Digging this Digging
Dusty Groove in Chicago is the perfect place to get a handle on hunting records. Lesson one: see it? Buy it.
My mum has read this blog and says she doesn’t understand what I’m talking about. She reckons it's a generational thing, but judging from how often my improv classmates ask 'what's the point of buying these records?', maybe the whole affliction requires some explanation.
And it is an affliction. Mine is a mild case, on which I'd managed to keep a lid until this trip. But there's definitely something about the US that sets it off in a big way.
This is pretty much the most eloquent explanation of this whole strange phenomenon that I've seen: DJ Shadow, who made one of the greatest sample-based records ever with Endtroducing, sitting alone in a largely unexplored record store basement, musing among stacks of old vinyl:
And you don't even have to be a pioneering hip-hop DJ to suffer the same symptoms. At the opposite end of the 'any practical value' spectrum, you get people like this:
My experience in Dusty Groove the other day sums up how this whole digging thing is working out for me. I’m browsing in the store when suddenly this comes on the stereo:
Instantly my ears prick up at the drums. The head starts nodding, then the bass enters and does amazing things, and before I know it I'm approaching the old bloke behind the counter asking what this song is. Some weird country-funk hybrid thing. Dennis the Fox, Piledriver. I need this. Yes, it’s empty materialism, but it’s also about education and the hunt, and fate – if it wasn't I'd be buying the compilation CD right now. But I have to wait for the purity of the single or LP on vinyl, adding it to my mental wants list.
My wants list is fairly haphazard, built up from sporadic bursts of getting in and out of this stuff over the years. A good example is lurking in the store’s 'jazz - new arrivals' section: Ronnie Laws’ Pressure Sensitive LP, for $7. Now, I remember this is a record I definitely had my eye open for around five years ago, I just can’t remember what for, so when I see it I go against my instinct to buy it in order to save the equivalent of a fiver. I don’t want to buy a whole album just because a snippet of a snippet may have been appropriated for a hip-hop track 20 years ago. That’d be mental. Yet that night I go home and look it up online, and when I realize immediately that it was appropriated for a hip-hop track 20 years ago, a tune by Black Moon called 'Who Got Tha Props', I realise I do have to have it. Especially as the original is a fine track in its own right. What a dick.
I’m passing the store the next day so pop in to pick it up. Of course, it’s already gone. Things don’t stick around there for long. Lesson one: when these things leap out, don't let them slip through your fingers.
I pop to a vintage store with the words ‘vinyl records’ in the window three doors down. I'm told all records here are 'a buck’, and there’s 25% off too. It's only a small selection in the corner of the room, beneath toy figures of wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper. The sort of stash that would reveal nothing of interest in equivalent stores in the UK. And what should I see but that same Ronnie Laws LP, albeit an incredibly tatty version, for 75c. Lesson two: there are such things as record gods. I pick that up, together with Nas' 'It Ain’t Hard To Tell' 12” for 75c each.
Later that night I reach the final of Haterade, Improv Olympic’s Saturday night rap battle, as MC Hugh Grant Suck My Balls. I'm realising just how rewarding it is to combine two disparate loves into one thing to make something entirely new. Another example: the other night Andrew Gentilli was round at ours, and he came out with a little monologue while sitting on the sofa. I thought it’d sound cool if we recorded it and put it to a jazz soundtrack. Better even if I could use the records that have found their way to me since I’ve been here. I found the perfect thing on Nat Adderley’s Soul of the Bible, just a snippet of a lonely vocal, and a two-second loop of almost nothing from right near the end. Put it together and you have something that is all your own, that's in large part the result of these semi-obsessive hunts.