Every time Side-Line releases a new compilation, I seize the chance to interview Bernard Van Isacker, the chief compiler for Side-Line and our editor-in-chief. This time around, he has curated the comprehensive 88-track “Electronic Bodies” compilation, predominantly focusing on EBM with a hint of New Beat. I must say, I’m perpetually amazed at how he juggles his time. Not only does he supervise Side-Line, but he’s also engaged with Alfa Matrix, holds a full-time role in online marketing with an international firm, and has recently founded the digital marketing agency, Fox DS.
SL: With such a packed schedule, how do you find the time for these compilation projects?
BVI: Honestly, I often ponder how I muster the time and enthusiasm to initiate and oversee projects of this magnitude, given their time-consuming nature. The motivation largely stems from the Side-Line community; I sometimes feel I owe them my time (laughs). I genuinely enjoy these projects; I’m a person who thinks in terms of projects and concepts rather than daily routines. This mindset is evident even in my day job, where I’m known to favour large-scale, impactful projects over short-term tasks. This approach ensures consistency in my endeavours. As I age, I notice this trait becoming more pronounced.
SL: Merely 12 hours post-release, the “Electronic Bodies” compilation has already clinched the top position on the industrial charts. How do you maintain such consistency?
BVI: The credit goes entirely to our audience. Time and again, I observe the active engagement of the Side-Line community. The volume of personal emails from readers is staggering, and I make it a point to respond to each one, even the occasional critiques regarding our editorial decisions. A prime example is our decision to remove ads from Side-Line, a move purely based on reader feedback. In hindsight, it was probably our best decision, eliminating those intrusive Adsense ads that marred our magazine for years.
Returning to your question, we can now engage tens of thousands of fans with a single click. I always strive for transparency in our communication. For instance, if a project gets shelved (which has happened once in the past two decades), I explain the reasons behind the decision. Honest communication is paramount in everything we do at Side-Line. I’m fortunate to run this magazine alongside one of the most principled individuals I know, Stephane Froidcoeur. I highly regard his opinions, and despite our occasional disagreements, we remain an inseparable duo, frequently deliberating on our future direction. This long-term planning is crucial to our operations.
SL: What drove your decision to spotlight EBM and a bit of New Beat?
BVI: The idea dates back a few years. Sven Lauwers, Andy De Decker (Ionic Vision / Metroland), and Franky Deblomme (Cubic, Darkmen) once suggested that Side-Line should explore EBM and New Beat. This concept lingered in my mind, but with the “Electronic Resistance” projects consuming a significant portion of my time over the past 18 months, it took a backseat. However, a recent conversation with Sven reignited this dormant idea. A brief poll on Side-Line’s Facebook page indicated the potential success of this project. While the popularity of our compilations has been on an upward trajectory, I’m acutely aware that success shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s imperative to consistently deliver value.
SL: On that note, I was surprised to discover the new Ionic Vision track “Deathrow” in the compilation. How did that inclusion come about?
BVI: When I informed Sven about this upcoming project, I inquired if he had any unreleased tracks to contribute. He mentioned their unreleased album and promptly sent over a track. Ionic Vision has been a staple in my EBM mix from the outset, so it’s gratifying to feature this iconic Belgian act in the compilation. Additionally, Andy contributed a track from his project, Him+He, which leans more towards New Beat.
SL: ELM, which kicks off the compilation, is widely regarded as a trailblazer in today’s EBM scene. Would you concur?
BVI: Absolutely. Musically and in terms of production, Peter is top-tier. Had ELM been active in the 80s, he’d undoubtedly be a superstar. I recently discussed ELM during an interview for Canada’s DJ Moose’s The Gothic Moose podcast. Fabrício Viscardi from Aesthetische was also a guest, and we delved into the production quality of various releases. Fabrício (just like Peter), in my opinion, possesses exceptional production skills. Both ELM and Aesthetische consistently deliver top-notch productions.
SL: Not surprisingly that I also see Aesthetische featured on this compilation.
BVI: Indeed. Upon hearing the masters for “Boiling Over (Celsius Version)”, I was convinced it deserved a spot on the compilation. I sought Seba Dolimont’s (Alfa Matrix) opinion, and his response echoed my sentiments. This track epitomises the evolution of EBM in 2023, infusing a contemporary touch while preserving its roots. Coupled with superior production, it’s undeniably a gem.
SL: I’ve observed that only a handful of bands in the compilation are established names in the scene. Are other labels hesitant to collaborate?
BVI: I never pressurise scene labels to contribute. They receive an invitation, and their participation is entirely voluntary. Our compilation series has always been independent of label contributions, although a few labels consistently support our vision and concept. The majority of submissions are from emerging bands eager to expand their audience. Our primary objective remains to nurture and promote new talent. We’re always open to collaborations, and labels willing to contribute are always welcome.
SL: Do you maintain communication with all these numerous bands post-release?
BVI: I consistently encourage bands involved to keep me informed about their subsequent activities once the release is out. Many do, and this way we ensure to track their progress and share updates when there’s noteworthy news. Our approach isn’t just a one-off; it’s only fitting that these bands know they can rely on our continued support.
SL: Was the process of selecting bands for this compilation straightforward?
BVI: The response we receive when we issue a call for submissions is always overwhelming. Sifting through the plethora of material is a weeks-long endeavour. Once I’ve shortlisted the bands, the next step involves securing contracts, which proved challenging this time around due to the sunny weather. Chasing contracts during the summer holiday season is far from ideal, that I knew and know now even more. One contract eluded us, resulting in 88 bands on the compilation instead of the initially announced 89. So, for those fixated on the number 88, the missing 89th slot isn’t our oversight but a consequence of the band’s oversight (laughs).
SL: What inspired your focus on Ukrainian victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
BVI: I recently came across an article detailing the psychological toll of the war initiated by Russia against Ukraine. The repercussions are devastating, with families torn apart and a surge in divorces and suicides. Many are grappling with PTSD, a condition that arises after experiencing traumatic events. Symptoms disrupt daily life, manifesting as flashbacks, avoidance behaviours, and a host of other issues. If we’re in a position to assist, we should.
SL: Doesn’t immersing yourself in such grim realities depress you?
BVI: While it’s undeniably sombre, it’s essential to recognise our privileged position compared to their plight. Rather than symbolic gestures, I advocate for tangible action. The West should be doing more. The disparity between resources squandered on frivolities and the valiant efforts of the Ukrainian populace defending their homeland infuriates me.
SL: I’ve noticed a decline in the presence of Russian bands in this scene. Have you observed this trend?
BVI: They haven’t vanished; they’ve chosen to either keep a low profile or relocate from Russia. In a few instances, some even openly support the controversial regime led by Putin. For example, Side-Line has a policy not to feature bands that align with Putin’s views. I’m in regular contact with many Russians. A majority express their dismay at the current situation, foreseeing significant repercussions as their nation faces increasing isolation, contrary to what some media outlets suggest. Do you think the BRICS nations appreciate having such an outlier in their midst? A few others I converse with remain reserved, but their sentiments suggest they don’t necessarily disagree with their nation’s actions in Ukraine. It’s disheartening, but I believe in maintaining open communication, hoping they’ll recognize the gravity of the situation. Decades of propaganda have left a profound impact.
The future of Russia’s dark music scene remains uncertain. I hope they recognize the extensive damage their nation has inflicted. With a death toll exceeding 300,000, there’s no room for national pride. The current oppressive environment will likely stifle these bands’ voices, leading me to anticipate a decline in activist lyrics and public positions in their work. This shift should serve as a stark indicator for those still questioning the integrity of their government and its societal constraints.
SL: Why hasn’t Side-Line ventured into establishing a full-fledged label? Given the magazine’s dedicated readership, it seems like a logical progression, doesn’t it? I remember discussing this with you before.
BVI: Yes you did, and my stance hasn’t changed (laughs). Side-Line collaborates with thousands of bands. Focusing on a select few could compromise our credibility. I’m meticulous about ensuring my involvement with Alfa Matrix doesn’t influence Side-Line’s operations. Managing bands under the Side-Line banner would blur these lines further. While I frequently receive proposals to release albums, I remain committed to Side-Line’s vision of being a platform for all bands within our genre. Our audience’s trust and respect are paramount. Their unwavering support is the lifeblood of Side-Line. Without them, there’s no magazine, and consequently, no compilations.
SL: During this project, were there any bands that particularly resonated with you?
BVI: Conditions Extrm and their side-project Balsab, both hailing from Bordeaux, intrigued me with their raw EBM sound. Their music evokes memories of the tape demos Side-Line received in the early 90s. They encapsulate Side-Line’s ethos of amplifying young bands’ voices. Numerous other bands contributed, but these two immediately come to mind due to their interconnectedness, despite submitting their tracks separately.
SL: What’s on the horizon for Side-Line? I’ve heard whispers of a potential Turkish compilation. Can you shed some light on this?
BVI: Those aren’t mere whispers; I’ve alluded to it occasionally. I’m liaising with Turkish partners to assess its feasibility. I often encounter criticism for not featuring bands from the Muslim world in our compilations. While I’m open to the idea, the scene in these countries isn’t as expansive. However, the prospect intrigues me, and I’ve initiated preliminary research. No promises, but the groundwork has begun. For now, enjoy the current compilation, it holds plenty of good stuff!
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