30 Years Of Journalism – Celebration Interview with Bernard Van Isacker (Side-Line & Alfa Matrix): ‘Consider Us As An Incubator For Talents’

Back in 1991 I started writing my first reviews for Side-Line magazine. I would have…

Back in 1991 I started writing my first reviews for Side-Line magazine. I would have never thought to go on writing reviews and making interviews non-stop for 30 years. So 2021 is a special year to me, a kind of ‘celebration year’. I got the idea to celebrate this special event by interviewing people from the scene who all have a special meaning to me. The last interview in this series is one with Bernard Van Isacker. I definitely had to close the circle with this interview. Being active as Side-Line’s chief redactor and as one of the Alfa Matrix label owners, Bernard and I became close friends. We didn’t always agree on some topics, which finally brought me to leave Side-Line as staff member in 2016. We remained in touch and decided to move on working together, but in a different format. A lot of things have been said and written about Bernard -not always kind things – but I got the privilege and opportunity to see how he’s working and all what he’s doing. I can only, but deeply respect his involvement. Time to ask him some questions.

(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)

Q: Lots of people from this scene know who you are, but how would you introduce yourself and how did you get in touch with the Electro/Industrial/Gothic scene? 

Bernard: My name is Bernard Van Isacker, 47 years old, married with Maria and I have 2 kids. Magnus, 4 years old, and Sebastian, 16 years old, from my first marriage. I work currently as a social media manager, web developer and CRM admin for a multinational. I also run 2 holiday houses together with my wife, but for the past 2 years they have been empty due to the corona pandemic. That was a big blow to our family budget, so I had to take extra work to keep on paying our bills. But we survive.

I sleep basically 5 hours per night, take a small breakfast and lots of coffee at 6 in the local Panos –both the owners Mario and Hannelore are sweethearts -before I start work at 7:30 until, 10, 11 at night. I’ll probably die working (laughs).

I first got introduced to the Dark-Wave scene when I was 14 years old and was sitting next to a guy in class who said he had heard a really sick tape. That was Nitzer Ebb’s “That Total Age”. But you have to know that I was already heavily into Depeche Mode and New-Beat (yes!) so the ‘move’ to more industrial sounds was not really a surprise. Anyhow, Nitzer Ebb had more or less the same BPM as new beat so that was easy (laughs). By the time I was fifteen I was listening to Cat Rapes Dog. Their “Maximum Overdrive” remains legendary as far as I am concerned. And after that I got hooked to Inside Treatment, Pouppée Fabrikk, and other bands from Scandinavia. I only started to listen to German acts when I went to university, and that included bands such as Fortification 55, Project Pitchfork, Psychic Force, Trial, etc..  

As we speak I’m in the middle of compiling our newest volume in the “Face The Beat”-series for Side-Line. The 7th so far. But shoot with the questions Stephane!

Q: I guess less people know you graduated in journalism so what did you try to add/change when joining Side-Line? And how did you happen to join Side-Line magazine? 

Bernard: That’s correct, I graduated in journalism and worked at a couple of newspapers before diving into the startup world of ecommerce. That was pre-Google so SEO was still something very rudimentary and traffic was basically created via price comparison sites and massive mailings, you can call it pure spam (laughs). 

But I worked for 4 years as a journalist, was able to write a lot of solid articles, but I got fed up with the easy way things were covered (while we all knew it were lies) and the easy way things were NOT covered (because some bishop threatened to sue the newspaper –and me, for defamation). I left that world disgusted. Add to that it is one of the worst paid jobs ever. 

I got fed up with the easy way things were covered in the press

Anyhow, whilst studying one of my friends, Yves Van De Veken, told me there was this magazine that was going to be published with an attached CD compilation full of Dark-Wave music and that they would have the first issue with the sampler later that week in the Metrophone cellar, in Antwerp that is, where I studied. I got the magazine, which was in a very stylish layout, liked the CD sampler and was hooked on the review section to read about new bands. I was at that time already working part-time as journalist whilst studying, and I got access to bigger bands which I thought could fit Side-Line pretty well, so I sent a mail to Seba (who I thought was a girl) and told ‘her’ that I could arrange bigger interviews for them. Seba wanted to test the waters I guess, and I told that I could do Hooverphonic, but could also check with Dirk Da Davo  in the next week to show what I was capable of. Apparently ‘she’ really liked what I wrote and asked for more. Paradise Lost, Marc Almond, Bel Canto, … the list of interviews I did for Side-Line grew by the day.  

But I had never met any of the team. The first time I met someone from the Side-Line team back then was actually you, but I can’t recall where that was, I think it was in Brussels, but for what exactly?

A few weeks later I met Seba –who you told was NOT a girl, at a Die Form concert in Ghent I think. If I’m not wrong Cédric and Benoit were also there. Since then we were like a band of brothers who went to concerts, either together or with one or two others. Sweet times I must say, we were all very young, had not yet lived ‘real’ life with all its hurdles and accidents.

Q: Early 2008 was a turning point in the magazine’s history. Former chief-redactor Séba Dolimont decided to stop his involvement so you became the new chief-redactor. The printed magazine definitely stopped and Side-Line remained only active as online magazine. How do you look back at the loss of the printed magazine and how did the transition happen? 

Bernard: I basically had always pushed to keep the magazine alive as a print magazine, but at the same time I had launched www.side-line.com in 1999 because the initial Side-Line website –on a different url, was basically just a page, looked bloody awful and served no purpose –no offense Ronan Harris. So when Seba told me that he had decided to stop with the printed magazine, my mental switch was fast and I decided to focus on the online magazine which by then was attracting a tenfold of the printed magazine anyhow. It was a no-brainer.

Going online only? It was a no-brainer.

With Seba stopping, we also lost most of the external contributors, which is logical since a print magazine has a more loose team whereas a news website has to work with a very productive small team, as Side-Line.com was by then already producing daily news updates. A small team is always easier to work with, and I had seen that with the print version of Side-Line I was already doing most of the interviews, delivering 99% of the news, while you already did most of the reviews. So, we had a winning team anyhow, why change that?

In short, yes, it had an emotional impact, but not a practical one. We had a good run, but the times were changing. And I for sure was not planning to miss the online train as you know.

Q: I think there’re significant differences between a printed magazine and an online page. Can you give us the pros and cons especially from your perspective? 

Bernard: Yes, the differences are there for sure and I think you will agree with me, but tell me if you don’t! I will give you the pros and cons as far as online is concerned, the cons will largely cover the pros for print.

Pros: 

  • Write, enter it in the CMS, add a picture and post. Simple. In short: it’s fast.
  • The news goes out instantly via a wide array of tools. One post on Side-Line reaches around 5000 people in the next few minutes via our different channels, above and under the hood. By the end of the day –when syndication and newsletters have kicked in, we have a 10.000 reach per item. This doesn’t mean people have read it, it means that they have at least seen the picture and title.
  • The articles can be as long or as short as you want.
  • We can add multimedia, which is a good way to add metadata to your articles. This was limited back in 1999 when we went online though.
  • A small team can move mountains.

Cons: 

  • There is a strict daily deadline to maintain each day.
  • The rapidness also gives room to errors you might not have noticed or simply wrong info (although we only had a few incidents with that).
  • Getting decent daily news is sometimes difficult, other times you get inundated by news,
  • Some labels and bands have no clue how to write press texts and fill it with promo blabla. If there are no 4 lines of good solid facts, I usually do not publish it.
  • In our case I have to be technically savy, have seo skills and have IT skills. And I know how to write. That’s a lot if something goes wrong, and we have had times when it really went wrong.
  • Online income generation as a news website is not easy. Most of the labels still have no clue what online means and still think in an old school way. 
  • A small team means problems when one leaves or falls sick.
  • A magazine accept slow reading, a website not.

Q: Do you’ve an idea who’s reading Side-Line and is there a kind of reader’s profile? 

Bernard: Actually I do, thanks to a combination of datasets, which are limited as I hate being followed myself. The last dataset of November shows that 31% is female, 67% is male and 2% identifies not as male or female. Most readers come from the USA, followed by the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Australia, Mexico, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Poland, Holland, Greece and Denmark. We got data from 45 countries in total once we filtered out the accidental and spam traffic.

When it comes to the profiles, we have data of a survey that happened a few months ago on our website. 8200+ respondents later we see that half (51%) has an office job, 36% has an outside or factory job and 11% is unemployed and 2% is enjoying their pension. 

The same survey also showed us info regarding age and it goes synchronically with the data from our Facebook page: 4% is between 18-24, 34% is between 25-34, 25% is between 35-44, 27% is between 45-54, 5% is between 56-64 and 3% is older than 64. That info again corresponds more or less with the survey we did.

It shows we have mostly a very active public between 25 and 54 years old.

Q: Back in time the Side-Line forum was quite ‘popular’, but unfortunately also a place for bullshit and conflicts. Did you expect this evolution and was it the main reason to stop the forum? 

Bernard: The Side-Line forum was indeed very popular and at times had 20 to 50.000 visits a day. It was so popular that it had become a full time task to keep the spammers out, to keep things civilized, etc.. The discussion there were legendary. Some were in it for the fun, others to learn something new, and others just to anonymously troll. It was the graveyard of subtleness though (laughs).

The Side-Line forum was the graveyard of subtleness…

It ran its course, but I was so glad I could kill that baby. Just with one click: bye bye! By the end it had become uncontrollable and we had to delete 90% of all posts because the trolling really went overboard. No loss, it’s part of history, but I still have to laugh when I think of the silliness of it all.

Do you know that we once launched a T-shirt line where you could have your nickname printed on it? We sold a few hundred of those… really fun times!

Q: In the meantime, you also became one of the owners of Alfa Matrix, which became one of the leading labels of underground Electro music. What’s your input and impact in the label activities? 

Bernard: I take care of the IT, web dev, communication and digital distribution. I leave the A&R to Seba, as we each have our own department. But we do have to agree all 3 for signing a band or not. I also often am abroad and try to hook up with the bands in real life.

Q: Let’s go on with a rather tricky question. I think it’s very confusing for a lot of people to understand you’re chief-editor of Side-Line and still one of the Alfa Matrix owners. That sounds pretty incestuous, don’t you think? How do you manage both activities without too much conflict of interest?  

Bernard: Nothing tricky at all. I have never hidden the fact that I’m also behind Alfa Matrix and I am proud of it. Actually, I am not the only label guy behind a magazine, check Blabbermouth for instance, it is also successfully run by label people, possible because we have intel on both sides of the medal.

As far as conflict of interest is concerned: there is none. I don’t intervene in the reviews at all, and that’s where there could be a conflict of interest because reviews are subjective an sich. When it comes to news articles, Alfa Matrix gets as much attention as for instance Metropolis, and I bring it as dry as I do with all the other articles: facts, facts, facts and no promo speech.. Actually, sometimes Alfa Matrix bands complain because they have not gotten a good score on Side-Line. I then have to explain that reviews are completely out of my control to keep a healthy balance in the magazine.

I have a very clean conscience.

That other people claim otherwise on Facebook or so is their problem. I have a very clean conscience regarding this. 

Q: It’s also interesting to see next to Alfa Matrix, Side-Line is actually releasing digital compilations; the magazine also became a kind of label! The “Face The Beat”-series became a real success story. What’s the main goal of this compilation series and how do you select the artists? 

Bernard: Well, the move is not so strange I must say. In the early days there was Side-Line Records, some kind of precursor to Alfa Matrix. Then Side-Line produced compilations to go with the magazines. I just brought it to the 21st century when I took over and compiled and launched the first “Face The Beat” as a Facebook compilation, hence the name, 10 years ago. 

The main goal is reflected by what Side-Line has all been about even when Seba first launched it: get people to know music from established and new bands. It’s a vision I embraced since the start. I added an extra touch and that is that all revenue goes to charity. 

The compilations are compiled like this: I do a call for submissions on all channels we have, there is one reminder and then I lock myself up for weeks with the material that I have received, usually thousands of demos and completed tracks. Once a first selection is made, I go through the material again that is selected and do an extra selection to make sure the best tracks are included. After that I send out the necessary paperwork and then usually almost everyone responds quickly. There are usually only 2 or 4 bands that are too late or never respond. It’s always a race to meet the deadline I have in my mind, but I usually make it on time. In the meantime, I usually have worked on the artwork and worked through the material with Erlend Eilertsen from Essence Of Mind and Lights A.M to make sure the tracks get the best possible sound on the compilation.

After that I launch it on Bandcamp basically and the platform does its work, with some help of me (laughs). It’s all a very intuitive process where clear communication is king. 

A lot of labels and bands still haven’t learned from ecommerce.

Q: You definitely were one of the first from this scene to have understood the impact streaming platforms would have. I remember you got a lot of hard reactions about it, but today you can tell to all of your critics you were right! How do you look back at this period and how do you expect things evolving during the next few years? 

Bernard: Yes, I must say that the short sight of a lot of people in the record business was reflected in the harsh attacks I got in interviews, on radio programs and on social media. Some even went so far to send me mails accusing me of killing the industry, that I was a traitor. One of my biggest critics in the end contacted me back years later saying that he was wrong and that I was right. I still appreciate him till the day of today. Only great people can apologize and say they were wrong.

The thing is, it’s not that I like this or that evolution, it is that I just can see what is going to happen and where our music industry is heading towards. Some new techniques will never take off, but it is my job at Alfa Matrix to keep an eye on what is happening in the industry and what is going to happen and see if we should invest time and money in it.

My hunch that propriety was going to be over and done with except for a solid and loyal base has proven to be correct. The success of both Spotify and Bandcamp show that my theory on mixed digital music consumption was spot on and that my critics didn’t have a clue what was going to happen.

It’s actually not the first time that I have had a conflict with my colleagues in the music sector. Back when I worked at an ecommerce startup, some shop owners said that we were killing their business. But when I once worked together with such a critical shop owner annex distributor he was unable to deliver the goods… because we sold tenfold of what he was able to get (laughs). One of the biggest channels of sales for that ecommerce shop was actually Side-Line. To give you an idea, when Depeche Mode released their single boxes, Side-Line single handedly sold all, but literally all of the stock available in Belgium in just a few days. They had to restock with copies from all over Europe because they were in limited supply. The same for the Erasure single boxes. And as far as the Covenant boxset “Synergy: Live In Europe” is concerned. That is the release we sold 10 times what the Belgian distributor had promised he was able to get… (laughs). And still we were the bad guys (laughs even louder).

I have to thank Warren Harrison from Hungry Lucy for that way of forward thinking. He opened my eyes as far as digital music is concerned and taught me to dissociate my own wishes from that of a public’s wish, and to open my eyes for new technologies. I doubt he realizes the impact he had on me. Now he knows (smiles). A good guy he is, a pity we lost contact a bit.

And the future will continue, but more in the propriety field where things are moving rapidly, think of NFT’s. Len Lemeire planted that seed in my head actually. Add to that that we will sooner or later be faced with cryptocurrency payments on a larger scale. I have a few other new technologies in mind that might be big in the near future.

One thing though that will remain key, is data. A lot of labels and bands still haven’t learned from ecommerce –namely that it is an opportunity to know who your fans are, and  they are now again missing the boat as they have put all their money on Facebook and other platforms that lock their fans into their platform without offering you any way to communicate except via their own platform. Deadly on the long run.

There is a story to this actually. I was approached by at least 2 major Indie labels in the past few years asking if I would be willing to –listen well, sell all of Side-Line’s data in order to set up an own label of Electro-Pop music. And these are indies who have had BIG artists on their roster. But they have never ever gathered data, never had a decent newsletter, in short they were flying blind once things went sour. 

Having said that, I also see bad evolutions, the platforms work more and more via AI to push releases to people in order to keep them as much as possible on their platforms. It unfortunately also leads to tracks, which are made to trigger these AI powered algorithms. The first automatically generated tracks are very ‘promising’ and they have been released for quite some time now. I personally am not happy with this evolution, as it removes the human genius from it, but like I said, we risk to see this more and more.

Q: It all looks like ‘younger’ people show less interest to write for a magazine. Why is it and how do you expect things evolving? 

Bernard: If we look across the board, most print magazines from our scene are gone, and when we look to the online press, most online magazines from our scene are gone or are unable to keep up with the daily news pace like we do for instance. I often get requests from people if they can start writing for us, but their mail always ends with this question: ‘How much do you pay?’ Knowing that we have never received any money, it’s rather cynic that people who have never proven a thing think they can ask money… So I will repeat it again, THERE IS NO MONEY TO MAKE with an online magazine about Dark-Wave. 

As far as contributors is concerned, I am happy with the team I work with now. I can count on you and Jan-Ronald, basically the main contributors next to me. You both have a very professional attitude and we are friends most and first of all.

The evolution will depend on the fact if there will be more people willing to invest money and time in these kind of projects like running a magazine. We all know that nowadays you will not earn a living from it, on the contrary, you need some financial backup to keep a website up and running, pay the licences for plugings, data storage, and so on. And that’s without the hours of unpaid work on top each day.

Q: I already had discussions with people –including label owners, who no longer belief in the real impact of magazines today because of streaming platforms and other channels like YouTube. What’s your point of view and do you think magazines are enough taking care to adapt and renew themselves? 

Bernard: Well, this is not a problem for us honestly. Side-Line online is still about kickstarting new and young bands. And that’s mainly why people check Side-Line as we have the finger on the pulse to know what might become hot and what not. Remember Suicide Commando, Apoptygma Berzerk, etc..? They got pushed by Side-Line back in the days when they were largely unknown. Once we give these small bands an initial push they have to continue and work from their side as well and that’s when they get in the flow of things with the streaming platforms for instance nowadays.

Side-Line online is still about kickstarting new and young bands.

Take a magazine like Side-Line away and many small bands will never ever get a platform to develop. The same goes for our compilations, they serve to push smaller bands to a wider public. Consider us as an incubator for talents.

Know that I also regularly get contacted by the biggest bands in the scene directly with news, because they know we will publish it and they know we have a very good reach on a daily basis.

The AI used by streaming companies is a very big part in the music consumption and trying to trigger it is not something that is easily done especially with smaller bands on indie labels like I said earlier. The streaming Ais therefore still leave a lot of pearls untouched. Roughly 5 to 7 million songs on Spotify have never been played you know… That is HUGE.

That’s where magazines enter. Take me for instance, I basically have no time to start looking for new music, and I always look into our own review section for new material. So as a gatekeeper a magazine still has its purpose, at least from my point of view. I once did a test and played a few tracks and checked what the services would deliver as suggestions. They didn’t offer anything extra that interested me compared to what I got from your reviews, but instead offered a lot of junk extra so that I would have to weed out anyhow. It kinda proves that these Ais are still not capable of matching the human ear and feeling. Maybe that will happen in the future, I think so, or I would be really disappointed in our human genius (laughs).

That is of course as far as my own consumption goes. 

Now, I talked about the gate keeping function which has been the purpose of a good magazine. It’s my belief that a niche magazine which has a steady output of well selected news and articles will keep that gatekeepers function intact. Let me explain, most music magazines have over the years changed their focus on more popular bands, new music styles, added games, clothes, TV and showbiz in their mix just to get traffic. Look at NME for instance that is now ruled by clickbait articles and rubbish content. It has nothing left that reminds of the good old NME. All of its roots have been removed for the sake of clicks.

Another example is Techcrunch. This online tech magazine was the best back in time, but then it got taken over, and suddenly they started to pour out tons of clickbait articles, which had nothing to do with what the magazine was about in its early days and that was: talking about startups. I used to be a daily reader, I stopped simply because I couldn’t keep up with all the extra news being posted that was way out of the scope they had in the past. 

Less is often more, also for magazines. 

It comes to this, stick to your roots and make sure you have a continuous and regular number of articles posted.

From a label’s point of view, I have always worked on both. Now, since I usually work with new bands, it’s not always easy to have them launched rapidly like we could in the past. It now takes time. And I also understand the labels when they no longer see clear. There are roughly 1500 journalists out there that claim to have a magazine that handles Dark-Wave. 80% of which basically has a blog that has 10 visitors a day. Good for them, but I don’t believe in them. Basically, and we have to be very honest, there are close to no magazines left in this scene with a wacky team like ours that is day in day out constantly working to get a certain number of articles online.  

Those left still reach around 50.000 people daily on their websites and socials combined per day. And that’s a rough estimate but I’m very close, I think. Not exactly peanuts in a scene this small like ours. And quite a good crowd to for instance push smaller, unknown bands to.

In short, yes, I do believe in our future, as long as we stay loyal to our vision and mission. The numbers show it, we are reaching more people than ever, and not thanks to Facebook, but thanks to our daily newsletter, push notifications and all the other channels combined.

Q: Next to Side-Line and Alfa Matrix you’ve been also involved as organizer -and later as organizer ad hoc, of the now defunct famous Belgian underground festival ‘Eurorock’. A lot of things have been said about that festival. How do you look back at this event(s) with hindsight? 

Bernard: A bit like SABENA, such a bad experience never again (laughs). 

I’m still unable to talk about the first 2 editions I invested money in, due to some legal matters, but suffice to say you always have to look out who to trust. I lost a lot of money there, and evicted myself right on time from that very toxic situation. The 3rd time, I was contracted – as I never wanted to be an investor again- but never got paid. In the end I had to solve most of the shit together with the stage managers who just like me were contracted and never paid. The shit thrown at us afterwards by people who have no clue is  exemplary yet not exceptional in this or any other scene. 

I made sure that every single band I had placed there was paid correctly. Most were grateful I made this happen, others cashed in and badmouthed me in public. So far for the thanks (grins). But I never forget… nor forgive (laughs).

Q: I know you prefer avoiding the question, but next to music you’re also politically engaged. What can you tell us about the subject?

Bernard: I’m not really trying to avoid it, I just think it’s not part of my work for Side-Line or Alfa Matrix, period. I always have tried to never mix it with both although some people are trying to frame me one way or another, usually because they don’t get my sarcasm. But now that you ask about it, yes I’m politically active in one of the biggest elected and ruling parties here in Flanders. That has been an excuse from extremists and activists to attack me in public, call my employer and frame me as ultra conservative, ultra catholic or even a pur-sang fascist. Well, sorry for those lunatics, but I’m as much a nationalist as any Norwegian hanging the Norwegian flag in their garden (that’s roughly every Norwegian with a garden) and as catholic as Macron. And as far as the other words used by ‘my’ critics, I don’t like the woke culture that is being pushed in our faces. Period.  

For the rest I’m happily married with a Mexicana, one of my best friend is a Turkish Muslim, one of my closest friends is transgender, and in my scarce free time I help people with learning disabilities to learn social skills. That should say enough. For the rest, I keep politics out of Side-Line and far away from Alfa Matrix because it’s basically not music. I don’t ask our readers about their political ideas either and I frankly don’t care.

However, I must say that over the years we never had remarks from readers when we post reviews or news from hardcore communist bands, but that we always get harassed by a very tiny group when a more conservative band is being covered. That’s a pure fact. I never discriminate, but I see some others discriminating people because they don’t agree with the ideas of this or that band. Rather disturbing…

I have a very good story actually regarding this. I once got an email from a guy, who started a rant because we had posted a review of a certain band on Side-Line. He called them fascists, racists, etc, etc.. But when I went checking his Facebook profile, I immediately understood why he was specifically attacking that band. His Facebook was filled with anti-semitic and anti-Israel rants… and the band he talked shit about had a Jewish singer. Shocking, but reality. 

The same for some BLM activists who have been attacking Side-Line in the past because we talk about –and I quote: ‘White men bands’. It is the same as attacking Motown Records because they have a  black repertoire. Most of the criticism can be explained by checking who is saying what about whom.

I know 2 famous bands in this scene who have made anti-semitic rants behind closed doors, I was shocked and told them this was really not right. One band member –member himself of a communist party, has since then been talking shit about me whenever and wherever he can, I guess in order to cover himself in case I make his name and emails with rants public. I also know bands who are very homophobic, but for the sake of things pretend they are pro LGTB-rights. In short, if I would write a book about the dirty wash I have witnessed over the years I think I would have a bestseller (grins). 

I personally don’t believe in left or right. I believe in doing good or doing bad.

Anyhow, I personally don’t believe in left or right. I believe in doing good or doing bad. I prefer doing good, under what political umbrella that may be. I also believe in taking responsibility for your own actions, and hard work. Locally I’m quite appreciated because I talk and listen to everyone, what their skin color, political belief or sexual orientation may be. And if they have a legitimate claim or need, I will try to help.

Q: Quite recently the Side-Line server crashed and you started a crowd funding to pay the costs. Your action was quite successful and Side-Line has been reactivated, which seems to prove Side-Line still means a lot to labels/artists and readers. How do you look back at this stressed period? 

Bernard: I was like ‘NOT AGAIN!’ when I realized it was not just an issue of rebooting the server when the server didn’t fire up as planned. We already had lost our previous site years ago due to a server issue and lost years and years of data… so you can imagine I was kinda stressed (laughs). But luckily enough, I had been working with this software engineer (editor’s note: Martin Rosselle) in another IT project. He is working for some of the biggest companies I know and he literally has made a name as being somebody who solves problems, a Winston Wolf in the software sector as you wish. I contacted him and told him we really needed the site back operational pretty fast and if he could help out. He canceled all his freelance work he had planned and asked me to come over so I could follow closely and help with the work. The error we had, was even for the engineers at our hosting company quite a real conundrum. Hell, they even asked us to please keep them informed as to how we would solve it because they had run out of options.

I took a 5 days unpaid leave, jumped in my car at 5 in the morning and drove 3,5 hours to set up shop at Martin’s place. In the car I was thinking of how to finance this endeavor… I’m already pumping thousands of Euros into Side-Line each year, but corona made that a lot of my income had completely vaporized so an extra financial blow like this was just very, very difficult. 

Then while I was having a coffee at a motorway restaurant, somebody sent me a WhatsApp message saying: ‘Hey Bernard, I saw your message that the site is down and that you guys are working on it. If you set up a crowdfund, I’ll gladly help!’ I was like, ‘really would people help out?’ So whilst doing the last hundred kilometers I was thinking ‘why not, if it gathers enough to pay half of the bill then that would already help a lot ‘. 

But it turned out to be really overwhelming… I’m still emotional when I think of it really… I saw the donations pouring in, from readers, bands, small labels, small PR companies, artists. I was actually very positively surprised that it were the smaller labels and bands next to lots of readers that came forward to support this crowdfund. I haven’t heard a word from the big labels… One of the biggest label bosses in this scene did send me an email… asking when their news would be up… no help, no question, nothing. It strengthens me in my vision that we have to stay an incubator for new talents and new and smaller labels, as they are definitely more connected with us… 

I did learn another lesson from this though, and that is that I need to delegate more. Jan-Ronald Stange has been helping with design, and I contracted Martin for our server maintenance and security so that we can intervene directly with the right people when needed. 

Q: What have been the best and worst memories from all the years you’ve been involved with Side-Line? 

Bernard: The worst: seeing others suffer. You know what I mean. 

The best: it is wonderful to stay friends for all these years with people with such different characters inside the team. And Side-Line also opened the gate towards other people I respect, I got in contact with Jan-Ronald Stange thanks to a lunatic groupie, so that ended well (laughs). And I shouldn’t forget Anne-Laure, Erlend, Marianne, Leydi, Simon and so many other people who have become close and reliable friends thanks to Side-Line.

Basically, working at and with Side-Line is the proof for me that one doesn’t need to stay in his/her own echo chamber to respect and be respected. You know that as well, I have told you that in a recent text message remember?

Q: Are you sometimes thinking about the end of Side-Line and also the end of Alfa Matrix? What should be the best way to say goodbye? 

Bernard: I have a pretty compulsive character, however, Side-Line has been a constant element in my life for the past 30 years. I always dedicate 2-3 hours per day to the magazine, writing articles, working on the site’s cms and machinery behind it, answering a ton of emails… It survived 2 marriages so far as well (laughs)! So no, it’s a part of me, and I haven’t really thought about stopping although there have been moments that I think, who the hell am I doing this for… But then you get a big thank you mail from a band or reader or label and that’s enough to kill off those negative feelings.

But if we would close shop, I guess it will be with a big bang (smiles). But so far so good.

If we would close shop, I guess it will be with a big bang.

The same goes for Alfa Matrix, as long as we can find good bands to push, we’ll continue.

Q: You and I have had some personal issues, but I think that thanks to Side-Line, we became and still are good friends. Any specific souvenir or anecdote you want to share? 

Bernard: Ah yes, we have gone through some turmoil you and me. I guess that is just part of good friendships, it’s like a marriage I guess, either you make up or you go to a lawyer (laughs). I guess we both learned from our private wars and have learned to respect each other. And that is what counts, we learned to see what unites us, not what divides us. And we never had to hire a lawyer (laughs)!

But speaking about the special moments… Well, racing on a German motorway at 200 km/h in a BMW to get home in time to drop of some equipment and then realize we could have delivered it 2 days later as well…. That was quite a memorable and especially dangerous moment we shared (laughs). Honestly, it was completely irresponsible, and I would never do it again, whatever the reason. Had we crashed, a magazine would have disappeared, a label and a few bands would never have seen the light of day and my sons would for sure never have existed and most importantly this: some others could have been injured or killed. I never drive fast nowadays, if I’m too late for a meeting so be it, but usually I start on time, it also avoids unnecessary stress and gives me the option to also have a coffee underway.

I also remember some sectarian veggie restaurant somewhere in Brussels where we ended up via John Sellekaers I think? That was quite weird for me… the food was ok though, but I’m not really into sects (laughs). But aside from that, I kinda miss sitting in a restaurant with all of us, you, Seba, Benoit, Cedric, and a few others which are still part of my inner circle, but who I don’t see enough. Luckily at least you and me did a good restaurant now !



Since you’re here …

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3 thoughts on “Bernard-Van-Isacker-Interview-01

  1. Thanks a lot for all the work you did! Been cleaning my studio today and found a few printed SL magazines!! Time to remember how good it was 🙂 And how it helped me to discover new bands and labels over the years. And the online/web version works really well theses days and that’s great!
    I think that SL is keeping the “the underground alternative music” ALIVE and UNITED (could be EBM, Industrial, Synth-pop , alternative, “call it what you want” and more).
    It has been some kind of ritual for me to have a quick look to your news evey evening/night and to go deeper and what interest me.
    You can be proud of what you did and we all should be grateful, who ever we are (reader, artists, labels).
    Hope SL will last long! Congrats for your work guys!
    Greets and cheers!

  2. good interview. hope the magazine preserves its upright posture. as long as it keeps this attitude, we shall keep our support alive. all the best for 2022 to the SL-mag.
    Gerd Neumann (aka ‘Sea Wanton’, on behalf of ‘Non Toxique Lost’)

  3. Hello very cool blog!! Guy .. Excellent .. Superb ..
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    regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

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