Interview & Photos by Eilon Paz
s a young photographer shooting and devouring music in the underground clubs of Tel Aviv in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I became acquainted with the DJ Food record Kaleidoscope. I listened enraptured to its jazzy, sophisticated sounds, particularly the track “The Aging Young Rebel.” I didn’t know whose deep voice was captivating me so much, but it stuck with me.
Fast forward about 10 years, and I’ve started this project called Dust & Grooves. I go to London to shoot a bunch of great collectors for it, including Dom Servini and Kevin Foakes, who’s now the last remaining member of DJ Food. The day before I go to see Kevin, I’m shooting Dom, and he pulls out this record called Word Jazz and puts on a track and I recognize the voice instantly from “The Aging Young Rebel,” even though it had been years since I’d heard it. I ask Dom who it is and he tells me: Ken Nordine! So just like that, I have a new understanding of DJ Food, right before our interview.
The next day, Kevin and I spent six (yes, six) hours shooting in his record room, which is like a kid’s room for adults. A fantastical organized mess. A lot of action figures and memorabilia, and of course the Ninja Tune logo that he designed, in statue form. Kevin is also a graphic designer, and an art enthusiast, and he’s really interested in album covers, box sets, slip cases, all that, so I had known this would be a great shoot for the visuals alone. Even after the better part of a day there, I left feeling we’d only scratched the surface.
One of the coolest things about Dust & Grooves has been the opportunity it’s given me to meet and photograph many of my deepest musical influences. Another is all the musical mysteries it’s solved for me. DJ Food provided both.
Who are you?
Kevin Foakes, 44, originally from Reigate, Surrey, UK. I’ve lived in London since 1990 and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
What’s playing right now on your turntable?
Your passion for music… who’s responsible?
Probably my dad, he would tape songs from the Top 40 chart countdown on Sundays and make his own compilation cassettes of his favourites. He had a nice radio / cassette system (no turntable) and would fade the tracks in and out at the beginning and end to make a nice flow, always trying to fade it out before the DJ spoke. I wasn’t allowed to use it until I was 10 and then he gave me my own cassette to tape ‘my’ songs on.
But I wouldn’t say my parents were big music lovers, they listened to the local radio mostly and there were no records in the house as my dad was a tape fan. I suppose it must have come from hearing stuff on the radio and watching the weekly Top of the Pops program each Thursday evening where they ran down the top 40 best sellers of the week.
We never had a record player in our house but friends did and I was always aware that records were the format to have, my dad’s tapes didn’t really cut it, too small, tiny fold out inlays etc. I was interested in the covers as much as the records, even back then although I didn’t realise how much until later. Don’t get me wrong, cassettes have a special place in my heart but they weren’t enough. I would go to friend’s houses and pore over their purchases but my dad wasn’t having any of it, fobbing me off with the classic, ‘what good is a record player when we haven’t got any records?’ non-argument. I wanted to own the music and build a collection like my friends and their older brothers but only had cassettes until I was 13. Obviously later, when I began to scratch and mix, I had to have records but up until then I was doing pause button ‘remixes’ on cassettes of my favourite tracks and playing them at break time at school.
Tell me about the first album you ever got.
I honestly can’t remember the first vinyl album, I know the first 7” I bought (‘Zerox’ by Adam & The Antz, aged 13) and the first cassette (The Flash Gordon OST by Queen, aged 10) but the first LP is lost in time. From ‘81 to ‘83 I was obsessed with Adam Ant, he was the first Pop star who impacted on me when I was 11 and I had everything he’d done on cassette, including the punk stuff which is still my favourite.
My first 45 – ‘Zerox’ by Adam and the Antz on Do It Records. Still one of my favourite singles and this is a rare copy with a different B side than the one listed. Clutch of Adam and the Ants singles, the first group I was really into as a kid.
The ‘Zerox’ 45 was really my first ‘record’ and it had got to the point that, even though my dad wasn’t getting a record player any time soon, I just decided I was going to start a collection. I wanted these tracks that were only available on vinyl, with unique sleeve artwork, B-sides, extra tracks on 12” etc. and they were just about affordable whereas a turntable wasn’t at that point. The sleeves were definitely an early fascination too, I remember swapping the picture sleeve of the Antz’ ‘Young Parisians’ single with someone at school, it didn’t have the record inside, it was just the sleeve but that was just as important.
I vividly remember buying ‘Zerox’ with money my parents had given me on holiday in some seaside town second hand shop in ‘83. Even though I had no deck to play it on it didn’t matter, all I knew was that I wanted this little object, I would figure out ways to play it later. It was a trophy when we returned from holiday, it sat on a shelf, doing nothing but I had it for later.
(Incidentally I later found out I’d bought one of 300 mis-pressings that had an alternate B-side from the one listed by a complete fluke and that this 7” was worth more than the standard version)
I also bought ‘Cartrouble’ by the same band at the same time but I’ll always think of ‘Zerox’ as my first record. I still love it to this day, it sends shivers up my spine and would be in any top 10 of favourite records – quite lucky really as a lot of people’s first records seem to be embarrassing novelty kids records. Of course I still have it, others from the same time have gone but I’ve always kept this.
So from Adam and the Ants you moved on to Frankie goes to Hollywood, on to Grace Jones and Malcolm McLaren. Can you guide us thru this musical journey?
OK, so whilst my Adam Ant phase was going on I was also into the Synth Pop / New Romantic stuff that was in the charts – Human League, Gary Numan, Japan, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears, The Police, Ultravox etc. These were all fine but there was something missing, some vital ingredient that didn’t make me go gaga for them.
In early ‘84 I heard Frankie’s ‘Relax’ on the radio just as it had been banned (for suggestive lyrics) and it knocked me over. I taped it and would just play it on repeat after school and began to discover that there were all these different mixes of the track on 12”s (still quite a new thing then). But these mixes were a lot different to the single and twice as long and they took the track somewhere else. The sleeve was a beautiful bit of design too with cryptic notes and this erotic illustration and thus my love of the ZTT label started.
‘Relax’ initially had 3 different versions on 12”, but ZTT never reprinted a different sleeve or label for them to be identified by so it was pot luck which one you got when you bought it – hence the 3 identical sleeves in the photo.
‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood on ZTT – the first disc in this double album has three of the greatest pop songs ever on it. I also own the original artwork used on the front, back and inside gatefold and just designed the 30th anniversary box set for it.
‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood on ZTT – all three of these 12” have identical sleeves and labels but play different mixes. You can only tell which is which by the matrix number on the run out groove.
“The covers to all the releases on the label were works of art to me and I collected everything over the next 5 years, filling scrapbooks with trade ads for releases which were always unique in themselves too.”
The label was run by the producer Trevor Horn, his wife Jill Sinclair and ex-NME journalist Paul Morley, and it’s here where I think the first real seeds of love of sleeve design were sown. The covers to all the releases on the label were works of art to me and I collected everything over the next 5 years, filling scrapbooks with trade ads for releases which were always unique in themselves too. I’ve since started a blog – www.artofztt.com – which rounds all these up and where I interview the original designers and photographers who made all these great covers. Aside from Frankie – who were just what I was looking for in a pop band at 14 – there were Art of Noise, Propaganda and the wonderful Grace Jones album, ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, which would, again, be in any top 10 album chart I did.
Grace Jones – ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ album on ZTT – one of my favourite albums ever and probably the peak of Trevor Horn’s production work. There are actually two versions of this record with different mixes on each, you can tell by the colour of the titles on the front cover. Great sleeve image too by Jean-Paul Goude.
As a result of all this I became very interested in the production and remixing side of things as there would always be multiple 12” releases and this led me back to another release that Trevor Horn had worked on before he started the label – Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Duck Rock’. This album is regarded as a classic amongst B-Boys in the UK, probably abroad too, because it was one of the first records to really introduce scratching to the pop charts (alongside Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’ the same year).
McLaren (with a LOT of help from Horn and an early incarnation of the Art of Noise) had taken New York Hip Hop, Hillbilly, Cuban and African music and mashed it together with radio show snippets, double dutch skipping, fashion by Vivienne Westwood and graffiti by Keith Haring and Dondi. This once in a lifetime union was ‘Duck Rock’ and it bridged the gap between Pop and (real) Hip Hop when I went back to discover it because of Horn’s later work at ZTT.
An absolute classic, Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Duck Rock’ LP on Charisma. To say this album is a melting pot of different cultures, genres and ideas is putting it lightly.
I see you’re a huge fan of Brian Eno and Kraftwerk, how did you come to discover them?
Kraftwerk I found in ‘82 when ‘The Model’ was No.1 in the UK and EMI reissued a load of their back catalogue. I bought tapes of ‘Man Machine’, ‘Trans Europe Express’ and ‘Computer World’ then realised that I knew ‘Autobahn’ from a tape my dad had made when it was a hit in the mid 70’s. I never knew what it was but it always stuck out on his tape as it sounded like music from Dr Who to me and I was a bit frightened of it actually. It’s a cliché but they changed people’s perception of music, I don’t think sections of electronic music would be quite the same without them.
Kraftwerk British promo 7” of The ‘Robots/Spacelab’, I only found this a few years ago. Inside of the Kraftwerk promo, it folds out to three panels with the record tucked inside.
“It’s one of those unique records that could only have happened at a certain time. I’m always drawn to albums like this, things that exist at a cultural crossroads.”
Eno, I came to quite late, in the early 90’s during the whole ambient resurgence after The Orb and Future Sound of London came to prominence. A friend at college was a massive fan and lent me a load of stuff as well as The KLF’s ‘Chill Out’ LP which is another classic. The one that really does it for me though is Eno and Byrne’s ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ – it’s one of those unique records that could only have happened at a certain time. I’m always drawn to albums like this, things that exist at a cultural crossroads, records like McLaren’s ‘Duck Rock’ or Art of Noise’s ‘Into Battle’. With Eno, he had such a phenomenal output and hit rate with everything he did from the 70’s right through to the 90’s, he’s a major inspiration, with the music and art running concurrent.
Eno and Byrne’s ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ – one of my favourite albums of all time and another of those ‘in a field of their own’ LPs.
What was the most influential record for you, career wise?
It’s probably any one of Double Dee & Steinski’s ‘Lessons’ trilogy, it doesn’t matter which one as they’re all as strong as each other. I heard, I think, ‘Lesson 2’ first, on a tape a mate had at school, probably in ‘84 or ‘85, and they’ve stuck with me ever since. It was the moment when it breaks down and Bugs Bunny says, “wh-wh-wh, wh-wh-wh, what’s up doc?”, that got me, that cartoon element just wasn’t in songs. Then they mixed in Junior and Culture Club and made it sound good (and I hated Culture Club).
Sealed private press 12” of ‘Lessons 1 & 2’ given to me by Steinski.
I’ve since met both Steve and Douglas, interviewed them and consider Steinski as a good friend which is kind of weird being that I’m this kid from the UK who was at school when they were putting out those records. When I was working with Steve in New York about a decade ago he gave me a sealed copy of their privately pressed 12” of Lessons 1 & 2. They used to sell them at record fairs to make extra dough as the whole thing with Disconet and Tommy Boy (and the whole illegality of the record) wasn’t really bringing in the cash so to speak.
“The Lessons are a collage and that’s essentially what I do in all forms that I work in (graphic or sonic). It’s creative recycling and so was Hip Hop at the time and that’s what led me to it in ‘85.”
When I heard ‘The Lessons’ I could instantly recognize how they were made and that I could do something similar, the same with scratching. I’d tried to play the guitar, it wasn’t for me and there was no way we could afford a drum kit which is what I really wanted to play. The Lessons are a collage and that’s essentially what I do in all forms that I work in (graphic or sonic). It’s creative recycling and so was Hip Hop at the time and that’s what led me to it in ‘85.
How did you get into Hip Hop?
Hip Hop culture was introduced to the UK charts around ‘82/‘83 as a bit of a fad and I didn’t take to it then. It was, of course, around before that and the weekly British music press were writing about some of it but I was too young to be reading that stuff then. I remember hearing ‘Buffalo Gals’ on the radio when it came out and I just couldn’t work out what was going on, it just sounded like a mess, no structure at all and what was that (scratching) noise? You had McLaren and Herbie but then The Rock Steady Crew and Break Machine, the latter of which you could tell was a bandwagon-jumping exercise. I had a vague idea of what it was all about (breaking, rapping, graffiti etc.) and I actually got into the graffiti side of it before the music. But even as a 13 year old, I could tell that the music that McLaren, Herbie etc. were getting in the charts with wasn’t the ‘real’ stuff if you like, it was a slickly produced version.
The real stuff was coming out on Tommy Boy, Sugarhill or featured on the Street Sounds Electro compilations licensed by Morgan Khan which were great value for money. The Tommy Boy ‘Greatest Beats’ compilation was such a godsend to me and my friends, that and the UK versions of the Grandmaster Flash/Melle Mel singles that were charting. I wasn’t reading The Face or NME magazines in the very early 80’s so missed out on a lot of the authentic underground stuff. Had I been a bit older and maybe lived in London with more access to things like pirate radio and gigs then maybe I would have got into it earlier.
What I did have though was a station called Captial Radio which had a Hip Hop show on 2 hours a night every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, hosted by a DJ named Mike Allen. This was a lifeline for me and my friends and, from mid-‘85 (I distinctly remember that Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’ single had just come out), I religiously listened to and taped his show every week. He had a hook up with Groove Records in Soho who were one of the biggest importers of Hip Hop at the time. Suddenly I had a mainline to all these tracks and artists I’d never heard of and could certainly never have afforded. One of the first records I heard on the first show I tuned into was ‘King Kut’ by Word of Mouth featuring DJ Cheese and I knew that this was ‘real’ Hip Hop. DMX drum machine, hard rhymes, killer scratching and this massive fucking bell melody for the chorus.
‘King Kut’ by Word of Mouth featuring DJ Cheese 12”, the original on Duke Bootee’s Beauty and the Beat label before it was licensed to Profile. This was the kind of Hip Hop I was looking for.
There are a few records that blew my mind when I first heard them, I’ve already spoken about several, but this one gets added to that list along with Public Enemy’s ‘Public Enemy No.1’ and ‘Rebel Without A Pause’.
Mike Allen was ‘the man’ back then, and his show played a very large part in educating me about the golden era of Hip Hop. Up until then, for a boy living out in the sticks like me, all I had were the few articles in magazines or on TV, the few songs that got in the charts, the Subway Art book and the Style Wars / Wild Style / Beat Street films. Once I discovered the Mike Allen show the floodgates were open and I was devoted until the end of the 80’s.
‘Paul’s Boutique’ by The Beastie Boys – quad fold out sleeve version. One of my favourite Hip Hop albums.
For me, ‘89 was a peak year for Hip Hop and several of my favourite Rap albums were released that year – De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet High & Rising’, The Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul’s Boutique’ and ‘Done By The Forces of Nature’ by the Jungle Brothers. I think my love of ‘Paul’s Boutique’ is pretty well documented with the deconstruction of the album I mixed with DJs Cheeba and Moneyshot in 2012. ‘3 Feet …’ is an undisputed classic and the JB’s album is, I think, a largely unacknowledged one. If you listen to all three of these records they – along with the Public Enemy LPs of the era – are really the peak of sample collage production. After this the lawsuits started flying and sources had to get more obscure or be paid for. Also, great as they were, NWA had arrived and gangsta rap was here to stay, that started a split in Hip Hop that’s only gotten bigger over time.
More killer Hip Hop classics – De La’s ‘3 Feet High & Rising’, PE’s ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions…’ and the underappreciated Jungle Brothers’ ‘Done By The Forces Of Nature’ LPs.
Tell me how you got your first gig with Ninja Tune?
I had just left Camberwell College of Art in ‘93 and my flatmates and I were putting on post-club squat parties playing ambient music on Sundays, sort of extending the club come down. We needed visuals as it was mainly a sit down affair and Mixmaster Morris (The Irresistible Force) was down with us and a friend of Matt Black from Coldcut. I knew Matt had started ‘VJing’ and Morris gave me his number, urging me to call him. I was a big Coldcut fan since ‘Say Kids’ and had everything they’d released including a couple of the early DJ Food albums. So I called him and he graciously came down and did our little party with us nobodies in this grim squat for very little money at all.
As it happened, he had a great time, heard me playing and invited me and one of the other DJs, Mario Aguera, onto Coldcut’s Solid Steel radio show as guests. This was literally the week I left college after finishing my graphic design degree. I remember because it was my dad’s 50th birthday, I went down to see him but had to leave early to get back to London for the show which was on at 1-3am. After this Matt asked us back again and again and I offered to take care of the art and design at the label as I’d heard that they needed someone to makeover the logo.
DJ Food. How did it all start?
“There wasn’t much out there that was digging for fresh breaks and they made these to give DJs a new palette. Literally ‘Food for DJs.’”
Food was an alias for Matt and Jonathan (More) as they couldn’t use the name Coldcut being that they were signed to Arista in the early 90’s. They set up Ninja Tune because they were frustrated by the lengthy time they had to wait between releases. By the time Arista got their record out it was old news as the dance scene moves so fast. So Ninja was set up and a lot of the early releases are just Matt and Jon under different names, aided by their engineer Paul Brook and a new work experience guy called Patrick Carpenter aka PC. They did 5 volumes of Jazz Brakes – basically DJ battle records before the Bionic Booger Breaks LPs and all that came after them. There wasn’t much out there that was digging for fresh breaks and they made these to give DJs a new palette. Literally ‘Food for DJs.’
The Food project grew and grew and, after 5 volumes of ‘Jazz Brakes’, it had developed to the point where there were six of us working in the studio in different combinations on tracks. The music had evolved from basic loops and big samples to something a bit more ‘artistic’ shall we say? So LP 6 wasn’t a Jazz Brakes volume and DJ Food became ‘the artist’ with the ‘Recipe For Disaster’ LP. Myself and PC took on the DJ Food name for the purpose of DJing as Matt and Jon had reclaimed their Coldcut moniker by this point so went off to do their thing.
What’s the current status of it?
In 2000 we (PC and I) made an album called Kaleidoscope, but by 2002 PC decided he wanted to work in a live capacity more and joined the Cinematic Orchestra live band. That left just me and, after telling people for years that DJ Food wasn’t one person but several, I was on my own to take my sweet time to cook up another record. That emerged in 2012 after a series of 3 EPs, and was called ‘The Search Engine’.
You are responsible for the latest version of the famous Ninja logo.
Yes but I’m responsible for all the Ninja logos since ‘94 actually, the only one I didn’t design was the original ‘scratchy ninja’ as we call him. That was by Michael Bartalos, a friend of Coldcut’s, and my version was the first thing I did for them, it got me the gig so to speak. It’s changed over the years, throwing different things, positions, been streamlined etc. but I find it very hard to do things with it as it’s kind of perfect as it is you know? Actually the label has been using Michael’s version recently, that retro thing coming round again.
You collect albums for their exceptional covers.
When I was at college I studied graphic design and it wasn’t until the 3rd year, about a term before I left, that I realized that I really wanted to design for music. Up until then I’d been DJing since the mid 80’s and more into illustration than graphics. When I got to Camberwell I realized that I liked design a lot more and wasn’t hampered by all the baggage I’d brought with me with illustration.
More Command – beautiful typography on this ‘Vibrations’ LP by Enoch Light & The Light Brigade. Back cover of the Hellers’ ‘Singers, Talkers, Players, Swingers and Doers’ LP on Command.
“I used to keep big scrapbooks of my favorite cuttings from magazines and so many of them were music-related, when I look back at them I can see my career path mapped out. I’ll buy records for the sleeve, I’m always on the look out for odd finishes, packaging and such within the vinyl format.”
But, since as long as I can remember, the tutors had told us that record sleeve design was corny, they just thought that it meant Iron Maiden or Marillion covers so I’d always shied away from it. In my third year I changed tutors and was given Graham Wood who worked with a design group called Tomato. They’d just made a nice splash with their sleeves for the techno group Underworld and he changed my attitude and made me realise that I was most inspired by music so why not follow that path? It seems obvious now but it wasn’t back then. I used to keep big scrapbooks of my favorite cuttings from magazines and so many of them were music-related, when I look back at them I can see my career path mapped out. I’ll buy records for the sleeve, I’m always on the look out for odd finishes, packaging and such within the vinyl format.
Hal Blaine’s ‘Psychedelic Percussion’ on Dunhill. Crazy record from a drum legend which lives up to the cover and title although it’s not exactly full of breaks as such.From the Command label, which I collect primarily for the sleeve art, ‘Provocative Percussion vol.3’. Not a rare record by any means but possibly the inspiration for the Air record behind it.Hand painted / sprayed covers for SiriusMo’s ‘…Is Wunderbar!’ on Bungalow. He painted these himself and I bought them separately based on the covers only to find they were the same record.
Albums with optical-art for a cover. When did you start getting into those?
I can’t remember really, I’ve been into Op-Art since I discovered Bridget Riley in my teens and records with Op-Art sleeves tend to be very minimal and sparse, they always jump out at you. Spectrum/Spaceman 3 were always very good for that sort of thing plus Trevor Jackson’s sleeves for Soulwax a few years ago are design classics. There seems to be a resurgence of it on sleeves recently with Chris & Cosey’s last LP cover (‘Transverse’) and the like.
Here I will show the optical effect. One of the beautiful foiled sleeves from the Phillips 21st Century Prospective series.
Trevor Jackson’s Op Art sleeves for three Soulwax singles on PIAS. The type is only visible from certain angles when you see these sleeves although the camera has picked them up well here. So simple but they MAKE you look at them.
What about interesting packaging?
I look for anything out of the ordinary, screen printed and handmade or painted sleeves especially. I love it when someone has turned the cover into their canvas and you’re getting a unique piece of art with the record. I like to go into stores and play what I call ‘Record Roulette’, picking up interesting looking records because of their sleeves regardless of the music they contain. They nearly always disappoint but that doesn’t matter because I have a nice sleeve.
…when you open the gatefold an entire catalogue folds out! Again, bought for the sleeve rather than the music.
I collect the Phillips 21st Century Prospective releases which all have unique silver foiled covers for each release, the music is musique concrete and I have maybe half the releases. Since the mid ‘90’s when I first visited the States I’ve been buying Command and Project 3 records for their sleeves. They’re beautifully simple illustrations or graphic designs, really striking and you could get them for $2-3 a piece back then. Sometimes the music in them is great too like the Dick Hyman albums of The Hellers’ record, ‘Singers…Talkers…Players…Swingers…& Doers’.
Fold out sleeves are another thing, inserts, weird shaped sleeves, splatter vinyl, books with records in them, even CDs and cassettes for the packaging sometimes.
Do you collect other musical formats?
I have plenty of CDs and cassettes, I’m not a total purist when it comes to format, I want the music first usually. I collect flexi discs too, not just any old flexi, the more esoteric the better. I keep an eye out for records with zoetrope designs on them, suddenly becoming more popular in recent years with bands like Sculpture, Bonobo and Kate Bush doing them.
I also have a small collection of different sized records, going from tiny 3” Japanese kids records to 14” metal master discs with everything in between. I buy lockgroove records full of loops and also double groove records that play different tracks depending on where you drop the needle. The US version of De La Soul’s ‘Me, Myself and I’ is a good example of this but there was also the 12” of M’s ‘Pop Musik’ single and S’Express’ ‘Mantra For A State Of Mind’ 7”.
Do you speak Hip?
I try not to, that would, like, mean that I, like, had to, like, say, ‘like’ before, like, every other, like, word!??? That record by Del Close & John Brent (How To Speak Hip) is so good on every level. It’s genuinely funny, a portrait of a certain time, the sleeve is beautiful and the Hip speak booklet inside the gatefold is a nice touch too. I love the fact that records like that exist, who makes that kind of record these days? No one. Something like this would be a radio play or a podcast now, never a record. It’s a shame because spoken word records are a genre in themselves which seems to be dead these days.
“Something like this would be a radio play or a podcast now, never a record. It’s a shame because spoken word records are a genre in themselves which seems to be dead these days.”
The inside booklet of the gatefold promo version of Del Close and John Brent’s ‘How To Speak Hip’. A genuinely funny guide to hipster speak. Del Close and John Brent’s ‘How To Speak Hip’ on Mercury. Such a beautiful cover.
Word Jazz. You had the privilege to work with Ken Nordine on “Kaleidoscope”. How did you come up with the idea of producing a track with him?
I’d been introduced to him by Mixmaster Morris (yet again – thanks Morris) in the early 90’s via a CD comp that Rhino put out and fell in love with his voice instantly. Around ‘97 he came to London to play God in a performance with Laurie Anderson and we hooked up with him for an interview for Solid Steel. You can hear the interview here…and afterwards I asked if he’d be up for doing something together.
‘Next’ by Ken Nordine on Dot – I’m a big fan and collector of Ken’s work and this is one of his best.
Weirdly I took a copy of the compilation ‘How Are Things In Your Town?’ in for him to sign and on the back, unbeknownst to me at the time, were the lyrics to a poem he’d written called ‘The Aging Young Rebel’. I went away, made a backing track that I thought would fit his vocals and he sent me three different texts of which I picked this one. He recorded the vocals to my track in his home studio and then all I had to do was arrange them, it was all very easy. He’s a lovely guy, occasionally I’ll hear from him or get a Xmas card via email. I’d like to think that that track opened him up to a new audience hopefully.
Where do you buy your vinyl these days?
I buy a lot of new vinyl online or direct from the label or artist. I browse used stores and charity shops for the love of it to find whatever I find, the thrill of the unknown or the ‘Record Roulette’ thing. If I’m after something specific that’s out of print I’ll use Discogs or eBay if I have to but I rarely buy from the latter anymore. I’ve don’t do the personal dealer thing, I prefer to find my own and not pay the mark-up.
What other goodies have you found while looking for records?
I once came across a Mike Oldfield 12” acetate in a bargain section for £1. It was a remix of his track, ‘Sentinel’, from the ‘Tubular Bells II’ album. I looked it up and it turned out that this particular mix had only been released as a CD single, never on vinyl. I ended up selling it on eBay for £60, one of the rare occasions when I’ve done something like this.
I recently found a test pressing of The The’s ‘Infected’ LP complete with an uncut cover proof folded around it. It must have belonged to a record label employee or journalist as it had the sales notes and press release with it too. That was £4 in a bargain bin, the sleeve was sticking up above the others and I recognised the colours on it immediately.
The ‘Our Universe Spacekit’ by the National Geographic Society is a lovely 10” box set containing a flexi disc called ‘Space Sounds’, an assemble-it-yourself Space Scope and a Stars In The Sky rotating chart. ‘The Magic Cube’ is a psychedelic 7” flexi disc that comes in an envelope with a cardboard cube inside that springs into shape when you take it out thanks to some strategically placed rubber bands.
I could go on and on listing great records but a lot of people would have them anyway so no big deal. I’m trying to list ones that are more personal or have unique stories around them.
How do you organize your collection?
It’s all in genre, sometimes split into labels within that or clusters of groups or artists. Sometime whole labels have their own spaces like Ninja, MoWax, Trunk, Warp etc. Within something like Hip Hop I try to do it vaguely chronologically from the old school on the left through to the current crop on the right. Never done the alphabetized thing or the colour coded thing.
I had to buy this when I saw it because of the name, it’s not bad, yielded a few samples.
What’s your wife’s reaction to your collection? Does she collect as well?
She’s fine with it because it’s all in my studio and doesn’t encroach into the rest of the house. It does mean that I get one of the biggest rooms to store it all in though and that’s just fine. She’s never had a problem with it and has a pretty decent pop, funk and soul collection herself but she rarely buys vinyl anymore.
Do you have a record collecting philosophy? Any special routines when you enter a store?
My favourite section is the Misc. box or the oddities section in a used store, the place they file the stuff that they can’t classify easily. I’m always on the lookout for oddball records, things that don’t fit. Things so odd you can’t believe they pressed a record of it, most of it not even musical. I remember finding Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium Is The Message’ on vinyl and thinking, ‘hang on, this is a book and they made a record of it?’. Jazz poets, religious DJs, recordings of kids talking, ad jingle production, guitar pedal demo records, cut up records commenting on the state of the nation. Music on homemade instruments, children’s records about space, odd drug discs, promotional flexi discs, ‘break in’ songs, teach yourself broadcasting sets – these are all the kind of thing I jump at when I’m in a used store.
“I’m always on the lookout for oddball records, things that don’t fit. Things so odd you can’t believe they pressed a record of it, most of it not even musical.”
No real routine but I like to take my time and work through things at a natural pace, if I’m rushed I’d rather not go into the shop in the first place. If you’re in a new spot for the first time it takes a while to orientate yourself. I have a wants list on the phone but I rarely look at it unless I’m checking that I really do need that record and I’m not just buying another double of something. I head for the cheap bins first these days, also the ones that are hardest to reach, less likely to have been gone through. I’ll rarely buy a record off the wall, you know, the pricey trophy records, unless it’s been on the list for ages and you never see it anywhere else.
Inside McLuhan’s book, I have several different printings of this, it’s iconic and unique.
What’s your comfort record, the one you can always go back to? What makes it so special?
Probably Soul Mining by The The, although it would be a toss up between that and the follow up LP, ‘Infected’ as I had them on opposite sides of the same tape for years. I first heard them when I was about 18 and they fill me with memories of teenage angst and all those things you remember from back then. The song writing, by Matt Johnson, is essentially intelligent pop, there’s no filler and the sonic palette he used was quite unique. Both records are among the few that instantly transport me back to a different time. I wouldn’t necessarily want to go back there but there are songs and sounds that trigger memories unique to these records. Having known and worked with Matt now hasn’t diminished their power either, he’s a songwriter that should get way more kudos than he does.
The US sleeve of The The’s ‘Soul Mining’ LP on Epic/Some Bizarre. Another one of my top 5 LPs of all time.
Tell me about a dollar bin record you would never part with.
In ‘92, when I was at Camberwell Art College in London, I would take the odd trip up the road to Peckham to a couple of record spots hidden away in the side streets (both now long gone). On the way, there was a junk shop, usually full of bad furniture, but one time someone had dropped a load of records in. Among them was was the double UK issue of Kraftwerk 1 and 2 with the gatefold oscilloscope sleeve on Vertigo. One pound lunchtime find.
Is there an artist or a label you’re trying to complete?
Probably ZTT, I’m pretty close with that though and I’m only looking for records up until about 1990 as well. I think there’s a handful I don’t have, usually foreign pressings with odd b-sides, edits or different artwork. I used to be a lot more completist than I am now, life’s too short and you can find yourself holding onto some pretty bad records just for the sake of a full run. I’d like to have a full set of the Phillips 21st Century Prospective LPs with the silver sleeves, they would look nice on the wall together one day. I also collect the screen printed promo 12”s that Output used to do from about release 30 onwards. They were basically white label test pressings screenprinted across the paper sleeve and label, I’m only missing a few of those I think. With the limited and niché nature of vinyl nowadays it’s going to be impossible for people to have complete collections of today’s labels. Just look at Third Man Records or Finders Keepers, they make stuff in such limited quantities that you have to either be online or at a specific location at a certain time to grab one.
Some highlights of my collection of Phillips 21st Century Prospective albums.
What’s the unlikeliest place/occasion you’ve ever found a record?
I’ve found records lying in the street before, found a Harry Partch boxset in the street in Toronto once, not in great shape and I already had a copy but, you know. My dad sometimes helps with house clearances and saves me stashes of records or rescues boxes from the local tip. He doesn’t know what I want, he just figures I like records and there’s usually something there worth keeping.
Regrets! Tell us about a great record or two that got away from you.
I was in Camden Market with some mates one afternoon in the early 90’s and saw a copy of The Black Dog’s ‘Techno Playtime EP’ in amongst a pile of vinyl as I walked past a stall. I’d heard of them at this point and knew that they were among an emerging scene of ‘Intelligent Techno’ artists like Aphex Twin and B12. I didn’t know the record but it was only 50p, I ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ and thought, ‘should I take a chance?’ but my mates were walking off through the crowd. If I’d stayed and fumbled around for the money I would have lost them so I decided to leave it and catch up before we were separated. Until recent reissues it used to go for over £100.
Mentor. Was there a particular person who inspired you to collect records, a role model in the art of record collecting?
No one I specifically went out digging with if that’s what you mean. It was a pretty solitary pastime until the Ninja Tune DJ tours of the 90’s, and those were everyone for themselves usually. I remember Mixmaster Morris telling me about a lot of obscure electronic music, both new and old. He told me what labels were worth investigating, which years were best and to hunt down more artists on certain labels. Up until the 90’s I’d mainly been stuck in the Hip Hop and breaks side of things and he showed me how to judge a record by its cover if it was in a foreign language. This is all pre-internet of course, there were no books on classic Krautrock or obscure electronica to be found. The best piece of advice he gave me though was, ‘if you find a record with a couple of hairy hippies on the cover with a huge modular synth – buy it!’.
What do you want to happen to your collection when you check out?
No idea, I actually plan on getting rid of it slowly over the years before that, kind of a reverse of what I’ve been doing up until now. I figure I’m over the hump now, the collecting mania of my 20’s and 30’s has slowed, space is at a premium, I have a lot of what I want. I also have a lot of stuff I like but don’t necessarily NEED. Maybe some of it will pay for the kids to go to college although who knows how much any of this will fetch in 10 years time even?
Who would you like to see profiled next on Dust & Grooves?
My website is www.djfood.org – it’s a regular scrapbook of what I’m doing, gig dates, design work etc. but also what I like. There are plenty of examples of great record sleeve art and design on it plus a regular diet of comic-related material, mixes, videos and much more.
My www.artofztt.com site is an expanding archive of the sleeve art of the ZTT label, from the 80’s through to the 90’s and beyond.
I’m on twitter @djfood
DJ Food and many other vinyl collectors are featured on the Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting book.
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