Flemish rapper Flip Kowlier releases all his albums on vinyl
Flip Kowlier, famous for his West Flemish rap, is releasing all of his past five albums on vinyl and heading out on tour
“I don’t get the credit I deserve”
All of Kowlier’s five albums have just been rereleased on vinyl – though they’ve never released on vinyl before. “It’s first and foremost a tribute to the cover artwork,” the 37-year old Flemish singer, songwriter, rapper and musician explains.
Vinyl seemed doomed to become defunct at the end of the previous century, but has been winning some ground in the last decade. When the subject comes up with musicians, they unvaryingly extoll its aural quality, as if they were talking about black gold.
So, it’s refreshing to hear another explanation. “All the covers have been designed to look great at the size of a vinyl album,” Kowlier says, adding that the five vinyls are lined up next to each other in his home. “I’d never do that with my CDs,” he says. “It makes me proud.”
Kowlier, who is now on tour across Flanders, candidly adds that there were also commercial considerations. “Vinyl is hip and sells, relatively speaking, quite well. Fans ask for it. That was another reason.”
Sound quality was another factor. “Contrary to a vinyl album, when you record for a CD, you basically have to reduce the sound quality to fit the music. Though you might lose some other elements with vinyl, for instance, the high tones. We could discuss the pros and cons for hours, but, frankly, I mostly listen to music digitally with iTunes or Spotify. And occasionally to CDs, which, compared to streaming services, still sound damn good.”
The new releases offer a career-spanning overview. Cirque came out at the end of last year, respecting the three-year interval that lies between each of his albums. After gaining fame with cult West Flemish rap group ’t Hof van Commerce in the 1990s, Kowlier released his solo debut Ocharme ik (Poor Me) in 2001.
The songs on my first album contain the inspiration of a young person’s entire life
He observes that there’s a persistent myth that an artist’s first record is typically his best. “Artists are opposed to this idea because, if that’s the case, why would you continue after your debut? But I understand why this idea abides. And it’s true, I was 24, 25, when I wrote the songs, but they had been germinating in my head for years. They contain the inspiration of a young person’s entire life.”
Still, he adds, “when you keep on writing, you become a better craftsman. Of course, you still need the inspiration to write songs. It’s trial and error. Looking back, I realise now, I had the most difficulties with my second album, In de fik (On fire). Not that I don’t like the songs; it’s because of how it was recorded.”
While most of Kowlier’s repertoire is a mix of pop, rock and folky acoustic, he ventured into reggae for his fourth album, Otoradio (Car Radio). At the time, he was determined to stick to one genre, and reggae suited that purpose. The album credits mention that it was co-produced by Wouter Van Belle and Kowlier. But Kowlier’s credit was, in retrospect, an ego thing, he says. “Wouter was really the producer.”
Kowlier stresses that he can be vain. “I sometimes feel I don’t receive the credit I deserve. It bothers me, for instance, when I’m seen as just a dialect singer, while I see singing in dialect as a matter of minor importance. It’s just the language I most easily express myself in. So what? It’s absolutely not linked to the kind of music I play.”
Democracy and pop
As an aspiring rapper in the mid-90s, Kowlier tried to rhyme in English. “I can speak English, sure, but I don’t fully master the language, and I noticed it was difficult to avoid clichés in those early lyrics. Whereas when I started writing in dialect, it was like opening a faucet that kept on running. I knew I would never revert to English again.”
Writing in dialect was like opening a faucet that kept on running
Of course, his choice of language creates geographical limits. “At first, I didn’t care about that. Not that it really bothers me now, but I think – this might sound impertinent – that I’ve made some albums that have some relevance. It’s a bit of a pity they can’t be heard by more people.”
Kowlier started out as a rapper, one of the members of ’t Hof van Commerce rap crew. In 1998, the threesome dropped a bomb in the Flemish music world. Some hip-hop had been made in Dutch by then, but nothing as original and gripping as the rhymes the group delivered on their debut album En in Izzegem (And in Izegem).
After two ’t Hof albums, Kowlier released his solo debut. “I wasn’t bored with hip-hop. I had been writing songs for years, and I wanted to be my own boss. The most annoying thing about playing in a band was adapting myself to others. I think there always needs to be someone who’s in charge. Democracy and pop music don’t match. It’s like making a painting with three people.”
It’s not that Kowlier always wants to be in charge. For some years, he has been the bass player of Admiral Freebee, which is Tom Van Laere’s musical project. “The casting was crystal-clear – it was Tim’s show, and the music was his responsibility. It was super fun. If I had the time, I would do it again."
After four albums, ’t Hof van Commerce took a break in 2005. They regrouped two years ago for their fifth album, which might really have been their last. “We called it quits, though we said: ‘never say never’.”
Zon • Trufflehunter
Three years after his debut album, Gentenaar Senne Guns is back with Zon (Sun). It’s less overtly cheerful than his first, but certainly not less good. On the contrary. Guns has grown as a singer, which makes a difference, especially in the more intimate, melancholic songs like “Zomer” (“Summer”) and “Man zonder land” (“Man Without Country”). There are more of those tunes on this album than on the previous one, but at other moments, Senne Guns still serves up lively pop songs. One of them is a surprising Dutch version of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary”.
Sunday Bell Ringers
SBR • Zeal
After the playful, sunny pop of their eponymously titled first album, Sunday Bell Ringers opted for an almost complete makeover. The Brussels band led by Joeri Cnapelinckx has imbued its music with loads of electronics. No fancy 21st-century sounds but raucous drum computers and vile, distorted synth that catapult the listener back to the 1980s. It’s baffling at first, but after the first surprise has seeped in, you start to enjoy the energy and power of SBR. Sunday Bell Ringers prove that, as a band, it’s possible to reinvent yourself.