Features I by I 20.04.12

Loefah on the enduring appeal of vinyl, record shopping in London and becoming a grumpy old man

Loefah loves vinyl. That much quickly became clear when we called him up to have a chat ahead of his appearance at the 2012 Bloc festival.

The idea was that this interview would be for an ‘On Record’ feature, in which the DJ, DMZ graduate, Swamp81 boss and producer of some of the greatest underground dance music of the 2000s would talk in-depth about a particular favourite from his collection. However, pretty much from the off Loefah declared that choosing just one record would be impossible, and agreed to proceed only if he could talk more generally about his love for the sticky black stuff. The person at the other end of the phone, FACT’s Kiran Sande, was only too happy to indulge.

So what record do you want to talk about? You mentioned Goldie’s Timeless in a recent interview. Did you have any more thoughts on that, or shall we go with something else?

“[long pause] You know, I never had Timeless on vinyl. I had all the singles leading up to it and that on vinyl, but I never had Timeless on vinyl. I had all the Metalheadz stuff though, and Reinforced before that…You know, back then it was like, if an album came out on CD it was like wow, ‘cos there wasn’t bare CDs around, at least not of that kind of underground ilk, do you know what I mean?”

Especially on double-CD.

“Exactly, exactly. I mean, I did eventually get it on vinyl, but that was only about a year ago. You know…I buy records every week. It’s hard to pinpoint a particular record to talk about, ‘cos every day I listen to vinyl, and each day has a different tune. A tune of the day. Yesterday it was, you know a guy called Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson? Yeah? I got ‘Superman Lover’ on vinyl last week and I was battering it yesterday. The day before that it was S.O.S. Band, ‘The Finest’, which I picked up in Greece a couple of weeks ago. Then a mate came round last night and we were listening to loads of drum ‘n bass, the original drum ‘n bass, just after it split from jungle – old Photek tracks like ‘Water Margin’, old Source Direct, that sort of thing.”

Was that the era that you got into buying records?

“I’ve been listening to it, well, since sort of late acid house – sort of late ’89. Right at the start of hardcore I suppose. But I was quite young, I was just listening to it on pirates; I didn’t start raving until about ’93. I’d been buying vinyl since way back.

“It was all about, if you’ve got it, then you were hardcore.”

“Hardcore was what got me started buying music on vinyl, yeah. And it was literally ‘cos you couldn’t get it anywhere else. I didn’t have decks at the time, I couldn’t mix; I was like 11 or 12 years old. But I used to save my pound lunch money every day, ‘cos the records were a fiver, and on Fridays I’d go down to Wax City Records in Croydon.

“Most people think it would be Big Apple, but there was two record stores in Croydon, and I was actually more into Wax City. Even though Big Apple was sick and my mates worked there and it’s got this big legacy, I dunno, Wax City was like my house or whatever. So I used to go down there on Fridays and buy a hardcore tune and pick up loads of flyers. It was nothing to do with sound quality, it was just the only way you could get it. You could hear it on pirate, hear it on a tape-pack, but if you wanted to listen to a tune on its own then it was all about vinyl.

“But then it quickly gets you into that collector’s mentality…one minute you’ve got one vinyl, then you’ve got five, then you’ve got ten…it builds up. And they look sick when they’re all lined up in the rack or whatever, know what I mean? [laughs] You get the bug. At the same time I was picking up flyers and it was like the same thing with that, I started collecting flyers and just….being part of it. Being part of that hardcore thing. When I say hardcore I don’t necessarily mean the music, but more like the era…”

And the mentality?

“Yeah, totally. It was a word that was bandied about lot. It was all about, if you’ve got it, then you were hardcore [laughs]. What I try to do at the moment [with Swamp81] – it’s a similar kind of ethos. The music’s there on vinyl. If you want to go and get it, you can; I’m not gonna shout about it, I’m not gonna try to get it into HMV or whatever the fuck the high street record store is now [laughs], I’m not gonna go digital, I’m not gonna do all that shit… so it’s like, it’s over here. If you want to be part of it, you can be, but you’ve got to make a bit of effort. And that’s kind of what hardcore was about.

“If you made the effort to find your local independent record shop, if you made the effort to get the flyer to go to the rave – ‘cos without the flyer you literally wouldn’t know about it, there was no internet, there weren’t many adverts, at least not for the smaller raves – then you were hardcore. If you did make that effort, then you were accepted, you were in a kind of gang, a club. It was a special thing, and it was linked into the record shops, the vinyl, the pirates, the flyers – it was all this one thing together. That was hardcore for me.”

Has your relationship with vinyl changed over the years?

“It changed, ‘cos I stopped buying it for a couple of years when I started getting sent it. I was getting all the promos through the post and blah blah blah. And then it was like, I was DJing, but the vinyl became less relevant, because I was DJing with acetates, I was DJing on dubplates. And for a while I just forgot about it in a way, in terms of buying it for myself. I was so involved on the other side of it – the manufacturing and all that – and me going out record shopping became a bit of a thing of the past. If I wanted vinyl, I’d get it sent to me and all this shit.

“Then I started using Serato, when all the clubs stopped catering to vinyl or acetate – you know, systems go digital, decks aren’t dealt with properly, not earthed or whatever, they’re vibrating through the table, a million different reasons why. But then I just found myself enjoying putting on records at home – I’d be having a practice and just playing two records ‘cos it’s Serato, and then I’d put an album on, a vinyl album, and listen to it, and I was just like oh yeah, this is actually wonderful. I’d been preaching for years about the sound quality on vinyl and all that, but for some reason in my head it hadn’t crossed over into home listening. It just didn’t, even though it was sort of obvious. And then one day it did, and then I was like oh yeah. Then I started thinking, you know what, I’d really like that on vinyl.”

Was there a particular trigger?

“Do you know it was? I was doing this night with Kevin, The Bug, this night at Plastic People called Bash. And he had loads of 45s and I was just like, you know what, I want to compete – I want to have my pile [laughs]. I think that’s where it came from, I started going to Soul Jazz, starting getting a few records from there. Now I’m buying all my classic tunes and whatever else I can find: it’s going into the shop, flicking through the crates, it’s knowing you’ve got it. There’s no better thing than having it on vinyl.

“I remember back in the day you could have it on tape, CD and vinyl, and there are quite a few albums that I have on all of them. When you got it on vinyl was when you felt like you properly had it.”

Would you say the way you listen to records now has influenced the kind of records you buy?

“Yeah, totally actually. Totally. I buy to listen rather than to DJ with now. It doesn’t mean I won’t buy stuff I could DJ with though…”

But you’re not buying records to keep up with what’s going on.

“Yeah, and also I just really don’t want to take my vinyl to clubs any more [laughs]. Vinyl’s for at home. If I want to play things on vinyl out, I’ll record ’em in and play ’em through Serato, I don’t want to take them to clubs, I don’t want beer spilled on my sleeves. I’ve become like a grumpy old man, an anal vinyl collector.”

Have you got some nice shelving and an armchair then?

“[laughs] Yeah, that’s it, I’ve got some nice shelves and a sofa.”

“I don’t want to take my vinyl to clubs, I don’t want beer spilled on my sleeves. I’ve become like a grumpy old man, an anal vinyl collector.”

Living the dream.

“Yeah, that’s what happens..I just love it. I’ve never been one to overly geek out about it, but somehow I’ve just naturally got there.”

Any particular shops you like to pick up your vinyl from?

“Well, you know what? The [Music & Video] Exchange in Berwick Street [in Soho, London], I’m there all the time at the moment. I think they’re brilliant, ‘cos there’s no listening deck and the people who work there are so fucking rude…”

They’re the most miserable bastards in the world.

“[laughs] “They really are. They just look at you like you’re a piece of shit! [laughs]. But I kind of get down with that – in a weird way I appreciate it.”

And at least there are still some bargains to be had there, unlike a lot of stores in London.

“Mate. Exactly. I tell you what though: there are two record shops in Croydon that are just like, full up with vinyl. And ‘cos it’s in Croydon, and people who go record shopping uptown don’t really bother to come down to Croydon, you’ll find yourself picking things for like one pound things that are like 5,6,7,8,9 pounds uptown.

“There’s one shop in Croydon, and they sell vinyl, and they know what they’re talking about when it comes to selling Elvis or The Beatles or whatever, old 60s stuff, but that’s it. Anyway, they buy up people’s crates – and Croydon’s got a massive history of DJs, from whenever; not like necessarily successful ones, but everyone there’s been on it forever, so people come in and unload their crates in there, and you find things there that are like – fuck. They’ve got a standard wall: it’s a pound for a 12″, and it’s one pound fifty for an album, and it’s just like, pow. You go in there and you just get stocked up, mate. And it’s this blanket pricing – they haven’t got a clue what this music is, and they can’t even be bothered to find out, they’re happy. It’s a pot of gold on my doorstep, basically.”

Most stores are marking up to Discogs prices these days. Stuff that should be £30 tends to be £30, or £25 if you’re lucky.

“Saying that though, a lot of things have gone down in price. It feels like people who are maybe slightly older than me are letting go of their records. I went into the Exchange the other day and there was so much Shut Up & Dance stuff, it looked like someone had brought their whole Shut Up & Dance collection in. I bought a load of that stuff back in the day, but I filled in a lot of the gaps. £2-£3 a vinyl, and a couple of years ago some of them were going for up to £30 or £40!

“There’s a massive vinyl resurgence at the moment. The kids are really buying vinyl, whether it’s new stuff or whether it’s trawling second-hand shops or charity shops or shit. It’s not going anywhere, you know what I mean? Obviously it’ll never sell the units it once did, but still…I don’t know. Vinyl’s different. Vinyl’s like a piece of art, it’s a reflection of the times you live in, it’s a physical thing you can hold. I mean, you can hold a CD, you can hold a tape, you can even hold an iPod and look at the artwork on the screen – but it’s not the same, is it?

“You can viably frame a vinyl cover and put it on the wall. It’s also got all these personal associations – when you take a vinyl out of your record collection it takes you back to when you bought it, where you were in your life when you were listening to that shit when it was brand new…there’s just so much involved in it.  The process of having to put it on, having to turn it over – it’s a lot of effort to listen to vinyl, so you want to listen to good shit; you’re not gonna listen to rubbish on vinyl [laughs].

“There’s a culture right now that says you’ve got to do it one way, but you haven’t got to do it one way at all. The only reason the majors are loving mp3s is ‘cos there’s no productions costs. It’s the cheapest thing, so they can make as much as they can out of a failing business. I don’t know. I think the most viable form is vinyl. It’s like a book – it’s not going nowhere.

I always find it interesting, and heartening, that people tend to be unwilling or ashamed to throw out books and records. Most people won’t chuck a book or record they’ve finished in the bin; they’ll take it down to Oxfam or the Exchange, or pass it onto someone in some way.

“Right. People have been saying books are on the way out for years, but they’re not – even with the Kindle and reading books on iPads and shit, it’s not going nowhere, because there’s something special about an actual book. People appreciate the craft that goes into it, whatever.

“It’s just more of a personal connection, it’s more human. It’s an even wider thing than books or records –  whatever we’re talking about, it comes down to whether it’s craft, or whether it’s a mass production. That’s the way I look at it. Even people getting bespoke furniture made by a master carpenter rather than going down Ikea and getting what everyone else is having. There’s a leaning to that stuff. Stuff that’ll…

…Stuff that’ll last. Stuff that’s done properly.

“There you go. There you go.”



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