusing solely on the re-releases. We just happen to be re-issuing four albums this autumn and people focus on that a lot. They’re great records and it’s great that they’re being released but it would be nice to look more to the present and the future than the past. We’re certainly not a legacy label. It’s great that people dig out records that are forgotten and re-issue them, but that’s really not the core of our activities. I’d say we’re more focused on working with people in the “now”, be it today or 30 years ago.

I recently saw a documentary about British label Planet Mu and the journalist described them as being an exercise in irrationality and I thought the description to be a fitting one for Crammed too.

Hmmm maybe, I’d have to think about it. I don’t know. Irrationality… It’s very simple really. I’m a music fan first and foremost, and then I became a musician. What drives me is finding people that make music that I find exciting, and with whom I can get on with. That’s an important factor as we’re a small team. The third element is that we need to believe we can bring something to the artist and achieve something with his specific music, whether it’s more experimental, or trying to reach a broader audience. Our specific means and network have to contribute to his work. It’s very simple basically.

Half-Mute (1985)

What I wonder is, what’s the underlying thread that binds the releases?

When you look at the outcome, it’s very diverse, but this is maybe the result of having very broad tastes and not being restricted to one music genre. So the output may seem a bit irrational indeed. I think it’s just the result of growing up in Brussels in the 60s. There wasn’t a dominant scene, it was a pretty fractured country but also a very open one for that matter.

So you’d oscillate between the electronic and contemporary art scenes?

They didn’t really exist as such but I was into very different things. Psychedelic pop, soul music, funk, contemporary classical music, non-European music, folk, and a couple of odd things I probably forget. Going to the Discothèque Royale – which became the Mediathèque, and is now known as PointCulture – really shaped me. When I started making music, I was trying to imitate styles that I couldn’t do because I wasn’t good enough, but then it created a hybrid that was kind of my own maybe.

How old were you at the time?

I was born in 1950 so I was 15 or 16 when I started making music.

Coming back to your relationship with Brussels, you were talking about this very fragmented scene that meant being exposed to different genres, and that shaped what you became as a musician. But did it also shape the label?

The label derived from my work as a musician, and first as a music fan, ingesting loads of different things. The first record I put out, which wasn’t on Crammed, was the first Aksak Maboul record. That was already like a sushi menu of many different colours and shapes.

What do you make of the “art rock” tag affixed to Aksak Maboul?

I don’t know what to think about it but, yeah, whatever. If that’s how people perceive it… It has elements of rock but also lots of other things: jazz, minimal music, electronic music, and vague imitations of non-European music. I think the record, without any false modesty, is successful because it features a good way of failing at making impressions of other types of music – not being able to do it, and for it to become personal. If you’re too good a musician you can impersonate anybody, but there’s no interest.

So Brussels’ fragmentation was inherent in shaping you as a musician.

Yes, of course. It’s a good place for people to work. The social life isn’t as hectic, tiring or time-consuming as it would be in cities such as Paris, London or New York, where people go to parties, to shows, they see people… You get the impression that they’re very active, but maybe less productive. That’s why artists from abroad came to Brussels, and still do. There is this intrinsic activity that attracts them here. From a musical point of view, labels such as ours –  or even Les Disques du Crépuscule which started out around the same time as us – brought artists here because we were based here. It was more convenient to be closer to the action. It’s a city where people work separately, and then they go out and often present their work abroad. People don’t always connect with each other here. A lot of the people here don’t know each other or have never met. We’re all following our separate paths. Crépuscule started at the same time as we did but we had little contact with them, for instance. They were similar to us in that they worked with artists from different countries and they also presented their work everywhere, plus we also had the same distributor at one point, but that was pretty much it.

The social life in Brussels isn’t as hectic, tiring or time-consuming as it would be in cities such as Paris, London or New York. You get the impression that they’re very active, but maybe less productive.

That’s also a very peculiar thing about a city such as Brussels. It is small but it has enough room for two relatively similar labels to come out at the same time and have no contact…

Also because our audience wasn’t specifically in Brussels. The audience of the label is a little bit of a mirror image of the music industry in general. When you look at the charts, it’s the same. Belgium makes up maybe 5% of our sales. France would be 20, same thing for Germany, the UK or Japan.

Were other places instrumental in forming your education as a musician?

Apart from La Discothèque Royale? I can’t think of a specific place. There wasn’t one specific club for live music. With Aksak Maboul we played in different places that don’t exist anymore. The Honeymoon Killers, my first band, were very popular in a radius of about five kilometres from Ixelles/Elsene. They played in Brussels bars and were very outrageous. They did shocking, completely over the top stuff all the time and were legendary on a local level. But when they merged with Aksak Maboul it became a different thing and we mostly played outside Belgium – in Germany, France, a little bit in the UK and Japan.

In today’s Internet age I can see how a label would start releasing stuff from Japan and the Congo, but how were these relationships possible pre-Internet?

A lot of the encounters we made with the label happened by accident, and I actually quite like that. There’s always an element of chance. It’s not like we’re sitting here and looking at the world or at certain scenes and thinking: “where are we going to explore?” Take crate diggers, for instance. Some people will say: “I’m going to go to Iran and look for records”. We never really did that. Things just happen and you meet a musician that introduces you to another one, or a fan that brings a band to us, it all happens very organically. People used to send us a lot of promos through the post too. We used to get a lot of demo tapes and listen to them. I haven’t done the numbers, I don’t know the exact number of releases that came from demo tapes being sent, but there was definitely a sizeable proportion of people just reaching out to us.

“It’s perpetually evolving, kind of like a blob that puts out a different tentacle in a different direction every now and then.”

Can you take me back to the early days of the label, how did it start exactly?

The label grew out of Aksak Maboul, which was my band where I invited people to come collaborate with us and do different series of shows with musicians I liked. And then I thought about doing this more systematically, as a way to escape dealing with the anxiety of the blank canvas so to speak. I was afraid I’d end up repeating myself if I did another record, which is also a constant in the label – always jumping from one corner to the other. So I started thinking about releasing other people’s music and connecting people and creating different projects with different people.

Where you act as a curator?

You could say that, yeah. Among the first bands was Minimal Compact. I had met Samy, the band’s singer, he had heard about me putting out my own record and came to me with a tape, which was Minimal Compact’s debut. Then I met a musician called Hector Zazou in Paris, whose music shared some connections with Aksak Maboul. He introduced me to a friend of his, a Frenchman in New York, who was working with a singer and it was Band Apart, the second thing we put out. Things came about organically like that. One person introduces you to another and so on. Bel Canto, a Norwegian band, was the first instance of somebody sending out a tape through the post and us releasing it. It was in 1988, and the band ended up moving to Brussels, eventually branching out into different things.

In the early days, defining what the “Crammed sound” was must have been really difficult. Now with 30 years of releases behind you I suppose it’s slightly easier. How did you express it to your first artists?

I don’t think I knew what the Crammed sound was. It’s perpetually evolving, kind of like a blob that puts out a different tentacle in a different direction every now and then – you never really know from which side it’s coming next. We were viewed as an art rock/post-new wave/arty imprint in the 80s. But then again we also worked with pre-world music releases and electronic artists such as Zazou Bikaye. That’s one of the first records we put out and it’s by no means “art” or “rock”. But people always want to try to define and pigeonhole you because most independent labels focus on one style or one sound, and we’re sort of fundamentally unable to do that. On the other hand, it also makes life exciting and fun. In the late 80s, when the wave of Detroit techno and what was called acid house happened, I was really into that. I recognised elements of stuff that I liked before and thought it was great. Some of our fans and even certain journalists however were dismayed. “What, you’re putting out that stuff? It’s crap, it won’t sell!” kind of thing. And then of course things evolve and genres become acceptable. In the 90s we were putting out music that was very electronic on the one hand – we released around 60 albums of electronic music at the time on SSR, Language, and Selector, our sub labels – and at the same time we started working with stuff that was more “world” and “acoustic” such as Zap Mama, Taraf de Haïdouks, Kočani Orkestar. Some people view us as a world music label, others as an electronic one and, when you do that, you’re never totally legitimate. People think: “Something must be wrong with these guys. You can’t be that and that at the same time. It’s not possible. You have to be totally into one thing in order to be worth something.” Then, in the following decade, we worked with Brazilian music a lot – again an accident, another part of the blob if you like. Somebody introduced us to a Brazilian, who sent us a tape with lots of interesting artists, we started working with some of them, one thing led to another, and we soon had a sub-label with 25 releases by new Brazilian artists.  These people were making a combination of non-European music and electronic music, just merging both. In the later part of the decade we worked more with rock and indie bands, starting with Akron/Family and Megafaun. We sort of dropped all these sub labels today but, back then, we felt we had to hide the fact that we had such eclectic tastes, as if it was a deficiency. But people can live with that today.

It could be a silly question but if you were asked to summarise in two minutes what it is you do with Crammed, how would you describe it?

There’s no way to define it simply. It’s music that evolves in a Bermuda triangle between rock, world and electronic music. There might be a few other angles to the triangle but somewhere in there, some are totally in one corner whilst others are a combination of these elements. I can’t say that every release fulfils this mission though, as we’re also a business and we have to put out a certain number of records and sometimes things fall a little bit outside of that.

A lot of smaller record labels read us and I’d love to talk to you frankly about the business logic behind a label in the early 80s, but more so today because, like you said, it still is a business. Where does most of the revenue come from? Made To Measure, for instance, looks like a series that’s clearly geared towards TV and the media industry – was that the case or not?

No it’s the opposite actually. The made to Measure series was born out of the idea, that’s not so new anymore, of imaginary soundtracks. It was a way to put instrumental music in one box, in one series. But it wasn’t geared towards trying to put music in films. I’ve learned over the years that it’s quite the opposite. You think a certain piece of music is very filmic and would be good in films, but it probably means it’s going to be harder to place because there’s a lot of music like that, and there are composers that specialise in music for films. Whereas if you do something that’s very special and cannot be replaced by library music, then you have a better chance of getting out there. That was very much the case for our Congolese releases, because there isn’t much of that stuff around. Going back to your question, the revenue streams have indeed shifted, which is no secret. We started out super small and I was alone, the staff then grew to ten people, and now we’re down to four. We had to downsize before it was too late. The revenue in figures also grew at one point. We had some big records like Bebel Gilberto’s in 2000, which sold one million copies. It increased revenues but also our expenses because you work really hard on one record for maybe three years. And with a combination of licenses, distributors, independents, majors, and just holding on to all these strings from here, from this very headquarter (which must mostly be credited to Hanna Gorjaczkowska, who runs the label with me. She built our network and supervises all distribution, marketing and promotion affairs). But that’s the way to succeed with stuff that’s not so conventional. Bebel’s record may sound lounge-y, especially with many similar things having been done since, but it wasn’t an obvious thing to develop worldwide back then. Majors don’t know how to do that, basically. They have a very formatted way of working and looking at figures, and it has to reach that target after a certain number of weeks. We work much more on a grassroots level and try to create and amplify a buzz separately in each country, not with huge advertising campaigns but with local contacts. Anyway, I’m veering off, back to your question: 15 years ago, physical sales were about 80% of our total revenue and then it dropped to 15 or 20%. Digital hasn’t exactly compensated for that but it’s definitely overtaken physical sales. The general revenue has dropped of course. Other things have grown like exploitation in films, commercials, documentaries and TV series. So we work more actively on that, but there are no guaranteed results. We just need to develop contacts, feed the music to a large number of potential users and maybe something will happen one, two or five years down the road.

What would you say to industry people who see you suddenly reissuing certain parts of your catalogue – Aksak Maboul, Zazou Bikaye, Yasuaki Shimizu – as capitalising on the much-mediatised return of the vinyl format?

Well, if you look at the Zazou Bikaye record, we put it out on vinyl in the early 80s. It’s one of my favourite records on the label. We should have stopped after that. No I’m joking but you get the point – it’s really special. We tried to re-launch it in the early 90s but there was not much interest for it then. In 2003, we re-issued 12 albums from the 80s on CD – some of them which had never come out on CD. It generated interest but people focused on The Honeymoon Killers, Aksak Maboul, Tuxedomoon, Minimal Compact, but the Zazou Bikaye re-issue didn’t really get that much traction. Then, over the last two years, I sensed that there was growing interest in the record so it was an obvious thing to do. People are into vinyl reissues these days and I do personally have mixed feelings about that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great format but there is an element of fetishism to its current revival. Then again, the purpose is to give access to things that were forgotten, which is never a bad thing.

Zazou Bikaye’s record is one of my favourites, and you’ve just mentioned it being close to your heart. Why do you think it still resonates 30 years on?

It’s just a very strong and special record. African music has been on the rise for a while, electronic music too, and it’s just a really special combination of both. It’s very organic too. You have a lot of these electro-afro fusion music producers that create these sounds or samples but in this case they’re totally interlaced. The stuff that sounds the most African on Bikaye’s record is often not African at all, it’s the analogue synthesisers used by these CY1 guys that created these really strange sounds and rhythms. that these guys used that created these really strange sounds and rhythms.

The non-limitation of computerised music is a limitation in itself because you just never know where to stop.

Zazou, Hikaye and CYI;
Noir Et Blanc (1983)

The album was recorded here in Brussels, can you talk to me a little about the recording sessions?

Once again a chance encounter. Bony Bikaye was a Congolese musician who was interested in electronic music even before Hector Zazou was. He was fascinated and wanted to learn how to use synths. He met Zazou, who was a journalist and had interviewed him for Radio Nova. Zazou introduced him to CY1, guys who had a collective of geeks that were working with these huge computers. They did these demos, then Zazou who I had met offered to do this record and record it. We went to this studio where we’d spent a lot of time back in the 80s. It used to be called Daylight, then later Caraïbes, but now it’s gone unfortunately. It was a great space. We had some equipment there and had all the night slots, which at times was pretty hard… You had this slump before 6 am where no one was really productive but we did some great stuff there. The Zazou Bikaye sessions weren’t recorded at night though. They just brought their huge synths – I’m tempted to say computers but they weren’t. I guess one is just not used to seeing synths as proper machines. We re-created the rhythms, Bony laid the vocals on top and it was partly composed on the spot. The entire album was recorded in eight to ten days.

How would you describe your own contribution to the record?

Zazou was like a director. He didn’t play a note but made some arrangements. I played some clarinet. We brought in a percussionist who used to play with Aksak Maboul. We mixed the album without any of them. Gilles Martin, a sound engineer who worked with us a lot at the time, Vincent Kennis, and myself mixed the album. Creating something like that in the studio was a great experience and it was fun. Technology now enables you to do things that couldn’t be done at the time but limitation also allows for creative freedom. And conversely, the non-limitation of computerised music is a limitation in itself because you just never know where to stop. If you’re a perfectionist, it’s hell. We used a mixing technique close to that of dub music. You needed three pairs of hands on the desk because there was no automation. You have to proceed section by section, then you stop the machine and start again, and you have to edit with a razor blade. There are accidents that are great and some that are not so great. There is a certain spontaneity to it. The mixing board as an instrument is very organic.

You briefly mentioned Vincent Kenis, who’s also someone who comes back often in the Crammed story. Could you talk to me about your relationship with him?

He’s a mad professor basically. And a great musician and producer. In the last 15 years he’s been very focused on the Congo – which doesn’t mean to say he does only that.  met him ages ago, when we were 20. We played together in Asak Maboul, he contributed a lot to creating the 1st album. We became a live band after that, then he left, he wasn’t on the second record, then when we merged with The Honeymoon Killers he came back, from 1980 to 1985. Crammed existed by that time and so he worked with the label on and off at the beginning and mostly afterwards. He essentially operates as an artistic director if you like.

The Congotronics series was an initiative of his?

It happened gradually. Vincent kept going to the Congo and was totally into all kinds of Congolese music. Then he got into what they call ‘tradi-modern’ music which is traditional music that’s electrified, played in Kinshasa, and amplified for practical reasons. He decided to produce and record bands such as Konono N.1 and Kasai Allstars, and we released them in a series called Congotronics. Vincent’s original impulse came from a jazz musician whose name was Benoit Quersin who went to the Congo, where he became a musicologist and recorded a lot of music for years. Vincent, through a friend of his parents, got to know the guy when he was a teenager and became totally fascinated by this music. After going there for years and learning to play the guitar in that style, he got invited to tour Africa as a stand-in keyboardist in a band made of Congolese and Nigerian musicals. He also played with Franco and OK Jazz, who’s like the godfather of Congolese and African pop in general on his last record. The guy who invited him told him: “You’d better be good when you play that part because you’re the first white guy to ever play with Franco.” And then Franco says: “That’s not quite true. There’s a guy who played on my first recording in the 50s and his name was such and such.” Vincent thinks this name rings a bell and he researches it and it turns out that guy was a distant uncle of Vincent’s that he had never even known about! Apparently he had played a part and had introduced Cuban music to the Congo, he ran a radio there and had gone completely native, which is why his family didn’t want to know about the guy because he lived with what they perceived as “tribes men”. Anyway, that’s Vincent’s story.

Whilst we’re on the subject of relationships, I also wanted to talk about Marc Moulin, whom you met while recording Cos.

I played in my first band when I was a student back in 1969. It combined free jazz and rock, and we had applied for a contest in which all the bands were sort of blues-rock. We came and played some wild jazz with tracks that lasted over 12 minutes and the jury, in which Marc Moulin was, thought it was amazing because it was super avant-garde and different from the rest. Jo Dekmine, from Theatre 140, was also in the jury. Speaking of influential places, that one was definitely up there. It still exists today but at the time it was really vibrant, and it was a fairly small venue where you could see bands such as Pink Floyd or Soft Machine before they blew up. So Marc Moulin knew me from that band, although it ended up being really short lived. And then he came to produce the Cos album and he was starting his Kamikaze label, which was very short lived too, and he just asked me to do a record, which was the first Aksak Mabout record, and that pretty much is the story.

But so he pretty much gave you a start with that first record.

Yes, totally.

Did he help shape you as a musician or as a label afterwards?

No, not during the recording. He’s credited as co-producing it but there wasn’t much that he could say or reject or suggest because it was my own thing, really.

There seems to be a very humoristic way of trying to test out audiences and see how far you can push the boundaries of the things you’re going to release under the Crammed label and still retain the same audience. Do you think the audience has followed Crammed in all its new openings or directions?

I don’t think there’s one audience that follows everything. Unfortunately. I’d love that but I think people go for certain things. We’ve under-branded the label for years. We’re more about working with artists we find exciting and focusing on them rather than ourselves. It’s also hard to brand something that’s so eclectic. Now it’s maybe more possible.

There definitely seems to have been a shift, whereby people realise that Crammed does have a position…

Yeah because first of all, when you stick around for long enough you become a monument just because you’re still around, because you’ve survived. Not so many independent labels manage to stay afloat and do new things, move in unexpected directions. For years, people tried to describe us as a world music label, which I hate. It’s kind of a prejudice because we work with people from all over the place and sometimes just because they don’t sing in English, it’s immediately qualified as world music which obviously is a perception some artists struggle to shake off. Juana Molina, for example, hates being put in that section. What’s “world music” about her? Except the fact that she sings in Spanish? You see reviews, especially in the UK, saying: “she beautifully adapts folk music from her home country”. What a load of bullshit, really! People often think we’re a world music label just because of the amount of non-standard – I’m talking in terms of nationality here – artists we work with.

What do reissues like the Zazou Bikaye one have as an impact on the people who think of you as a world label?

It’s just a bit irritating but it’s nothing serious. The thing is, I just don’t want people to miss out on the label because of that and that’s what I was getting at. DJ soFa wrote to me the other day saying: “I’ve only just discovered Juana Molina and can’t believe how that’s even possible – she’s incredible!” People from the electronic scene might miss out on something because they see it in the world music section and just don’t listen to it because they think it’s not for them.

On the other hand, I do think people like that have recently started looking in the world section.

Yeah, that too. That’s what happened with indie or leftfield indie bands. People from that area started to broaden their selection. It’s like with the Aksak Maboul revival. It’s interesting to see how the perception changes.

Would you agree with the fact that you’re slowly trying to put the label more forward than you would have done earlier? For example in our emails, you sent me the link to the Crammed Bandcamp. Now I’ve been following the label for a long time and didn’t even know it had a Bandcamp…

Oh well that’s something we only started two months ago.

But there’s still this intention to expose and exploit this brand that you’ve got and that has value?

We do think that but how do we exploit it, you know? It’s a question of lack of time, too. We’re always working with three different timeframes simultaneously. We’re thinking about future releases or artists that we might work with in a year or two. We’ve also got records coming up, so we’re in a certain phase to do this and that, and we have to keep promoting stuff that came out six months ago or a year ago. We’ve got to be there for the artists. So coming up with amusing marketing branding ideas for the label – that don’t cost any money – is great, but is maybe not the priority. It’s evolving quite organically. I don’t want the reissues to make us seem like a heritage label, we want to link it with the present. That’s why the Aksak Maboul thing is fun too. It just happens to serve this function. It puts me in the centre as a musician and the eclecticism shows that we’ve got more than a world music or electronic label.

Coming back to you, how much is the label intertwined with you as a person? What happens the day you go away, can Crammed still exist or is it too linked to you?

It’s very linked to me. But we look at it one day at a time, which is not very prudent I must say. I don’t know who could keep the label going. I couldn’t do it on my own, Hanna does a lot, but she couldn’t do what I do, just like as I couldn’t do what she does. If and when we go away we’ll see what happens.

When I put out the second Aksak record, which I self released, we were working on the cover and I thought I should put a label name there. It’s the sort of things that was done. I didn’t have any idea so I just used my first name backwards. “de Marc”.

Some obvious links could be made between the record label’s name and its catalogue. And that it sometimes seems as though you’re trying to push in, or cram, as many releases as one could in a lifetime…

I wouldn’t say “as many” because in the end it’s not that many… 350 releases in 35 years only makes for ten a year. It’s not massive. Also, we work in a more long-term perspective. When we release a record we try to work over a period of two years and link it with the tours and so on. The connection with the name was purely accidental. When I put out the second Aksak record, which I self released, we were working on the cover and I thought I should put a label name there. It’s the sort of thing that was done. I didn’t have any idea so I just used my first name backwards, “de Marc”, as in “la marque du disque de Marc”, which translated literally means “the brand of Marc’s record”. It was just a funny word.

How do you stay clued in with the stuff that comes out today?

I don’t. Who can be totally clued in? It’s accidental. It’s like the Internet. There’s this opinion that you only see stuff that you’re interested in. It’s the same with music. I can’t go to see all shows or read every music magazine that comes out.

Can you think of any Belgian artists or labels that have interested you recently?

Stroom.tv. That being said, I don’t focus on Belgium necessarily. Even though it’s not unhealthy for a country like Belgium to be a bit chauvinistic because it needs it. But just being interested in Belgian music doesn’t mean anything to me.

Do you think Crammed as a label could have existed anywhere else than Belgium?

It wouldn’t be the same if it were somewhere else. This eclecticism comes from a fractured country… It’s a vantage point being here. You’re in France but you’re not in France. You’re a little bit in the UK but you’re not there. We’re maybe more open and understanding to our different surroundings, because our culture here is developed but doesn’t take up all of our mental space. This curiosity and adaptability are definitely very much linked to Brussels.

We didn’t get the chance to speak about your relationship with Tuxedomoon yet, a band which I think was central to Crammed. Can you talk to me about how you first met the band, how they ended up in Brussels, your relationship with Peter, some key moment and/or anecdotes?

Tuxedomoon wanted to leave the US shortly after Reagan’s election. They first landed in Rotterdam, and then came to Brussels, where they released a couple of EPs with the Crépuscule label. I got acquainted with Steven Brown & Peter Principle in a bar in which they used to hang out, at Rue des Dominicains. I knew and liked their music, and had even imported their Half-Mute album in order to get it in the stores via the tiny distribution service I had set up with a friend. Our first collaboration was with Steven Brown and Benjamin Lew, who also happened to be the bartender at La Papaye Tropicale. The Douzième Journée album they recorded with us was quite magical. Our Made To Measure series was a good home for experimental/ambient projects, so the next collaborations were for experimental solo ventures by Blaine Reininger and Peter Principle, which came out in 1984 and 1985. We got to know and appreciate each other, and it was therefore a logical development for them to entrust us with the first full album they recorded in Europe, “Holy Wars”. It was also one of the first Crammed release which was organized on a larger scale, as the label had become more professional, with the album coming out simultaneously in many different countries, and it was very successful. We kept working with the band until their hiatus, around 1989 when they put the band on hold, and moved to the four corners of the globe: Steven to Mexico, Blaine to Greece and Peter to New York while Luc and Bruce stayed in Brussels.

Other than your immediate colleagues and partners, can you pinpoint one or the other relationship that was instrumental in you as a musician or founder of a record label?

Going back to the origins of my ‘career’ as a musician and then as a record label founder, I’d have to say the recently-deceased Jo Dekmine, whose stellar work at Theâtre 140 enabled me to see many exciting and influential things, both music theatre-wise, then went on to support the band I had started when I was a student, Here and Now, and got us to play at 140. He also later supported us in the early days of Aksak Maboul. Then Marc Moulin too, who later practically commissioned me to write and record an album, which ended up being Aksak’s Onze danses pour combattre la migraine. Thirdly, UK musician Chris Cutler, who took in “Onze danses” in his then-influential Recommended Records catalogue, which generated a lot of visibility and contacts for Aksak Maboul, and got me to start a micro-distribution, which definitely ignited the process of forming a label.

Looking back, does any particular recording session, concert or tour stand out?

Recording and mixing processes have always been fascinating and exciting. Among the memorable ones, I’d say the first Minimal Compact mini-album in 1981, because it was one of the first sessions in which I acted as a co-producer of other people’s music. The Zazou Bikaye and Benjamin Lew/Steven Brown albums, because they were pretty much created in the studio, with unexpected results. The recording of Taraf de Haïdouks’ Band of Gypsies album in 2000 because of the extraordinary circumstances in which it was recorded, a story that is narrated in the liner notes. Seeing Vincent Kenis alchemically transmute his quasi-field recordings of Kasai Allstars and Konono N°1 into aural gold, in his Ixelles home studio is always pretty special.

Looking to the future, how would you want Crammed to be remembered? 

As a label that naturally managed to stay fresh, constantly renew itself and which was run by a bunch of people who were passionate about their work, and did a decent job in  helping certain artists create great albums.