The Brussels studio has become a true cradle for new talent, but in order to keep pace with technology, the studio needs creative support from the audio manufacturing business.
Rockfabriek was founded some 20 years ago as a recording studio for young people in the Brussels region. An innovative project that today accounts for more than 100 low-profile but high-quality recording sessions per year. The studio, consisting of a recording room, a live room and an event hall, is part of the government funded JES (Jeugd En Stad – ‘Youth in the City’) initiative.
The JES-site is the home of a large number of social youth initiatives like a youth hotel, education projects, multimedia training – a melting pot of activities under one roof, inspiring and supporting each other.
“We started out with a two-track recorder and one microphone,” explains Gorik De Smet, chief engineer at the Rockfabriek (pictured above at the console). “Year after year, we applied for investment budgets with the Flemish Community and sponsors such as the National Lottery – the latter provided the funds to invest in decent pre-amps and microphones.”
De Smet underlines that the Rockfabriek is not a commercial initiative, yet wants to offer high quality recording equipment. “We want to offer a solid basis for youngsters who want to learn the job – Rockfabriek also serves as training facility for SAE students, and therefore they must be able to work with the gear used in conventional studios.”
In 2012 Rockfabriek traded their 10-year-old Allen & Heath GS3000 console for 16 pre-amps, straight into the Avid Pro Tools 8 HD2 system with Digidesign 192, offering 16 input channels.
Alongside eight channels of Audient ASP008 pre-amps, De Smet opted for eight top- notch boutique pre-amps including Neve 1073 DPA, API3124+, Universal Audio Solo/610 and Twin Finity 710. “A variety allowing studio engineers, students and musicians to get to know and appreciate the specs of these classic pre-amps,” continues De Smet.
The control room is equipped with PMC TB2s AII monitor speakers with a TLE1 sub, controlled by a Crane Song Avocet converter. “The selection of microphones (including a Neumann U 87ai, Sennheiser MD241 and a matched pair of AKG C414XLIIs) is based on industry standards – in combination with the pre-amps, the Rockfabriek provides an ideal environment to build a future as engineer or recording artist,” adds De Smet.
The idea is echoed by Stef Van Alsenoy, co-founder of the Rockfabriek and now a recording engineer at the Ancienne Belgique venue. “The idea was to cater for bands who want to record their first demos – there was a vacuum between the true amateurs and the top league artists, and Rockfabriek was filling the gap,” explains Van Alsenoy. He notes that Rockfabriek sessions are many bands’ first experience in a studio, with individual miking – sometimes revealing imperfections that remain unheard during rehearsals.
“In that respect, Rockfabriek also plays a determinative role, a natural selection between true amateur bands and artists that manage to achieve the next level,” says Van Alsenoy. “This experience makes musicians stand out from their peers.” With government funding becoming more and more difficult, De Smet is now looking for ways to continue the high level of musical youth education/social work. Not the easiest of things with studio rates of €15 per hour.
“A lot of young people have gone beyond the Rockfabriek and pursued a career in music. I think our project is a correct way to deal with youngsters – alongside the technology we bring them other social skills such as respect for equipment and deadlines, commitment…” he says.
“In view of our mission, and with SAE students coming our way for training, we want to establish partnerships or endorsement deals with leading companies in the audio industry. Let’s face it: what we get as a government donation is not sufficient, and any help would be welcome. And the return for the audio brands is obvious: our trainees work with their equipment and get acquainted with the material for future reference and professional use.”
Rockfabriek is involved in a wide range of music projects, developing initiatives for social work, youth education and the music industry. Bands like Black Box Revelation, Puggy, Metal Molly and singer Filip Kowlier are just a few of the artists who recorded at Rockfabriek – just like engineers Allan Muller and Saïd. “Today, local street-kid hip-hop crews work at Rockfabriek,” concludes Van Alsenoy. “The studio really fulfills a social mission here, and some of these guys actually make it in the business.” Hamady Diop, gourd (kalabash) player and Serigne Thiam are musicians of the band Soldier Hems, currently working with De Smet.
+ UPDATE: since PSNEurope first visited Rockfabriek last year, Sennheiser Benelux had taken the decision to support the studio. Sennheiser’s Christophe Van Den Berghe told us: “The combination of the social aspect and the technical education is unique in Belgium. This is a perfect opportunity to show our 69 years of experience in professional business to the new rising stars.”