This interview was conducted at Amsterdam Dance Event on Wednesday October 18th, as part of the Belgium Booms program in collaboration with De Brakke Grond and VI.BE. The interview was recorded on video at the ADE Lab. The below text is an edited transcription of the 43-minutes long conversation.
To introduce Colin Volvert aka Rey Colino I’m just gonna read biography, because it’s so nicely written. Working a symbiotic balance between his day job behind the steering wheel of Amsterdam-based webshop and distributor One Eye Witness and his seafood-luvin’label Kalahari Oyster Cult, when the night clocks in, Brussels native Rey Colino has long proven his dedication and dexterity when it comes to ubiquitous on and off-stage dancefloor busting operations.
Such a nice biography, Colino.
Thank you, Chat GPT. (laughs)
Haha, well done. Being a huge fan of your first release on Kalahari Oyster Cult - that Jacy 12 inch ‘Somewhere In The Tapes’ - I remember asking you for a promo and you ended up giving me a t-shirt. Still one of my favorite shirts by the way, but I have been wondering for all those years, where does the name come from? I know Kalari is an African desert, why the oyster?
So Blue Öyster Cult is one of the first records I got from my dad. I was always fascinated by the name and the conjunction of words and then I really like the idea of a cult of people idolizing oysters in the desert, something that can’t exist.
Does your father have many records?
Not so many, but good ones. Alan Bashung, Jacques Brel collector boxes, …
A music freak as well?
Not really. He has great taste, but is not really into music.
How old were you when he gave you the record?
Seven or eight. And it stuck with me, that’s the reason I’m here I guess. I was really fascinated by turntables. Back then there were part of living rooms, like at my grandparents house. Now they reappeared, but in between there was like a 15 year slot where they were nowhere to be found.
Only CD players.
Yeah, but where are they now? (laughs)
How do you look back at the start of your labels, around 2017?
I learned a lot. I arrived out of the blue in this business, I think it's the only way you can actually do it. Many people over the past years have asked me how to start, I'm not too sure that there's an academic way of getting into it, it’s mostly a matter of luck and bad luck.
Following your gut feeling?
Yeah, I haven’t really thought about it much, I just started working. I'm really thankful for being able to do what I do.
We are in Amsterdam for the famous Amsterdam Dance Event. You are from Belgium, but an Amsterdam resident?
Yeah, I have been living here for 8 or 9 years now. I live in Noord, also called Noord Gestoord. When I moved here I was still studying and the only spot in town that was still affordable was in Noord. I really enjoy the neighborhood, because it's close to the center but also very quiet. And some independent places like Garage Noord were already initiated back then.
It’s the other side of the river Het Ij, right?
Yes, it has this kind of warehouse vibe, with plenty of antikraak projects going on. The dynamic was already happening when we moved here. For a long time there was only the boat to pass the river. Now they built a metro line.
How did you roll into electronic music?
I did my Masters in communication science here in Amsterdam and wrote my thesis about the framing and coverage of electronic music festivals by newspapers in Europe. During my thesis I sent an email to a friend, proposing the idea of reissuing a Sonya Spence record. He (Otto Kraanen, ed.) runs the Bordello A Parigi label and invited me for an internship. So I started working there and we launched a new label together, the now defunct Attic Salt Discs imprint, to release the record. Not much later, I helped find a space and set up their record shop. On a Friday I handed in my thesis, the Monday after I started behind the counter of the brand new shop. I must have been the fastest employed student in Amsterdam. (laughs)
Many DJs work in record shops, right?
Yeah, it’s a really good environment for DJs. But I was not a DJ at the time. I started DJing later. And in my life right now, it’s not the highest priority. My company One Eye Witness is. DJing is still a hobby, rather than work, I'm an amateur.
You are more an entrepreneur than a DJ?
For sure. But it all came very organically. The music scene in Amsterdam was really flourishing when I arrived here. We’re talking about the Dekmantel and Rush Hour years, when all the superstar DJs were coming to Amsterdam, so I've certainly been going out much more. Brussels back then was really late at the game, which is today more of an asset, a positive thing. There’s this sense of naivety and clubbing isn’t as institutionalized as in Amsterdam, which leaves a lot of space for creativity and innocence.
Where are you from?
From Ixelles in Brussels.
Apart from your father, did you have other musical inspirations as an adolescent?
From my family not so much, although there was always music around, from Björk to Celine Dion. I had some pretty agitated years as a teenager, when music was some kind of shelter or escape for me. Like every DJ today, I started playing with an iPod at home parties. My first gig was at ULB, playing with my friend Ignasi, who now runs Hivern Discs alongside John Talabot and makes music as Oma Totem. I’m actually releasing his EP on my label in the near future. It’s a pretty romantic thing to see where we come from. I was already living in Amsterdam, so I took the Flix Bus, a long ride with many delays, to arrive at a gig where no one was really expecting us and we were surely not expecting what would come next. (laughs)
Kalahari Oyster Cult has an impressive discography, looking back at more than 50 releases since the start in 2017. Could you describe the creative path the label has followed? It started with a deep house sound and evolved over the years to a faster, more 90s inspired clubby house sound?
It’s really parallel to my DJing, it's what I love at the moment and I want to play. I really am lucky to be provided with a lot of music by great musicians and so I just follow my taste. I don’t have so much of a market analysis really, I try to not go too much with the flow and if it happens that it’s in pair with the market, that’s a good thing. This is also the interesting role of a label, right? To put these hypes into motion and be able to move into the next one before it’s too late. For this, all my activities, label, distribution and DJing is feeding my taste. I’m constantly exposed to music, it’s coming from everywhere. It really trains the ear. I listen to music in the office for like 10 hours straight. During the weekend I hear other DJs play.
Oyster Tribe, Mineral Cuts and Oyster Ballads are three sublabels you run. What’s the narrative behind them?
Oyster Tribe was really in pair with the hype around tribal records that was happening at the time. Mineral Cuts is actually my public dubplate service, to make records available that I like a lot but that were way too expensive to purchase. I put a lot of effort in the sound quality, remastered them with a very loud cut and pressed them on 45 rpm. As a real tool for club DJs, it was surprising that the first one was so successful, since it came out during the pandemic, when all clubs were closed. It was a bit of a gamble. There was a comment on it, saying: ‘there is not a single home party I have been to during the lockdown where this record wasn’t played’. That’s really really nice.
And the ballads?
This was a project with Lawrence Le Doux, who presented it to me in 2020. I didn’t really know where to put it, which is a really good thing I guess. I didn’t fit the clubby music I was releasing at the time. I stumbled upon the work of Japanese artist Sae Honda, who is based in Amsterdam. She did these stones gathered with plastic collected at places that someone cares for. Lawrence Le Doux collected his plastic in Molenbeek, which were then used for the cover art. In collaboration with the pressing plant Deep Grooves we did a 100% recycled production, which is actually rather difficult to do and also very expensive. So I only did it once. It was a statement.
Just recently The Chants Of The Holy Oyster came out, a stunning 4 x 12” vinyl box set. It looks like a coffee table book, a sort of piece de resistance for the label?
It was released to celebrate our sixth anniversary, presenting 12 artists, all friends of mine. It has been in the works for ages. Some tracks I already played in my Boiler Room set at Listen Festival in 2019. I was just waiting for the right time to get it out. And for the tracklisting to make sense, to have a common thread. The production costs for such a release are very high, but I wanted to make a statement as well. I made it to break even so now I can breathe again. (laughs)
Can you highlight some of the artists from the compilation?
Ray Castoldi was already active as a deep house producer in the nineties. He is a classically trained musician, working as the organist at the Madison Square Garden. I recently saw him on a video performing with Fred Again and Four Tet, showing them how the organ functions. His track on my compilation is an unreleased track he made in 1991 and recovered from a DAT tape. The fourth release ever on Kalahari Oyster Cult in 2017 was also with his music.
Syzygy is the writer of the Doctor Who soundtrack on BBC. Sound Mercenary are the Van Elsen brothers from Antwerp. Gnatenko is an artist from Ukraine, I previously released an album that he wrote during the war with Russia. S.O.N.S is originally from France, but opened a record shop in Seoul and met Go Dam.
It almost feels like an extended, chosen family? Have you had a barbecue already?
No, but we partied a lot. (laughs)
As an A&R, you have pushed forward new music and re-issues, but in my opinion, you have always maneuvered towards the future, always pushing forward a sound that - although I hear clear influences from a nineties club sound - was and is trying to sound new and futuristic. Is this something you can relate to?
Yeah, totally. I like the nineties approach with a modern sound design. Producers like Roza Terenzi are just so good with Ableton, the way she arranges the rhythm pattern for example, these are things that you couldn’t do before. Nothing is reinvented, but it’s just groovy and it sounds good. We put a lot of effort into mastering and the lacquer cut. But in the end, we use the same media and the same machines as in the nineties, both for producing and for pressing. It’s a long process between the mixing and the mastering. I constantly test all of the tracks and demos in clubs. When a track is ready, I’m usually a bit fed up with it, since I heard it too many times. (laughs)
What are you playing in clubs right now?
Coming from the summer season, I played quite some tracks on high rotation, so I’m switching them for new tracks, and these are darker. This also means that next year the label will sound darker, more techno. It’s really a matter of seasons and the frequency I have been playing. Lately it has been quite intense. My friend Oma Totem will soon be released on Kalahari Oyster Cult. This was the first time I did A&R this way, spending time with him in the studio in Barcelona to work on all the details of the tracks.
You have previously worked at Bordello A Parigi, who also operate as a distribution company. Why did you decide to start your own distribution company One Eye Witness? I wanted to control all the steps of production and its quality. We are really independent this way. It started with a handful of friends who trusted me, in a very small and noisy space without windows. Back then, I spent all of my savings on it. We now work with 150 labels, doing P&D deals next to regular distribution deals.
You have spent the last 6 years setting up labels and a distribution company, which is an impressive accomplishment in terms of entrepreneurship. Did you also have to deal with failures, with moments where you thought everything was falling apart? It’s been good, but it’s a very interesting and challenging time. Just as in every other industry, costs and rents are rising and everybody is suffering. But we are in a blessed position with our labels. In the end it’s healthy for the industry, since the price of a vinyl record hadn’t seen any inflation in like ten years. If you pay 10 euro for a pack of cigarettes and 15 for a record, I guess it makes sense - though smoking is not something I would advise. (laughs)
The market was oversaturated, so what’s happening now is some kind of organic gatekeeping.
As an expert in the vinyl business, how do you look at the current state of the product and the industry? Are record shops surviving?
I don’t think the end is near. What’s really reassuring is that a young crowd now is the most fanatic I have ever seen. They are really extreme about it, swearing by vinyl only. But for record shops I’m really worried. Having to pay rents and employees based on selling records is most definitely already a challenge in normal times and due to the economical crisis we are facing, it definitely proves to be even more difficult right now. I have seen some shops close while others order less records (from One Eye Witness, ed.). It’s also detrimental for the scene, since they take less risks, so people are exposed to less music. That’s a shame, since not all creativity needs to be efficient. That’s why we are trying to set up consignment deals with shops for the first time ever, on a pay what you sell term, which is an administrative hassle, but it can help smaller shops to survive.
What’s your favorite record shop in the world?
Crevette Records in Brussels. I always find sick stuff and I find free beers. And I enjoy having a good chat and a few beers with the boss Pim.
Your DJ career is going strong. What do you love most about DJing?
For me it’s a real passion. What I like most about it is getting better at it. I really like the learning process of different crowds, sound systems or moods that the audience can be in, and slalom around them. Doing my first tour in Australia and Asia last year I was really flabbergasted, to be able to travel and visit all these beautiful places and meet all these nice people. Our scene has some flaws, but on the positive side there is a lot of warmth.
What was your favorite gig the past year?
Probably DJing back to back with Roza Terenzi at Dekmantel. That was a full circle moment, since she was involved in one of the label’s first releases. There were many friends around and the crowd was on fire. Dekmantel Selectors in Croatia was also legendary. I lost my digital playlist just hours before the gig, so I ended up making a new playlist during the transfer to the festival, forcing me to really go with the flow. It turned out completely different from what I had in mind, but it was really good. It got me on my toes, that was interesting.
Are you ever anxious before a DJ gig?
Not that much, maybe only for iconic gigs. It really depends on my mood and fatigue as well, how the working week went. After a rough week, it can be pretty intense to be honest. As an entrepreneur, you never really leave work and I have all my eggs in the same basket. I’m exploring how to find a balance, maybe sometimes even refusing a DJ gig.
But thank you for not refusing this interview! We wish you all the best with your businesses and DJ career, Colin!