Interview with Bernard Van Isacker on the ‘Face The Beat’ series: ‘Charting with smaller bands? It’s possible, this compilation has proven it.’

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(Interview / photo by Eldrina Mich) While the charity download compilation “Face The Beat: Session 5” is still reigning the charts on Bandcamp, we decided it was time again to speak with Bernard Van Isacker, the brain behind this compilation. He is also Side-Line’s chief editor and resides with his family (and 2 cats) in Ypres, a small town nearby the French border in what’s called the Westhoek or Maritime Flanders. During the First World War, Ypres (or “Wipers” as it was commonly known by the British troops) was the centre of the Battles of Ypres between German and Allied forces, nowadays it’s a bit calmer.

I meet Bernard on a cold Friday evening at The Times, a small pub on the border of the Ypres market square.

SL: The previous interview was in June of 2015 when the 2nd volume of “Face The Beat” had just been released. It’s like yesterday!

B: Time flies very fast indeed. Good to see you are still looking great (laughs)!

SL: The compilation has been doing quite well since its launch, it went straight to the number 1 spots on Bandcamp in the alternative, industrial and goth charts.

B: Yeps, and it even was the 2nd most downloaded release on Bandcamp the day of its release, so yes, quite spectacular. It’s not really a surprise though, all of the volumes kept on being downloaded ever since the project started and I kept getting questions when the new volume would be released. But most importantly, I think we have a very strong list of tracks on this volume.

Next to that, the power of Bandcamp has become very clear here. The moment the new volume was launched Bandcamp’s notification system sent out a huge blast to a massive amount of people informing them and as a result you saw the release climbing very fast in the charts.

SL: I don’t know of any other scene compilation which has succeeded charting that fast and so high on Bandcamp?

B: Me neither (smiles). I have already been asked by a lot of people from inside the music industry how this is possible with a compilation that doesn’t feature the biggest names from this scene like Front 242, VNV Nation, etc.. But it’s especially the fact they can discover new and less wellknown bands that makes people wanting to get hold of it. Speaking of which, I especially want to thank Raphael Beck (darkTunes), Andy Skyqode (Skyqode) and Seba Dolimont (Alfa Matrix) who have been good allies in the past few years – and again this time – in getting the series up and running. They have valued the series since day 1 and I really appreciate that.

SL: Was the start so difficult?

B: When I started with this series a few years ago, in 2011 that is, not many labels believed in the concept, some did like the ones I mentioned earlier. The hesitation was mainly because I decided to feature a lot of smaller and starting bands. For me that was THE reason to do it that way because this is actually the core idea behind Side-Line since day one: being an indie magazine that is a platform for bands to get noticed, unknown and known, starters and established acts. Since the start of the series, the influx of submissions for the compilation never stopped, a lot of bands want to be on it and especially those who stand behind the charity causes that we support.

SL: It took you a while to come up with this 5th volume, I think I have seen some preliminary cover artwork some 2 years ago already?

B: Yes (smiles). It would initially have been released in early 2018, but something came up in mid-2017 that jeopardized the whole project. Let’s say that some mainstream label thought they could just harass us in taking over the concept. It kept on causing problems till mid-2018. I won’t say more about this, suffices to say, we won, they lost (smiles). The first cover artwork you refer too (Editor’s note: you can see it below) was made in November 2017 during a stay in France, at Le Mont Saint-Michel, together with my wife and newborn son Magnus.

SL: The cover artwork produced at that occasion had ‘the final side-line’ as subline? What was the meaning of that?

B: Back then I was really doubting if I would go on with the magazine or not. So that artwork would have been my final word on the matter.

Notice the subline saying: the final side-line

Sorry I didn’t inform the rest of the team, but it was really on my mind to pull the plug. It isn’t all that unlogical, it takes lots of time to keep this doing and with a new baby in the family, I wasn’t sure to be able to handle this all. My other ‘companion de route’, Stef, also has had his fair share of not so pleasant news, so the toxic mix was there and it played around for a while…

I think we all have those difficult moments when there’s too much going on. Plus, and that’s on a personal level, often you don’t really get any ‘thank you’ back for all of the work that you do, and I’m not only talking about Side-Line or so. When you do a lot of (mostly unpaid) work for very little return on several levels, it starts nagging.

Then in February 2018 I was in Oslo with my wife and I visited Jan Ronald Stange, our local correspondent there. We have gotten along really well since meeting I think in 2010 and when I’m in the Nordics I always try to pay him a visit. And believe it or not, his enthusiasm is kinda infectious (laughs). My wife also noticed that, and said something like: “It’s time you get the same enthusiasm like Jan in your work again”. That made me thinking… Anyhow, here we are (smiles).

As a result I binned the first cover artwork idea and went for a completely new approach. But it was only last month after visiting Maastricht in The Netherlands together with my oldest son Sebastian that I found the perfect artwork idea. I saw this great bronze lion face on a big door, watched it closely, took a picture and in the hotel I started playing with some ideas. I sent those to Simon Helm from Cold War Night Life to ask his opinion and we picked the final one.

SL: Why Simon?

B: Long story cut really short. I knew Simon was behind Cold War Night Life, and one thing led to another and I got to meet him a few months ago when he was in Brussels. Jean-Marc Lederman told me he was a decent guy so the more reason to meet up. We ended up talking for hours in a small restaurant, the Arcadi in case you wonder, about all kind of things. And Simon got to learn to eat Stoemp with saussage, a typical dish from Brussels (laughs)! Cool intelligent guy he is with a clear view on a lot of things. I like straightforward people and he for sure is one. On top we kinda share the same humor, something really important. Simon also has been writing some stuff for Side-Line since then. I trust him and value his feedback, hence why I asked for his feedback.

Simon Helm on the left, Bernard Van Isacker on the right.

SL: In the press release for this compilation it’s noted that the release is by far the darkest you ever compiled. I tend to agree with this. Personally, it reminded me of “040 Hamburg Strikes Back!”, the compilation released by the defunct label Hypnobeat in 1992.

B: I love that compilation! For me it was the first time I got to hear from Fortification 55, the band formed by Björn Petersen and Jan Kruse. They made some great albums back in the days. Thanks for the compliment, it was really that feeling that I had when going through the selection here!

SL: I noticed you also had a megamix prepared to promote this release, how did that come about?

B: I actually hadn’t prepared this at all. It was pure coïncidence. Shane Aungst, who made the megamix, contacted me a few days after the release was out saying he had picked 20 something tracks of the compilation to create a megamix. It turned out to be one that was 1 hour, 33 minutes and 21 seconds in length featuring 23 tracks and the quality was excellent! After mailing back and forth I created a cover for the megamix and Shane edited the megamix into 2 because Bandcamp was unable to feature the full length in one cut. Perhaps they should increase the 600 MB limit when you want to release a megamix (smiles).

It’s a nice extra on which Shane has been working for hours. We plan an interview with him in the next days actually.

SL: Something else. You informed us a few weeks ago that Side-Line had opened a channel on the mobile app Telegram?

B: Yes, that’s correct. The reason behind this is that Facebook is more and more becoming a no-go for indie news discovery. I for instance use Twitter a lot more for my news digestion, because Facebook really is rubbish at getting decent news in my feed even though I follow some really good sources. At Side-Line we could easily write clickbait articles that would get spread a lot. But that’s not what I want, and on top the team really wants to continue bringing news about smaller bands. But that’s not what Facebook wants, so it deliberately doesn’t push those newsitems to our readers since the ‘engagement’ is lower.

Facebook is really becoming a graveyard as far as non-commercial news is concerned. Unless you pay and even then. I don’t expect Facebook to get any better, on the contrary, it will get worse, because the shareholders will want more and more. Facebook can only deliver this by squeezing more and more money out of our pocket. And with their Libra project becoming a nightmare, you can be sure we the publishers all will have to pay for it (laughs)!

You know, Facebook has censored a ton of our articles because they didn’t like the artwork used by the band’s featured. Rammstein, Apoptygma Berzerk, Siva Six, Alien Vampires, Combichrist, articles from all of these bands and many more were simply censored and banned from the network … pretty frustrating.

SL: So Telegram is the way to go?

B: Yes. The service offers you the possibility to send out newsupdates to an unlimited number of people in one go without it being stopped, hidden away or censored even. I prefer this kind of news updates where I chose what I want to get.

People can join us on Telegram via this link (install the app as well, on desktop or mobile) and they will get our news first before it gets posted on Facebook. The good thing is that the channel is ad free. You just get our news and you can leave a like or dislike, and that’s where the comparison with Facebook ends. I’m personally also using Telegram a lot more to connect with people instead of Whatsapp. If you haven’t got an account yet, make sure to sign up!

SL: What’s coming up next?

B: As far as Side-Line is concerned I’m working on a few projects, but it’s too early to announce anything yet.

SL: Last question, what keeps you busy besides Side-Line?

B: Ha, a lot of things, too many things really. Besides my daytime job as a social media marketeer and CRM responsible at the Belgian branch of a multinational, and running 2 small holiday houses, I’m still heavily involved in Alfa Matrix, Bob De Moor, collecting original drawings by comic masters and a lot of local ‘policy work’, the latter is often draining a lot of my patience (laughs). I also have started running to stay fit. Every 2 days I try to do my 5 kilometers, early in the morning before having a breakfast at the local Panos, which opens at around 5.30 AM. It’s a perfect way to start the day with fresh energy I must say.

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