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The rebirth of cool: Caroline Music

12:55 01/02/2013

Some shops are much more than a place where you can purchase goods. Record shop Caroline Music is such a place: it is part of Brussels’ cultural identity. Throughout the eighties, nineties and noughties, Caroline was the place where discerning pop music fans went to buy the latest sounds before anyone else. In fact the red “imported by Caroline” stickers adorning freshly-released UK and US records were badges of honour, reminding the great public that you “were there first”. 

You also went to Caroline to buy your concert tickets (in the days before e-tickets and Q-codes) and often stayed for a natter with the people behind the counter who, more often than not, knew your tastes and had put this or that record aside for you. So when news filtered down last summer that Caroline was to disappear because the arcade it was in, Passage Saint-Honoré, was to close down, several generations of music lovers were in disarray. 

Then came the resurrection: Caroline Music would come back to life, opposite the Ancienne Belgique, with ‘Mr Caroline’ himself, André ‘Dédé’ Tart at the helm. Better still, vinyl would feature prominently, sending vinyl snobs into raptures. We caught up with the illustrious Dédé, the man who, more than anyone else in Brussels, effectively had a say in the contents of people’s record collections.

To what extent are the second coming of Caroline and the rude health of vinyl records linked?

The rebirth of vinyl was just one more factor, especially when we noticed that a majority of youngsters went back to this ‘vintage’ support, even though they hadn’t known vinyl records first time around! And all the while, the music industry kept on announcing the death of all ‘physical’ supports, claiming that the internet generation only cared for downloads. It should be said, however, that CDs remain very handy, and are still the most popular format. At the moment, it’s 60/40; but it could go the other way very quickly!

The Virgin Megastore on the Champs-Elysées, HMV in the UK… what does this say about the music industry?

The passing of ‘heavyweights’ such as Virgin or HMV was predictable inasmuch as the same had already happened in the US, with the closure of Tower Records among others. Those companies kept promoting quantity over quality, neglecting personalised service. People will either stop buying physical releases, or turn to shops with a human dimension, where they can have a chat rather than simply be the “next customer please”. Thanks to their experience, ‘proper’ record shop owners make a pre-selection among the dozens, hundreds of new releases, identifying the records which will prove most relevant to their customers.

Does Caroline’s place in Brussels’ musical heritage make the shop somehow indestructible?

Nothing is indestructible but maybe, after 35 years in Brussels, Caroline has wormed itself into the subconscious of every music fan, because very few of them can say they never bought a record or a concert ticket from us.

So what next for the music industry?

It is clear that in the near future, the major record companies will do all they possibly can to keep physical releases alive but, more than anything, hope will come from smaller independent labels who work particularly hard to come up with more avant-garde, underground releases, so as to keep their catalogue interesting and to guarantee constant rejuvenation among the clientele. 

Any tips for 2013?

All I know is that, in 2013, just like any other year, the really interesting new releases will probably come from outsiders and not from established artists.

Caroline Music, 101 Bld. Anspach, 1000 Brussels; Tel 02 502 10 83;


Written by PM Doutreligne