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Interview with Bernard Van Isacker: ‘The Side-Line crowd is a true powerhouse!’

By Dec 31,2020

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Yesterday Side-Line released session 6 in the by now famous free ‘Face The Beat’ compilation series focussing on the darker side of the music world. The compilation is available on Bandcamp for immediate download. For free or as a pay-what-you-want. This time our magazine’s chief editor Bernard Van Isacker selected 139 bands to participate after a submission round was launched in Summer of 2020.

Just like last time, we took the time to sit down with our chief editor to talk about the compilation but of course also about other things including the unavoidable corona pandemic. Instead of traveling to far away Ypres in Belgium, we set up a Zoom conference call and fired some questions at him while we hear his 3-year old son Magnus shouting ‘Dinosaurs!’.

SL: Dinos?

BVI: Ha yes, he is besotted with dinosaurs and just two days ago we went to see Dinopolis, which was the most exciting event for him this year! I literally had to drag him out of the park after we had done the tour 7 times in a row, which was more than enough for us but Magnus stayed excited until the very last second!

It was the first time out for us to be honest, since we have been in and out quarantine for the past couple of months.

SL: Speaking of which, has the current corona pandemic affected you in any way?

BVI: Besides from contracting the virus and being miserably ill just like some relatives, friends and acquaintances? It has damaged a lot of people and families I notice and some close friends have been hit particularly hard… It’s something that will pass once we all get vaccinated, but it is leaving lots of scars which often go unnoticed these days. The press prefers to focus on TV-stars who get depressed, stars who get caught in sex scandals, etc. but they pay a lot less attention to those who are going bankrupt and see their livelihoods go up in thin corona air.

If you ask me what preoccupied me the most, it was keeping my mum safe at any cost. We phone a lot and zoom every week, luckily enough she has a very strong personality which prevented her from breaking so to speak. I often wondered how my late father would have reacted if he were still alive today, I don’t think it would have been a pleasant trip for him at all.

A lot of people have difficulties coping with the stress of this and they develop psychological problems, including several friends of mine… I would guess that we as a society really have to work on getting people more resilient when we get confronted with stress situations. I’m not sure how to do this, but governments should really look into this.

So on the whole, yes, it has affected me directly, but I’m quite a positive person so I’m pretty sure we’ll survive it despite the hardships endured the past few months. I’m also very fortunate to have a couple of excellent friends with whom I often talk about life in general. I guess it’s key to keep you in good spirits and motivate each other. One of them, Nico, is also part of my ‘unique social bubble’ as we call it so I was able going to exhibitions – such as the Will Eisner one in Brussels – and comic fairs with him when it was allowed.

SL: What is the first thing you will do when you are vaccinated?

BVI: Visit my mum and brothers the moment I can. And when the restaurants open, to go out to dinner with Stephane from Side-Line and Seba and Benoit from Alfa Matrix. They have been very close friends for over 20 years with whom I’ve shared quite a lot of history, the good and the bad as it should be. Next to that I’ll start planning trips to Bulgaria, Norway, Mexico, Italy, France, Germany, the UK, Turkey to visit my friends and family over there in case they haven’t been here first.

SL: Was there any fun for you in 2020?

BVI: Sure! Seeing how my two sons are growing up was pure joy. Magnus is 3 years old now and is very much into dinosaurs… I’d even say kinda obsessed (laughs)! He is being raised in Spanish and Dutch so I hear him speaking both languages which is kinda cool. My oldest son Sebastian is 15 now, and the perfect company to spend time with. We enjoy the same morbid humor and love Southpark. You get the idea I think!

Musically speaking I was very much positively surprised of how so many bands took the opportunity to reinvent themselves as far as studio work or in communication forced by the situation. I have seen lots of great experiments taking place, and I’m sure that those bands learned a lot along the way. In a way this pandemic forced many to think out of the box, so let’s hope this trend remains alive!

SL: Let’s talk about the new volume of “Face The Beat”. There were a lot more tracks included in this 6th volume I see? Over 130!

BVI: ‘Blame’ that on the bands who have been hyperactive being confined at home! I actually never put any limit on the number of tracks that are featured on the compilation. If a track is good it will get on there. If they deliver their wav-files on time that is which is not always the case unfortunately, but that’s part of the compiling process. But the corona pandemic definitely did have a huge influence on the number of submissions, there is no doubt about that. Several bands also tackle 2020 in their songs, which makes it even more visible and audible.

Time-wise my agenda was fully packed, as I work in an essential sector so I really had my hands full with work in order to redirect all marketing efforts from the company I work for towards digital communication in the broad sense of it. So when I realized that this new compilation was becoming bigger and bigger I spent most of my day offs to complete it. It had to be ready by the end of this year as was promised to our readers and to the bands that participated and who also spent lots of time on their tracks. Respect goes both ways, and all the bands and labels that helped out of course deserved that respect!

SL: How is the compilation doing?

BVI: I must say that our readers again did an excellent job in pushing the compilation forward in record time. Number 1 in the industrial charts on Bandcamp, number 2 in the alternative charts on Bandcamp and number 7 in the overal charts on Bandcamp and this just a couple of hours after it was released. Pretty good in other words! So thank you very much all of you for supporting this release!

It shows that the ‘Face The Beat’ crowd really is a true powerhouse and unique in its sort because we keep on focusing on young bands. I guess being genuine does work, I also see it in the reactions from the participating bands and labels, they do appreciate the work we put into it.

SL: The series is often being labeled as ‘cult’ or ‘legendary’, surprised?

BVI: I’m kinda modest in these things. But it’s undeniable that what once started in an obscure corner of the internet quickly has evolved into a musical mastodon with a real traction connecting ten thousands of people worldwide. It’s starting to become a very important legacy indeed if you look at it this way. Despite Facebook I must say.

SL: What do you mean ‘despite Facebook’?

BVI: Well, it all started 10 years ago as a download on Facebook, hence the title of the series. Since then the platform has only become a real money grabbing machine – no problem for me, but it has lost 99% of its original attraction. Facebook is no longer the friend of bands as the organic reach is abysmal nowadays. We do indeed promote posts on Facebook, but it’s the only way to get a decent reach there unless you get a viral post, but for that we don’t add enough kittens in the pictures. So, the data is there, you just don’t get access to it without paying. For me they have exaggerated the business model behind it, and I guess I can talk for the bands as well. Especially bands who don’t tour (2020 anyone?) find it financially unsustainable to promote their posts on the platform. The ROI is close to zero unless you can sell merchandise or tickets.

SL: So what platform should bands and labels use in order to keep in touch with their fanbase?

BVI: Facebook remains part of a band’s or label’s communication plan of course, but I would really recommend bands start getting a presence on Bandcamp as well if only to sell downloads, merchandise or offer videos for instance. The interesting thing about it is that it works particularly well for those bands and labels who have been smart enough to invest in and keep data in-house instead of focussing on an external platforms like Facebook for instance. On Facebook you do NOT posses the data at all, and that’s to be taken literally. On Bandcamp you have direct access to the data.

As far as Facebook is concerned, unless you pay you can not contact the major part of your followers. You can still count the number of bands who have worked on a good mailinglist on both your hands so to speak. I keep on recommending it to bands when they ask me what they should do first. It’s the data. No doubt about it.

Side-Line has been very data driven since the start, so we were able to drive loads of traffic to Bandcamp once we started there. As a result the number of people connected to the Side-Line Bandcamp page and getting our notifications is just enormous. Add to that that they offer a very good targeting tool within their internal messaging and you have a very good combination to get things rolling pretty fast.

Bandcamp is also a platform that keeps on developing, just look at the features they have launched the past few years like subscriptions, live streaming, merchandise etc.. It’s an allround music service platform with an own community if you want. You could argue that it’s rather weird that mainstream labels still haven’t fully embraced it, then again there are (too?) many ties between those labels and other ‘competing’ services which blocks them I guess.

It’s not the only platform, but if you want to stay in control of your data and have a direct impact on the moment you want to communicate it’s a must have. Add to this that the people behind Bandcamp are very band centered, I have had the occasion to speak with them on various occasion regarding new features and it’s quite delightful to see how they think and work. Bandcamp Fridays for example are something a ‘normal’ company would never do, but Bandcamp did. So yes, highly and warmly recommended.

SL: What is the last track you played if I may ask?

BVI: Apart from the current compilation I’m addicted to “Summer 2” from the album “Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons”. Just wonderful. I have it on repeat since last week when I heard it in the “L’Amica Geniale”, an Italian- and Neapolitan-language coming-of-age drama television series created by Saverio Costanzo. Alan Wilder should do a rendition of it, that could be truly epic… I think I’ll text him later today about that (smiles). Time we get a new Recoil album too, no?

Here’s said track:

SL: Any wishes for 2021?

BVI: A good health to everyone, lots of love and understanding (people shouldn’t always attack one another just because they have different opinions) and let’s hope we can hug each other pretty soon again. I think that is the most important stuff today. The rest we can manage with hard work!

I invite you all to check out the new compilation of course. Enjoy!



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