Record dealers play a crucial role in the movement of second hand music, and are often responsible for influencing the dance floor sounds of their respective cities. A direct line for DJs and collectors, they are the anonymous tastemakers behind musical trends, reissues scenes and resale price surges.
Jack Needham meets three dealers, operating in London, Lisbon and Paris, to put faces to Discogs usernames, and understand a little more about what motivates the dealers, beyond the bottom line.
Prise open the doors of most lockups or storage containers in any given city and you’ll most likely be greeted by a stack of innocuous items crammed into a tiny rectangle; dilapidated furniture that never found a buyer or moth eaten clothes that were never thrown away. But Dobshizzle’s lockup is slightly different.
Housed in a metal container in central London, it is a museum dedicated to British dance music heritage. Organised chaos inside, perhaps, but it’s where you’ll find records dating back to the ground zero days of grime, jungle, hardcore and UK garage.
A favourite of Ben UFO, Jon Rust, Paul Woolford and anyone hunting out rarities from the UK underground, JG aka Dobshizzle is known for getting records others can’t. But while his lockup boasts records from the glory years of DMZ, and grime instrumentals that sound like alternative scores to a Street Fighter, he’s a private seller who mostly exists as a Discogs username behind a screen.
When Discogs launched in 2000, it began as a database for electronic music, an interactive tracklist for the ecstasy years on a dial-up modem. Today, Discogs is an industry-changing phenomenon. For better or worse, it has allowed private collectors to sell under pseudonyms.
Like many, Dobshizzle followed suit. He quit his job and needed quick cash. “People were less precious about records than they are today,” he says. It was during this early period when he found the bulk of his collection.
“A guy said to me once that because we don’t hunt anymore, record collecting is a replacement for that hunter gene,” Dobshizzle says, and to an extent the analogy holds true. He would drive the staff at the now defunct Uptown Records mad asking for new UK funky 12″s. He scoured London for grime collections and bought uncatalogued white labels from former DJs and ravers who had grown up, got jobs and found crates of records too cumbersome for their living rooms. Over time, he has built a collection of around 60,000 records.
“Back then I didn’t know a lot of people in grime to find the records, but it was still fresh and new,” says Dobshizzle. “Back in the ‘70s, reggae records were everywhere and now they sell for hundreds of pounds. Why shouldn’t grime be like that? Why shouldn’t garage or jungle be like that? It’s been 25 years since jungle, and the records are really hard to find.”
Grime isn’t library music or northern soul. It’s not archived, and full collections are harder to come by than an early Terrorhythm white label. Records built for purpose, they have have been used, sometimes abused, or lost in the dance, on the beer-soaked floor of a club. But for Dobshizzle, there’s beauty in that.
“You got to make your own story when you’re collecting records,” he says, pausing for a moment. “They’re about you.”
Private seller and boss of the Mar & Sol imprint, Sebastião Delerue has a collection that reflects the city’s melting pot of influences and sounds. “I want to share the records that were made on my street, Rua de S.Bento, back in the day,” he describes. “My father and grandfather both had big record collections, so for me, being surrounded by records is familiar.”
As people emigrated to Lisbon from the former Portuguese colonies of Cabo Verde, Angola and S.Tomé e Principe in the ‘70s and ‘80s many settled on Rua de S.Bento, quickly building what has become a Luso-African music culture.
Today, that influence can be heard in the hyperactive rhythms of batida and electronic label Principé Records that, as they state themselves, showcase contemporary dance music from Lisbon’s “suburbs, projects & slums.”
“This music is part of my life,” says Delerue. “Growing up here, I experienced the culture developing, the musicians getting the opportunities to record, the first records shops appearing. The clubs, restaurants, parties, everything started to grow and this movement found a place.”
Back in the day, Portuguese-African labels like IEFE and Arsom set the original blueprint for what has now begun to flourish. Delerue helps to contribute through his Mar & Sol imprint and his invite-only record den. “Today, I can spread this music across the world. This is music that was formerly censored by governments, and did not reach everybody,” he says.
“I like to sell records to friends, but this year so many musicians, DJs, collectors, even random people have been here looking for this music. It shows how special this music is and how it can influence the people.”
“I’ve always been digging for items,” recalls Vincent Privat from his home in Paris. Privat is a collector who paid his way through high school selling antiques on local flea markets before studying African art and history at University. This introduced him to the music he sells on the Parisian scene today.
“Paris has always been a place with a lot of records, but the serious ones, the big things, you don’t find here anymore,” he explains. That has driven Privat further afield; from the local music of Tel Aviv to digging tribal house and trance records in Austria and Italy.
Some of his stand-out records are those of French language origin: late-’80s zouk from overlooked names like Dely Mputu or anthemic Afro-electro jams like Akendengué’s ‘Epuguzu’. He’s travelled to Geneva to meet artists like Raphael Toine and found 100 copies of his 1986 LP Ce Ta Ou in Toine’s basement.
After over two years in business Privat is something of a rarity himself, not only for the lengths he’ll go to to find a record, but also for his ethical approach. “The base of my business model is to work with fair deals. I source the artists or label owners, I sell their dead stock and share the money with them 50/50,” he explains.
All too often the original artists are forgotten when dealers sell records for small fortunes on Discogs, but “if you want to do business, you have to share with your community,” Privat states. Based in his living room record store where DJs and collectors can “sit, have a beer and play some records,” Privat has become a tastemaker in Paris, building an ecosystem around the zouk and highlife records he sells.
“I sell to everyone, but the young local DJs are the most fun customers,” he laughs, citing local names Master Phil and Shelter as some of the city’s best. “They’ll come to my place on a Friday and they’ll buy some records, and we’ll begin to hear those in the club. Now, that sound is going more global with names like Young Marco and John Talabot, so we’re happy we’re a bit more on the scene.”
Still, some of his most prized finds come from the flea markets in Uzès, Privat’s hometown in the south of France. Here, he hunts for French folklore records and chanson, and it’s here where he stumbled across one of his prized finds: Lili’s ‘Anque Yo’, a record Privat says, “I loved so much I almost cried.”
Hoping to reissue the record Privat managed to track her down. He heard anecdotes from Lili’s time spent within the post-punk and experimental movement of Montpellier, and the story of how ‘Anque Yo’ came to be. “She had almost forgot about the 7″ she released when she was a young lady,” says Privat.
But just like that, she vanished. “She changed her phone number and house, and now I just can’t reach her,” Privat recalls. “No one know where she went. We just can’t find her, it’s like she disappeared…”
The reissue remains a pipe dream for the moment, but for Privat it’s all a part of what keeps him in the business. “What’s interesting in digging is that it’s not about finding the record that everyone wants,” he says. “It’s about discovering.”