From writing for VF to curating a compilation on vinyl

By in Features





Koen Galle talks us through the journey from writing about SSR Records’ music to curating a retrospective compilation.

Back in 2019, Brussels-based DJ, writer and label manager Koen Galle (aka Kong DJ) joined The Vinyl Factory to pull together the story of SSR Records, an imprint of Crammed Discs founded by Crammed’s Marc Hollander and Minimal Compact singer Samy Birnbach. Featuring an introductory mix and an examination of the label’s 200-release discography, Galle paid homage to the Belgian label’s influence throughout the piece.

Read more: The story of unsung Belgian electronic label SSR Records

In the years following the article, Galle teamed up with Hollander and Birnbach to create a retrospective compilation titled SSR Records: In Retrospect, intending to cast a light on the label through a vinyl release that coincided with the digital release of SSR’s discography. 

Released by Hi Scores this May, the 2 LP release features cuts from Move D, Nu Era, Gemini, Bjørn Torske, Glenn Underground and Matthew Herbert. We caught up with Galle to find out more about how his writing an article VF turned into curating a compilation for one of his favourite labels. 

What was the inspiration for the initial article? What caused you to write it?

I think it was like 2017/18, something like that. I came across SSR Records and I bought some records, and I had some already in my collection. I started to realise SSR is a label from Brussels, but why don’t I know much about it? It had such an incredible discography. I had been playing the Gemini record for a while in my DJ sets, but I never completely understood the whole picture of the label, so I started to investigate a bit. 

I had already worked together with Crammed Discs, a label here in Brussels, which is the parent label of SSR Records as we had released two tracks from their catalogue. Based on this release, I was already in contact with the label, so it was easy to reach out to them and ask them some questions about SSR. That’s how I slowly started to get to the idea of writing the article for The Vinyl Factory. 

Reaching out to The Vinyl Factory was also, for me, a big step. I had been writing a bit in Belgium for Red Bull Music, but most of my articles were only locally known and I was reaching out internationally for the first time as a writer, and a DJ as well, to contact an international medium. 

For the article, I spent an afternoon at their office with the head of the label–Marc Hollander. He started the label back in the ‘70s, so it was cool to hear all of his stories. The interview was with him and with Samy Birnbach, who ran SSR records as well. It was the first time that they told their story to someone, so I felt very privileged to ask all these questions and to make this text to share with the world.

People cover labels all the time but don’t end up curating a compilation. Why did you have such a strong emotional connection with SSR’s work? 

What I like about music and the way I also see my own label is very inspired by Crammed Discs and SSR. Coming from the place that is Brussels–a melting pot of different styles and genres and ideas–we have so many languages. I am Flemish, I’m Dutch-speaking but nobody speaks Flemish. Almost nobody speaks my language in my capital city, so I’m very used to a mixture of cultures and languages and ideas and styles. 

To me, also, is what Crammed is all about as a label–a mixture of styles and a lack of dominance. I got hooked on the story. Marc and Samy, I look up to them. They are in their 60s or maybe already 70s, and that’s how I want to be when I’m 70 years old myself. They’re far away from being the stars that they actually could be because of what they’ve done for music–they’re pioneering but so low-key, it’s not about the stardom or whatever. 

What conversations happened after you’d written the article? How did the compilation end up materialising?

When I was making the mix for the article, I realised a had to buy a lot of records and some were expensive. Having run a label since 2014, the idea of releasing music wasn’t new to me, but it still takes a while.

I had stopped the label I was doing with my friend Gratts, a DJ and a producer, who moved to Australia with his family. Then I started my label. The idea came back to me for a compilation. It was mid-COVID and Marc told me that they were releasing most of the SSR catalogue digitally. He thought it was a good time to also set up a vinyl release for the collectors. 

They gave me the key to the vault, and it was like I was entering a candy store. I could get whatever licence I wanted from them, which is different to releasing another compilation when you have to get sources from many sources.

I also got in touch with all the artists to be sure that they felt comfortable. The most work was in interviewing all the people involved for really extensive liner notes. The sleeve is jam-packed. On the back, we even have an edited version of The Vinyl Factory article with Anton [Spice] (former editor) because he helped me with writing the text. 

Were there any elements of SSR’s story that felt different when you were researching the liner notes in comparison to The Vinyl Factory article?

The narrative of the article is still the same, but I did want to write a small story about every track separately. On the inside of the gatefold, I describe the backstory of the artists and other information about where it was made and under what conditions. 

It was really interesting to see how these things happened in Brussels at the same time. I think that there’s a lot of interesting information on the liner notes that add to the narrative of electronic music in Brussels and internationally.

Making a compilation like this for a label that no longer exists means you’re effectively selecting how a label is remembered. What were your criteria for picking tracks?

With the DJ mix that I made, I tried to go through all the genres that the label ever released–from house and techno to hip-hop, broken beat, chill-out 90s, ambient kind of vibe and new jazz. I had a 360 approach to the mix and picked stuff from the ‘90s and early 2000s. 

For the compilation, I thought it was really important to choose a part and not to try to do everything because music wise that maybe would lead us a bit too far. I picked stuff close to my DJ style as well, which is more house music and a bit more up-tempo. It still goes into various levels of electronic music. 

There is a common thread in the selection but in the liner notes, the whole story of the label and include some covers from the label that haven’t got anything to do with the tracklist of the compilation but that can tell the wider story of the label. 

I also wanted to excite people about the label so they check out other things that the label is now digitally releasing.

Do you think the increased interest in vinyl and the current reissue culture is helping labels that existed pre-internet find contemporary audiences?

It feels like with these kinds of compilations, if you make the right choices, and you bring together the right music or connect with liner notes or with the narrative or extra information, it is a very interesting way of releasing music and making accessible the story and the music to new generations.

We’re bringing this music to a new audience and remastering it. We put a lot of effort into remastering with Wouter Brandenburg from Amsterdam, who is an expert and has done a lot of work for Dekmantel and all these other labels. 

With the original recordings, there were different qualities from the different people that mastered them, and the sound of the vinyl didn’t always have the same outcome. To have the vinyl at the contemporary level was very important. I invested quite some money in the remastering and I think it works well. The philosophy, for me, it’s about the quality of production, liner notes and story tools. If you can bring them all together, then it becomes an added value for a reissue.

SSR Records: In Retrospect is available to order now.