Life At The Bottom

Posted: November 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Features | 4 Comments »

I would like to maintain that no music is really rare these days. It is likely just a few clicks away, and if you can afford to purchase it, it is just one click further. Nevertheless there is also a whole market built on DJs that play rare music, or who are reliably making music rare. They are often announced as DJs that dig deeper than others. Now finding music that others DJ do not play is or at least should be more or less an integral part of DJing, and to use it as a sales point seems at least debatable. Then again, a whole lot of DJs do not mind playing the same music as others, and if this special market segment injects some diversity or unpredictability, it should be nothing to complain about. The according DJs might also not opt for rarity status intentionally, often they just play out music they like, and a lot of people like the music as well, and they want to own it, too. And as these DJs are usually well documented, too many wantlists soon exceed the supply, and the music gets expensive. Well, of course a lot of DJs are also intentionally playing rare music to maintain a certain status, and in the process they exhaust the surprise potential of the music because other people learn about the music and subsequently seek access to it. It does not make the music cheaper either. Most of the DJs who trigger such chain reactions are able to do that for certain reasons though. Nearly all of them have the necessary well-developed taste buds, experience and the according deck skills to present all of it. Some are old enough and bought the music when it originally came out, some are younger and just knew where to look later on. Regardless of age all these DJs were probably spending a considerable amount of time learning about music, and they were also not afraid to invest a lot of time finding it. But once you made your name on this special circuit, finding rare music is also getting easier. You establish a network with other likeminded DJs and exchange knowledge, and when you enter a record store or an distribution office, you are likely to be given valuable information about rare music, just because you are who you are. At best, you either play enough gigs to afford any kind of music you want, or you pull enough attention to just being given it for free. Some might not even really possess the music in its original form, maybe they just have the files. You cannot really tell these days, I suppose.

But what do you do if you like the music these DJs play? Of course you can wait until some label reissues rare music you are looking for, which is actually very likely nowadays, but it is still music that was already discovered and played out by people as mentioned above, and you cannot really gain status by showing off with records that others already added to the canon of desirable items, particularly if you do not own the original issues. The other thing is that not every record you would like to have gets reissued, or you just do want to wait for it. Or you belong to the majority of DJs that simply cannot afford to buy such originals, but you still want to establish a reputation as a decksman who finds things. If your budget is limited your chance of finding that box of sealed copies or private pressings in a seedy basement or a rural shack is limited as well, because you just cannot travel to such locations. But also in an actual record store, or online, your chance of finding those for little money is near zero. Everything is connected. It is way easier to learn about records nowadays and then buy them, but it is also easier to check what they are worth. That works the same way for shop and customer, so surprise finds are restricted to stores that really do not care much about technical progress. And these are a rare species, probably nearing extinction.

At some point I decided to play less old rare records, regardless if I bought them for a regular price, found them by chance in a bargain bin, or paid a lot of money. I felt they lost their appeal if too many people in the club already knew how special they were, or if too many other DJs already had similar ideas. So I went the other way and started playing cheap records that everybody else seemed to not know, or had forgotten about. Personally, I am now not digging more than ever, but it feels like it. And I loved the reactions of dancers and fellow DJs who checked Shazam or Discogs only to realize the record that just had everybody screaming was available from plenty of sellers in numerous countries for very little money. For some the tune they wanted the minute before instantly became contaminated, inacceptable, uninteresting. Others discovered they could possibly gather a set of several hours for the price they expected a single tune to be worth.

There are a lot of ways to find those tunes. For example there are a lot of discographies by artists and labels that just have one or a few rare items. But what about the rest? Well, just check. The best way to find cheap alternatives that are as good or even better than that holy grail is to look left, right, and even elsewhere. Follow the credits, look for peculiar track titles or designs, isolate individual sounds, notice who did that dub on B3, and if you like what you hear, check what else they did, under what moniker. In the process you will learn about local scenes, sounds attached to a certain period of time, sellers that have an inventory that might offer things you were not even expecting yet. And then you proceed from there, as wherever you might find something you like, there might be more. If you think this reads really obvious, try it out. It is not as easy as you might think it is, and it requires a whole lot more time and initiative than just going with established decision makers. But it is also a whole lot more rewarding, and personal.

I am well aware that presenting some cheap finds here is a tad contradictory in that aspect. But I just want to prove what you can find, and I just can’t help telling people about certain music anyway, and some might even like it as much as I do. And if they look on their own they might find something that I did not know about, and I want them to tell me. Thus the knowledge is spread and things move forward. I am also aware that some records might get rare and expensive by being featured in this column. But you know what? It does not really matter. There are plenty more fish in the sea. And there is more life at the bottom.

Tyrone Ashley – Looks Like Love Is Here To Stay (Safari, 1977)

A lot of people still disregard Ian Levine. He started out as a collector and DJ in the original rare soul scene of the 70s, he was wealthy, gay and outspoken and he modernized (and split up) the whole movement by adapting more contemporary sounds from US club culture, thereby introducing classic disco and later Hi-NRG to the UK and beyond. He also discovered, managed and produced a lot of hugely successful pop acts, and did not mind to deform the original soul singers and tunes he started out with in the business with weird, cheap sounding updates. I quite like him for all of that, but I particularly like his songwriting and productions in collaboration with Fiachra Trench in the 70s disco era. I doubt he will ever get the respect he deserves, probably he does not even care. But listen to this gem: the right clues from the melodies he spent so much money on as a record collector, a state of the art orchestration and arrangement, and it hits all the right spots on the floor. And there’s plenty more disco ecstasy where this came from.

Benelux & Nancy Dee – Switch (Fleet, 1979)

A marvellous disco groover. As it is saying on the tin this is of Benelux origin, but I do not know much about the people behind it, nor the singer. What struck me when I found it was a resemblance to the UK jazz funk evergreen „Southern Freeez“ by Freeez that cannot really be coincidental, only that „Switch“ was released two years earlier. But who is the egg and who is the chicken should not really matter here, both songs are great in their own right.

Propaganda – (The Echo Of) Frozen Faces (ZTT, 1985)

There are lots of edits of „Frozen Faces“ by the fine icy German Synthpop outfit Propaganda, but given the record of remarkable studio wizardry of the ZTT camp, namely Trevor Horn, Stephen Lipson, J.J. Jeczalik, Gary Langan and others, it should not come as a surprise that the most astonishing rework comes straight from the source. A master class in reconstruction.

Jazz Voice – Like You (Our Way) (Signal, 1992)

The blissful sounds of 90s Italo House are gaining recognition again recently and well deservedly so, but as with other revivals it is a bit mysterious what gets overlooked and what gets overhyped. I give it a listen when I read Maurizio Verbeni on the label and this is a good example why. A mild Todd Terry beat and then the track lifts off with the pure lushness that can only be informed by luxurious clubs of utmost decadence, and fair weather. The whole 2×12“ this is from is spectacular.

Upgrade Massive – Party Children (Sweat, 1994)

I did not know this track until a few weeks ago, when Fiedel dropped this in the middle of an old school breakbeat set on the mighty Killasan sound system at Wax Treatment. Of course that might be the perfect setting to get initiated to the power of this tune, but I am sure it works anywhere. A perfect combination of a tried and tested breakbeat, detroitish pads and that indestructible New Deep Society acapella. You can opt for the pricier white label and claim you knew it all the way, or you choose the version with the remix by the mysterious Scott Sellars of „Schematics EP“ fame, which is pretty dope, too.

Donald O – I Got Love In My Heart (Xen Mantra’s Drumz In My Heart Mix) (6 x 6, 1994)

Network’s sub label was releasing a lot of remix packages with differently interesting ravey UK House takes on US Garage, but there are a few real monsters hidden on those tracklists. Xen Mantra is none other than Mark Archer of Altern 8, and if you remixed Kevin Saunderson as many times as Altern 8 you probably get your clues automatically on how to make your bassline extra heavy. Ok, the beats are pretty heavy, too. Still, there is enough emotion contained, for the right contrast.

Bitch – You Are My Children (Dark Black Mix) (Bush, 1994)

Roger McKenzie aka Wildchild sadly passed away shortly after his huge success with „Renegade Master“. Until then he was often degraded as UK’s answer to Todd Terry, but if you delve into his output you will find a lot of great tracks of sufficient diversity to vindicate his music like it should be. Admitedly on this track the influence of New York City’s sample track house master is really obvious, but keep in mind that Todd Terry always only DJed his own productions and tracks that sounded like him. Nevertheless he included this track on his seminal mix CD album live from Hard Times, which might be close to official approval. He could have credited him though, it took me quite a while to identify this.

Louie Balo – We Got All Night (Subversive, 1996)

Although reissued, Louie Balo’s „Don’t Shut Me Out“ is still quite expensive. In my opinion this track is as tripping and magnificent, and Balo is never one to underestimate anyway. Some of his productions tend to satisfy the chunky tribalistic big room requirements of 90s New York clubs like the Sound Factory too much, and those sounds remain a bit dated until another club plus crowd comes along that loves to be as mercilessly dictated. But when Louie Balo enters his whirling space mode, he is in a league of his own, and he won’t stop. This being a prime example.

49 Degrees South – Love Somebody’s Trigger Finger (Crosstrax, 1997)

A lot of mid 90s UK Garage has a tendency for hectic rushing and overloading tracks with samples half of which you would prefer to be left out. In this aspect this track is quite an exception. There is just one really fat New York styled beat that gives the Garage vocals enough space to breathe until the mandatory break approaches, including MC and mighty bass drop. And then back and forth until the end. It all sounds as crushing as any other good UK Garage track of that era, but still this has a somewhat smarter and slack structure, and when I first heard it I could not help feeling that I would really love to know more tracks as comparatively uncluttered as this. But actually with a street level white label culture like this specific research is already as difficult as it is.

Skatebård – Metal Chix (Keys Of Life, 2004)

Skatebård’s back catalogue has quite a few comprehensibly sought after items, but why his two EPs on Sähkö’s consistently great sub label Keys Of Life are not among them is completely beyond me. Storming Techno stunners with Reese styled basslines and swirling layers of raving euphoria that manage to stop before it is getting out of hand. On the flip you get raw Electro science straight from the sewer, just as blinding. It was a sad moment when I pulled out the last copies of these from the Hard Wax stock, they were a companion for years. But that was actually not too long ago, and it still inexplicably flies under the radar.

4 Comments on “Life At The Bottom”

  1. 1 News Round-Up: 3/11/17 said at 12:11 pm on November 3rd, 2017:

    […] Finn Johanssen extols the virtues of looking for cheaper records away from the hype. Read more here. Hear the Difference. Supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has launched its own record label, with […]

  2. 2 Tibo said at 12:22 pm on November 3rd, 2017:

    Great article! Speaking words out of my mouth.
    I love this sensation of crate-digging “of the poor”, mixed with the serendipity of stumbling upon a(n) (almost) cheesy but groovy record out of a 1$-bin. One of the reasons why I prefer the style (and playlist) of Theo Parrish, way more affordable that more traditional ‘selectors’.

  3. 3 regen said at 7:44 pm on November 7th, 2017:

    Very insightful post. Erlend Øye sang over the Skatebård track in his DJ-Kicks, so at least it got some love there 😉

  4. 4 Mike Gibbs said at 10:06 pm on November 7th, 2017:

    Great stuff Finn ! It’s always fun to get the room moving with a dollar bin find. And sadly my few high priced records will never go up in value as much as Bitcoin….

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