I prefer upbeat pop, funk, soul, jazz, salsa in the morning and have a tendency to mellow out or get weird in the evening, and strictly instrumental (minimalism when possible) while I read or write. Mostly full LPs unless I’m getting in the zone with mixing. When listening at home, online, or in a store I keep an ear out for any psychedelia, or music that emphasizes repetition and dubby space echo, and sounds that pull your mind and body. This can be found in any genre. And I have a soft spot for ambient and chill-out music, early synthesizer and musique concrète, tape music, sound poetry, Fluxus records, and especially a particular brand of text-sound “operas” epitomized by the output of the Lovely Music label in the late ‘70s. I try not to stick to a specific sound. I love everything from EAI to disco, death metal to UK folk, Morton Feldman to Ween, The Sounds of Blackness to Regis, but I guess the sounds I mention here are my compass, and I listen for them consciously or not.
At home I have two shelves in my bedroom, an expedit 4×4 at the foot of my bed that stares me down every morning and a 5-shelf pillar between my speakers. The expedit shelf is alphabetically organized with records I am not actively listening to. The pillar has different sections per shelf, none alphabetized: bottom shelf has records I’ve listened to the whole way through at least once, but have yet to read the liner notes. Next up are records I haven’t listened to in their entirety or at all. Another rung up are 12”s and a few 7”s for mixing, so mainly beat-based. Second from the top is a combination of LPs I’ve been throwing on more frequently and some with specific tracks for mixing, so a lot of funk, disco, latin, reggae, and synth stuff. And top shelf is priority records I haven’t listened to. I bring home about 10 records a week so the top shelf is always shifting and I’m rapidly running out of air to breathe. Then there’s usually a couple hundred records lying around on the floor, which right now includes some of what I’m working on for this VA set. I like to mix things up, so no arrangement based on tempo, but when ordering records for a show I usually go by genre. While I try to resist playing any single style when I DJ in an attempt to expand myopic ears, I still strive to maintain some kind of long-form arc.
I got my first DJ mixer about a year ago and so I’m still not totally confident with record speeds. Depending on the show, this has meant I’ll plan my setlist to some extent, but never entirely as records always feel different at home. Before getting the mixer I’d stick to layering abstract/freeform music without the need to maintain a steady beat—mainly spiritual jazz, psychedelia, minimalism, ambient, experimental records—or do quick fades at the beginning/end of tracks. I went back to this approach to do the mix I recorded for the 2016 Sustain Release Festival upstate as I thought it would blend well with the broader ambiance there and the other artists involved. These days I’ll sometimes (try to) beat-match, but always like to throw curveballs, so I rarely stick to one tempo for too long. I’m working on perfecting the beat matching and tempo selection so that I can feel more comfortable doing things on the fly. And while I appreciate DJs that have a specific style that goes beyond the records they play, at the end of the day I’m still all for eclecticism and quality in selection over virtuoso mixing. One thing I’ve been working on is finding a way to achieve a sense of momentum using those kinds of beatless records I first started to mix with. The KLF’s Chill Out is really inspiring in that sense, because it manages to create a real mellow and fluid atmosphere that is nevertheless constantly changing and integrates amazing tunes like Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”, Pink Floyd’s “On The Run”, and Elvis’ “In The Ghetto” alongside usual chill-out hallmarks like Tuvan throat singing, railroad sounds, crickets, and electronic ambience. I think to fully achieve this live, though, I’m really going to need a third turntable…
These days I’m pretty bored with record stores, especially in NYC where little slips through the cracks. Most stores list their stock online, and often every single record gets priced according to the online marketplace, pretty much eliminating the need to step foot in the physical store itself. I first started collecting records, mainly from dollar bins and thrift stores in Chicago, because they were so much cheaper than CDs and thus a great way to hear more music on a teenaged budget. Things have changed, of course, but I’ve retained my cheapskate mentality. I’m a little ashamed to say it, but unless I feel I’m getting a good deal on a record that is less than exceptionally rare I will hardly ever buy it in person. So my bread and butter is thrift shops, estate sales, one-off dollar record sales, non-record stores that nevertheless have records, and record fairs where there are deals to be had. While this might seem like a thrifty approach to saving money, really it’s an excuse to buy more as I’ll take a chance on any seemingly interesting record that is undervalued. A lot of my favorite records have come into my life this way. And since I’m interested in all kinds of music, anything I end up deciding I don’t need goes to Discogs and gets turned into funds for buying those elusive wants. I also work at A-1 Records, so I tend to get most of my record store shopping in on the job there.