Meet AME, Funky Bompa and DJ SoFa: Belgium’s biggest crate diggers

You might have noticed a buzz on social networks about ‘The Sound Of Belgium’, Jozef Devillé’s ace documentary about Belgium’s contribution to the world of electronic dance music. If you haven’t seen the film, don’t miss the next chance you get. Or even better: make a donation so they’ll be able to release it commercially and your name will even get a spot on the credits.

One of many things highlighted by the film is Belgians’ love for digging up obscure music. This pastime was a cornerstone of the Popcorn scene and one of the key factors that led to what became New Beat. The former got Belgian DJs searching for undiscovered or forgotten Soul, Latin or Ska records all over the world, earning them a reputation rivalled only by that of the most eager Japanese or UK collectors on a quest for Rare Groove or Northern Soul. The latter was inspired by DJs unearthing New Wave B-sides, experimental electronic music and ignored Goth tunes to create a dark, mid-tempo & moody soundtrack at hip clubs like Ancienne Belgique in Antwerp or Boccaccio in Destelbergen.

It’s a piece of history, now documented piecemeal by Jozef Devillé et al. But its spirit remains an integral part of the Belgian music scene, thanks to this bunch of individuals:

One collector still digging up killer little-known records is Antwerp-based Jakob Iller, more widely known as AME. While buying rare vinyl is hardly exceptional, the combination of that and his insatiable urge to share his most precious of discoveries definitely is. In a competitive world full of cratedigging DJ’s, revealing your secrets often means giving away your edge – unless you’re well ahead of the rest, of course. Kon & Amir, Egon, Andy Votel and Keb Darge are all at it, but AME can easily hold his own amongst these grandmasters of obscure music revitalisation. His ‘Ridiculous Raw’ blog is a seemingly endless source of quality music few people know about, with mixes going from Jazz, Funk, Soul, Folk, Latin and beyond. Well-documented and made with love, it’s essential stuff for fans of Waxpoetics and the like.

Meet AME, Funky Bompa and DJ SoFa: Belgium's biggest crate diggers

Jakob’s years of vinyl hunting – from emptying the supermarkets’ old record stocks, getting to know fellow enthusiasts worldwide, and making beats and mixtapes as part of the After Hours collective, made him the absolute reference on the Belgian beat-minded collectors scene. Be sure to check out his crates when he’s selling records at the Vinyl Freaks markets at l’Amour Fou in Ixelles, an excellent way to satisfy you constant cravings for wax.

One of the guest-mixers on Ridiculous Raw is another fine example of an individual upholding this nation’s reputation of digging deep for vinyl. Funky Bompa is a well-known DJ on the Brussels scene, thanks to his all-things-Latin Tropical nights, his The Twist parties, which are more Soul and Rock, and as a resident at Strictly Niceness. For these nights, he makes his own customised edits of already rare records, turning them into something more suited for the dance floor. This is itself is not terribly unique – it’s been done since the early days of Disco and has recently been getting a lot of hype, but there are very few who transfer their edits onto one-off vinyls before playing them out – when CDRs are a far easier and cheaper solution. He even started his own label, ‘Bompa Discos’, pressing the most successful ones on 7” records vinyl for commercial release. The original music that fuels it comes from cratedigging all over the world, just like the Popcorn DJ’s did back in the day. His anecdotes about getting access to private Latin-America collections are genius, and worth an article on their own.

These three music-mad, vinyl-crazy guys might lack a common music style, but the state of mind they share is one that’s not unlike that of the pioneers of Popcorn and New Beat.

These things alone should secure his place in the Belgian vinyl pantheon but he goes even further: as programmer of the excellent Atelier 210, he started the ‘Blackout Sessions’, where invitees listen to a classic record of his choice (on wax, of course) on an in-house sound system with the lights off. Serving classics that go beyond the obvious (as is to be expected from a man with this kind of encyclopaedic knowledge) these nights come highly recommended.

Another local music explorer who goes boldly where few have gone before is DJ SoFa, known for an extremely diverse arsenal of music that effortlessly switches between Asian grooves, banging Rave sounds, off-centre electronica and more. Apart from deejaying in Brussels and beyond, he also manages his own label, ‘La Madame Avec Le Chien’. It’s all over the place genre-wise, as you might expect after listening to his mixes. He’s a man who turns up at the most unexpected of moments – as a support DJ for a wide variety of events and bands, at flea markets, or when you’re googling some music you just heard for the first time and want to know more about.

These three music-mad, vinyl-crazy guys might lack a common music style, but the state of mind they share is one that’s not unlike that of the pioneers of Popcorn and New Beat. This need for rare, raw music is also being demonstrated by other local DJs and will hopefully be the basis for some new quirky music to inspire up-and-coming producers. Together with a new-found national pride coming in the wake of ‘The Sound Of Belgium’, I reckon we’re bound for some fresh new sounds, and soon.