San Soda, real name Nico Geysens, is a DJ and producer who needs little by way of introduction. Belgian-born and Berlin-based, Nico’s passion for collecting records began in his teens with weekly trips to Ghent’s Music Man, the discoveries of which were channeled through a 2 hour weekly show on his friend’s Dad’s radio station. He hails these formative years as mythical times, an era where there was a real sense of subculture, something that has now been lost in this digital age.
Since his first release back in 2008, San Soda continued a close affiliation with friend and fellow DJ Red D’s We Play House Recordings, a label he would return to multiple times over the next decade. While you might also remember his house productions under the moniker FCL, also alongside Red D, as well as his New Beat indebted alter-ego Nick Berlin, his primary focus is now on his MTMU reissue label and the launch of his new blog, which will showcase a collection of podcasts dedicated to specific countries or eras.
Alongside an interview about his formative musical experiences and how digging for records has changed over the years, San Soda delivers a vinyl-only mix rallied around a vibe he’s been hooked on recently: Caribbean finds that span Beguine, Compas, Cadence, Afro-Cuban and Salsa, cemented together with some Brazilian Jazz and Fusion.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
Not at all for me. I’m still unsure whether this was a good or a bad thing but until I was about 15/16 years old, there were only three albums I had really listened to: one by The Beatles, one by Queen and one by Dire Straits. That pretty much sums up my musical education before starting to hear DJs like Red D, Tyree Cooper, Scott Ferguson and Antal in a legendary small bar in my hometown Deinze. So that’s mostly where my musical upbringing took place. A few records I’ll never forget hearing there are: the Global Communication mix of Azymuth’s ‘Jazz Carnival’, the Carl Craig remix of ‘Falling Up’, ‘She Can’t Love You’ by Chemise… And I still remember singing “Move your body, Move your body” biking home after the party with Tyree Cooper, only finding out later it was Marshall Jefferson’s anthem. It was all new to me. So those nights were really formative, they left a big mark on me musically and personally.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
My friend’s dad was running a local radio station, he let us host a 2 hour radio show on Monday evenings and that’s where we first learned about turntables, mixing etc. We then started going to this famous record shop in Ghent called Music Man every few weeks. The vibe in there was particular and sometimes intimidating actually. The big DJs had their own little shelf behind the counter and we weren’t always allowed to buy a copy of certain records because “they were reserved”. On Thursdays it was full house, the new releases arrived so everyone was listening and grabbing what they could. Those were mythical times, it was a real subculture. It’s a shame we lost that.
The second hand digging got a lot less adventurous also, I’m probably not the only one doing most of the digging online on the couch now… But back then there was no 3G, no Discogs, no Youtube. You could go in a shop and walk out with a stack of records you never heard or never found for sale before. You could still get that adrenalin rush pulling out a rare record at a flea market. Those days are over. Not saying it’s totally impossible to dig out nice records but I guess the approach kind of went from “finding a record that you didn’t know or couldn’t find” to “finding a record at a better price than the copy for sale on the Discogs marketplace”. There’s still a few of those untapped digging spots around the world but they are getting more and more rare. I still enjoy buying small collections sometimes, it’s fun to go through what someone else has amassed and you always end up finding new or rediscovering treasures.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
They are in my living room. I’ve been downsizing the last few years and trying to bring it down to one wall of records. A few months back I had some custom built shelves made by Michiel from Clauset & Dekeyser, I’m very happy with them. They’re based in Brussels and design all sorts of DJ booths, shelving, store furniture etc.
The records are ordered alphabetically by artist or label. Most sections are geographical regions and then there are three bigger sections for electronic music, disco/funk and jazz/soul. Then there’s a few crates with records that I’m currently playing.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Flea markets or random thrift shops are still the most fun, especially whilst traveling. Digging online or nicely curated second hand record shops might be more efficient but there’s still something very romantic about hunting for records in far away places.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Too many to mention! I’ve been so lucky with the people I’ve met while touring. Showing me around their city, driving me to collectors or shops, translating, negotiating, shipping back records etc. I’m so thankful for that and it often created lasting connections, learning from each other and sharing your passion.
All sorts of colourful characters among the people selling the records too. Sometimes the process of buying someone’s collection can be quite intimate because it can represent so much. Sometimes positive: representing the best years of their life, their success, or negative: shattered dreams, regrets, financial trouble. Some moments will always stick with me like a father selling the records of his son he lost in a car crash or an old musician in the US that asked us to leave the barn for five minutes so he could say goodbye to his records before loading them in the car… Those records will forever carry their memories.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
Not so much now as in the past. I guess these days most records eventually pop up on Ebay or Discogs at some point or at some price. Or they get reissued. But I do remember a certain record that seemed unfindable when I started DJing. I had to ask a friend that had an Ebay account and a credit card to bid on a Muzique Records release by Traxmen, the one with the original version of Emergency. Today there are plenty of inexpensive copies for sale. But there was no Discogs back then and I was always asking about it in the record shops but no luck. I was so happy to get it, thank you Sophie.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
It’s so much fun to dig together and pull out records for each other, both with friends or with people you don’t know very well, especially if they come from a different musical background than yourself. What might be a classic for one, another has never heard of. And the little bits of knowledge about producers, labels or musicians that come up can be super valuable.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating where the most interesting stuff for me could be sitting after checking a few records in every crate, so if there’s a time limit, I’ll just try to flip through as many as I can there. With no time limit, I don’t think there’s many record stores I’ve left without having seen every single record.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Much more now than before. I’ve been working on a bunch of reissues lately which made me realise how much work and thought can go into cover art. I’ve actually been pulling out a lot of the records from my own collection paying closer attention to the techniques and skill involved with design and printing. Unconsciously of course it has always played a role when selecting and playing records but now I’m especially paying closer attention to the artists, photography, typography, colours etc.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
Well it might be the favourite mix I’ve ever done 🙂 Since you asked me not to show the breadth of my collection necessarily, which I usually try to do, I zoomed in on a vibe that I’ve been into a lot the last few months. Mostly music from the Caribbean: Beguine, Compas, Cadence, Afro-Cuban and Salsa with some Fusion and Jazz from Brazil glueing it all together.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
I’m in love with this Max Labour album called Mamma Says, I’ve included two tracks from that album. So much beauty and musicianship. Another standout track is the quirky “La Rosée Si Feuilles Songes”, I never heard that much swing in a drum beat, every individual hit seems lightyears off but the groove sounds so right. It’s J Dilla avant la lettre.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why? Are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
I’m a big fan of D’s who manage to make it about how you play something rather than what. It’s fun to nerd out over rare or undiscovered records but at the end of the day it’s just about that magical fraction of a second where people connect through music and dance, when they’re truly together in that moment. That’s the only drive, which record is the soundtrack to that moment is unimportant. Theo Parrish, Geo-logy, Antal, Sadar Bahar, Edd Fisher, Simon TK to me are those kind of “real” DJs, they could play that bargain bin record and create something that can’t just be replicated easily.
Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?
I’ve finally been finishing up the website I was working on together with a friend during these times of Corona confinement. It will be a collection of podcasts dedicated to a certain country or era, hoping to launch that officially soon.
U.X.B. – Sting Me, the second reissue on Music Take Me Up is just out and a bunch of other releases are on the way. Super excited about the compilation of Gospel tracks by Joy including one of my favourite tracks “The Time Is Right”. After that there’s a 7” with a killer Reggae track by Kip Carmen & Danny Horton called “This Island Is Our Home”.
I’m doing some mixes and productions under my New Beat alter ego “Nick Berlin”, the first one just went live on Skylab Radio in Melbourne: it will be a series of four mixes of an hour with a collection of favourite tracks with the classic Belgian sound of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
I’m also happy to have found a cool working space in Berlin that I’m sharing with my friends Alex From Tokyo and Gratts. It’s slowly turning into a small record shop and kind of a vinyl care centre. We have some professional record cleaning devices and a high quality vinyl ripping station so anyone needing any help with that, in or outside Berlin, feel free to hit us up. The service will be called Ripples, more info coming soon.