A decade ago my record collection took over our home. I now have a handle on it and try to avoid record shops. If I enter a charity or junk shop the urge to rummage for vinyl is under control. Attending a record fair is out of the question because they're particularly ruinous. I confess that I used to buy records not just for the music, but often for the covers. I must have been the youngest person on the planet to own a copy of Relax with Raymond Wallbank at the Organ.
For the past year we’ve been regularly selling Record Culture Magazine. This is a small, bookish magazine that allows you to drop into the homes and recording studios of musicians, DJs and producers. It’s structured around fairly long interviews adorned with images of record shelves, turntables and recording equipment. It’s not exactly vinyl porn (there are few record covers on show) but it’s still catnip for the likes me and I’ve sort of kept my distance. Fortunately copies come sealed from the publisher and I didn’t dare open one because lest I fall into it.
I might have stopped buying records but I regularly read on contemporary music and I’m reasonably knowledgeable about artists and trends but the names on the covers of the first two issues seemed pretty obscure. Still, over time many of the people who bought copies from Magalleria have come back to us to praise Record for its erudition and to find out when the next one is out.
Well, Issue 3 is here and I recognise the man on the cover. It’s Laraaji, the polymath titan of ambient. And I’ve opened a copy. Is it as good as they say? Well, if you have the layperson’s fear of an anorak holding court, you can relax and enjoy the ride here. For readers of Record Collector this may not be what you expect.
One of the current (and traditional strengths) of cultural magazines is the interview. Two or three thousand words within a reasonably current timeframe is sufficient to do the digging on someone, and not enough to become a chore. Things here get started with the man on the cover and it’s quickly apparent that although Record does things with a relaxed, leisurely approach but they do it properly.
All features have a preamble page to sketch in some background on the subject. Laraaji is interviewed in a New York record store in front of a small audience who sit on the floor. He is, not surprisingly, interview gold. A multi-instrumentalist who left university to pursue a career as an actor and stand-up comedian before entering a lifelong devotion to eastern mysticism, Laraaji took up the zither and converted it to an electronic instrument. This tinkering lead to recording with Brian Eno and the rest is legend. Now in his mid 70s, the conversation here fleshes out the story of a fascinating and surprising life that could be framed too cosily because its subject appears so peaceable. But the interviewer, Matt Werth, opens interesting avenues and prompts if needed so that we don’t skirt promising details. Laraaji leads a meditative existence to this day so there’s an occasional welter of questions (‘Was that a result of moving to New York? Were there some catalysts here, were there some people who introduced you to mindfulness, to consciousness?’) to zone him more and to help transport the reader to the same place. There’s a lot of photography to go with it – Laraaji at home, reading, playing an instrument, his bookcase, wardrobe and spiritual accompaniments. It’s redolent of Travel Almanac and particularly Apartamento.
After Laraaji we’re over to Europe where the magazine’s editor in chief (Karl Henkell) talks to record store owner and label founder Tako (Reyenga) in Amsterdam. Then we’re back in New York to meet transgender DJ Honey Dijon. Not because gender is much under discussion at the moment and she is a long time trans rights activist after all, but because her crafted across-all-genres mix is overdue for examination. Then we’re back across the Atlantic for an extensive chat with Dmitri from Paris. This is another interview from Karl Henkell, who reins back quite a lot to accommodate and guide Dmitri who is funny and verbose. Pictured in a toy-crammed room, he’s also very opinionated and informative on music in post-war France, from radio, popular icons (Dalida is ‘our Cher’) to vinyl itself: ‘French people, up to we’ll say, the noughties they were never so much into music… They were into sports, into acting, into maybe playing music, but there’s never been a record culture like in the UK… the record culture [in France] was a complete disaster 15 years ago.’ Henkell tracks back again to New York to profile the characterful Justin Strauss, draping around like the Cat in the Hat in what looks a fun but more calmed down version of Dmitri’s place. Strauss is another musician turned DJ who’s seen a lot along the way. Such people are usually observant about things that have come and gone and that’s certainly the case here. DJ Jex Opolis is good value on the highs and lows of running a label (Good Timin). We play a lot of Gigi Masin and Gaussian Curve in Magalleria so it was great to see Johnny Nash (a member of the latter trio) pop up to explain his own curious, wide-ranging trajectory. Clara Deshayes (Clara 3000) sheds a perspective on collecting sounds that is at odds with everything we’ve read up to this point. The two final artists too – the conservatory-trained musician and producer D.K. and the Australian DJ Tornado Wallace – also offer contrasting strands in terms of their development.
This a magazine about lives, stories and environments. It’s explores influences, choices and opinion, cleverly coaxed and deftly integrated around working in music. It’s not really about record collections so if you’re interested in standard interrogation à la ‘What was the first record you ever bought?’ there’s not much of that here. There’s not a lot of technical talk or long and deep analysis of this 12 inch or that album. There’s plenty of namechecking but it’s not as dense as in, say, Wire, where you have to rush off every 10 seconds to check out unfamiliar musicians or sounds.
Although of course I love doing that.