No matter which side your brain has been buttered on recently, most would think you’d have to be several slices short of a loaf to start a vinyl shop in the middle of a global pandemic. But that’s what Aimee Lara Bacallan and Alec Seynaeve decided to do shortly after Belgium was plunged into lockdown at the beginning of this year, when they started work on Objects & Sounds, which opened online in July.
The back story makes their decision even more surprising — the pair, who live in picturesque canal-side Ghent — have no experience working in music. Meanwhile, the approach, by their own admission, is so unique it was always going to be divisive. Rather than categorising stock by genre, instead they try to match tracks and albums to moods and feelings.
“There are two camps. Some people are excited about the idea of not boxing things off into genres and approaching things in a new way,” Bacallan replies when we ask about the initial reaction to their venture. “Then there’s the other, with people who are sceptical about the approach, thinking it’s just trying to find a trendy way to do it. But we find the people who understand the decision to go towards moods are people who also resonate with the catalogue, in terms of how broad the music can be.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic acted as a catalyst for setting wheels in motion, two people suddenly finding themselves with an awful lot of time on their hands, the concept was actually born years ago. “It’s like when you’re in a restaurant and realise the decor is great, food on-point, but the music doesn’t really fit. It got us thinking, what genre of music would fit a certain atmosphere? And it was very hard to say ‘OK we want this Sunday morning mood’, because it’s not really linked to a specific genre,” says Seynaeve.
The idea arguably goes beyond personal perspectives and specific moments when typical tags have failed to describe the perfect soundtrack for food. The last two decades, in electronic music at least, have seen stylistic lines increasingly blur, established blueprints mashed together to create sounds both new and familiar. In some ways, it's reminiscent of rave’s formative years, before canons had been established or attached to particular noises.
Then there’s also the universal truths of 2020 — a year in which we’ve all become acutely aware of our moods, and susceptibility to mood. Meanwhile, music itself has been asked to prove its own worth more than at any point in living memory. Fans rallied, campaigns were launched and bonafide movements born, reinforcing connections between artists, labels, venues and the public. In turn, our awareness of how tunes make us feel has been heightened. We ask if this intensely emotional state might have helped drive early interest in Objects & Sounds.
“Definitely. I think there’s a lot of talk right now about what’s essential and not, culture was one of the first things to stop because of lockdown, and it sparks a lot of conversations among people about the role of every aspect of life. We’ve had to think about things we maybe took for granted,” Bacallan quickly responds, before explaining Ghent itself was faster to provide a supporting framework for culture than much of Belgium. “When a lot of other cities were not doing events and concerts, Ghent had a few that were quote-unquote ‘COVID-safe’. So that was defining of the spirit of the city when it comes to cultural initiatives.”
One of the most impressive aspects of Objects & Sounds, or rather Seynaeve and Bacallan’s efforts to stop this pipe dream going up in smoke while working day jobs from home, respectively in web design and marketing, is the legwork involved. The first items to go online were by artists they had in their own personal record collections, and stock was sourced by dropping them a message on platforms like Bandcamp, before connecting with labels or distributors. Today the store carries a wealth of quality on imprints such as Smalltown Supersound, Ghostly International, Ninja Tune and Music From Memory, to name but a few.
“A lot of the labels we were into also really resonated with the idea of moods,” Bacallan says, explaining this has helped turn the process of ordering into a two-way street; for every back catalogue release from 2015 they want the store could just as easily buy in tracks the labels put forward, with some even suggesting additions to particular ‘mood packs’ comprising records of a similar feeling. “You want to expand your catalogue to a place where it can cover different types of music, but of course we have a preference to different moods, because that’s really the mood we listen to a lot. So the labels figure out the music we might like and suggest those to us, because they understand what we are going for.”
This relationship between buyer and label or artist is further cemented by the Journal section of the website, where a potentially fascinating future for Objects & Sounds becomes clear. Filled with high quality interviews themed around how music makes us respond emotionally, this reflects the holistic attitude of the pair running the show. Far from a hipster marketing ploy, they genuinely want to explore the relationship between sounds and feeling, to the nth degree, and tell the stories of those who are producing the tunes.
After a couple of successful trials in summer, long term goals include regular pop up stores with an experiential slant, and by focusing on locations outside the standard music circuit, there’s potential to help expand audiences well beyond the 50% Belgian and 50% overseas heads currently buying online. “When we participate in a design fair, people there are not really owning record players or into the world of buying music and following labels. So it’s introducing or reintroducing that experience to them,” says Seynaeve.
Whether these happen or not is almost as irrelevant as whether you bought into Objects & Sounds from the beginning. As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life, and in a world evermore drawn towards homogeneity, at a time when independent shops of all kinds are on their knees, if not in the ground, it can surely only be a good thing to see people taking a punt on passion by genuinely doing their own thing.