We could have thrown a ton of nepotistic wisecracks at this week’s Diggers guest, the first of our family of writers to graduated onto the series but, on this occasion, we feel it’s more fitting to mark his credentials with a serious appraisal.
Leeds-based DJ and all round music encyclopaedia, Alex T is someone we can always count on for an on point recommendation or that elusive ID we’ve been searching for all year. You may know him from such Facebook groups as The New Music Group and Analogue Shazam, spreading those nuggets of knowledge wherever he can. In real life he’s doing the same thing on the daily at Tribe Records, the shop he works at alongside Subdub’s Simon Scott and Cosmic Slop‘s Mike Greenwell, tipping the people of Leeds, and the visiting DJs on to the best records coming through the shop.
After recording a slamming mix for Saoirse’s Rinse show at the beginning of last year, the station invited him on board for his own monthly show, on which guests include CCL, Justin Cudmore and Yuri. A long-time contributor for STW, it’s about time we gave some shine to the man who is as highly regarded for his knowledge of records as his love for Snyder’s pretzel pieces.
Alongside a vinyl-only mix of late night/early morning selections, Alex talks us through his relationship with records.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
I don’t think I actually saw a record on a turntable in the flesh until I started buying records myself! My parents taste revolved much more around classical music, and a little bit of well known pop and rock, rather than anything particularly esoteric, and they would listen to that stuff on CD or the radio. So I would say my taste has been more of a self informed journey with influences from the internet and my friends guiding me on the way.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
I guess like most people it’s a material thing of owning the music and being able to touch it and look after it. I think the first records I ever bought were on Discogs around 2011. Up to that point I’d been slowly building my digital music but really wanted to buy some of my absolute favourite tracks even though I didn’t have a turntable to play them on. Records can be a beautiful medium to present music and quite typically it’s the story or context around the record that make me hungry to keep delving further into crates. Whether it’s been sat in a box unloved for decades only to be rediscovered, or getting given a rare gem you’ve been after for years as a present, more often than not it isn’t the music itself that makes the culture so fascinating to me.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I keep my records in the living room underneath the decks set up. There’s a loose system arranged by genre, with sub genres or music from certain parts of the world within that. For instance, my electro is split into UK, European, US sections. Recently I’ve been enjoying the tip off on using stickers to categorise records which cover multiple genres – thanks to Dr Rubenstein and her Art of DJing feature – so I’m gonna start doing that and hopefully it will refine the process of finding stuff on my shelves. Both myself and my housemate Sam are quite bad at putting stuff away though, so we will often end up with random misc piles of records all over the living room. We don’t like to make it easy for ourselves.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Working in a record shop means I love going to other shops, seeing how they do it and scoping out bits that we’ve missed. There is so much music coming out every week that it’s pretty impossible to keep track of it all, so there’s always stuff that I will get shown for the first time at other shops that will blow my head off. My favourite shop for that is probably Eastern Bloc in Manchester, the whole crew are good friends and know exactly what I want whenever I’m there. I’ll always leave with a whole bunch of fresh bits that I definitely wouldn’t have picked up through Tribe. Staff who know your taste and know what makes you tick are one of the most essential features of any good record shop, they’re the ones who bought all the stock, so if anyone is gonna know what the best bits are in the shop it’s always gonna be them.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Well my boss Si Scott for a start, he is probably the most unsung hero in the UK underground. He will absolutely hate that I’m bigging him up here but he’s constantly educating me, when he’s not playing pranks on me at work. There is no one that I’ve met who is more dedicated to music! I’d also like to send a shout out to the lovely Kev Harper aka Boy Wonder who is a regular down at the shop. The best selling record we’ve had in Tribe was something he made 10 years ago, and sold badly at the time because he still had over 100 copies of it left over at home. Kev came into work, saw Nicolas Lutz’ name on a poster and asked if he was a big deal since Lutz had called him up to ask about getting a copy of his record. He told me he was sat on all these copies, so we got it in the shop and sold every last one after it had been sat there for all those years. Little stories like this make working with records so worthwhile. It’s one of the most rewarding things bringing this music to a fresh audience, and making people some money on a track they once thought was dead and buried.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
I used to obsess over expensive and rare tracks but in this day and age literally everything is being reissued, so if it’s popular enough it will most likely get done within the next few years. For every track you really want but can’t own, there’s guaranteed to be at least 10 that are just as good and a fraction of the price. You just have to dig deep and take chances. I operate on a bit of a wheeler dealer, chop and change basis in my collection, so I try not to get too attached to any particular record unless the context of how I came to own it is really special.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
I always prefer going with mates, the process of educating and being educated is a very important part of the music sharing process for me, and there’s no better place for that to happen than in a record shop. Last time I was at The Ghost in Berlin, my friend Ceci passed me a Ferox release I didn’t know about and tipped me off that I should buy it, which I did. Two brains are better than one and it’s always useful when you’re out digging.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
As previously mentioned, being open and conversational with the staff is always the best way to approach it. Asking them what kind of collections they have bought recently, any tips on the stock they have in, basically just juicing them of their knowledge is a good way to get directly to the heart of the stock. If the staff are rude or aloof (it can be the case sometimes), then I will usually make a bee line for records which have a cool aesthetic on their art or centre stickers and keep an eye out for labels or artists that I recognise. Always check the small print cause you might be surprised to find a side project or random alias from one of your favourite producers that you didn’t know about!
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Massively. Shit looking records usually sound shit too! Obviously that’s not always the case, but you can quite often tell if something will be sick just from it’s aesthetic. The same goes for new records too. For instance the aesthetic of all the records coming out of Canada and North America on labels such as NAFF, Planet Euphorique, Parallel Minds etc channel a very retro 90s techno vibe, which is the music that informed and inspired those labels.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
So this mix was recorded with the feeling of being half way between the club and bed. It’s a selection of tracks I’ll often listen to coming home from the club/afters. I like to walk home, plug in and zone out in that hazy late morning fuzz you get after a big evening. Pretty much all the tracks are sonically rich and full of colour and melody, which for me replicates the mild euphoria and satisfaction of a great night.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Three of the most underrated producers in the game right now are Benoit B, Duckett and Leif. They produce amazing textured tracks which cross over any situation for at home, the club, walking back home in the early hours or whatever. They all have this real magic atmosphere which perfectly captures what I wanted to convey in this mix. I’ve also included a couple of tracks from local ambient heroes CARLOS and Tomorotom who are both exceptional people and immensely talented.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
Probably my closest friends! My friend Josh has a vast collection of 90s techno, rare breakbeat, UKG and everything I love but he doesn’t play out at all. Doesn’t stop him digging deep and putting me onto some absolutely insane records though. My housemate Sam aka Tony Neptune has a collection most people 10 years older than him would dream of. He digs so deep across every genre and has showed me so many amazing tracks. Oh, and he was the person who got me into UR! His partner in crime Mark Turner is also cut from the same cloth. He has been collecting every sick underground dance music genre since the 80s and there is not one style he can’t play well, he’s got it all. I could go on for ages here but honourable shouts have to go to my colleagues Si Scott and Mike Greenwell, the Botley twins, Mike Smaczylo, Andrew James Gustav, Tony Fairchild, CCL, Lisene, Tristan Da Cuhna and Saoirse. What ties all these people together is their unrelenting desire to find better, more obscure tracks but go about it in an extremely unpretentious manner. I’ve learnt loads from everyone mentioned and have picked up some super tips on how to improve my digging process and get obscure gems on the cheap.
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
DJing is evolving given the cost of buying new records, so a lot of amazing younger DJs I meet are not really playing records so much as digital music these days. The regulars we get in Tribe are mostly older heads, however there are some really wicked and enthusiastic younger diggers who are in all the time. Shouts to Luce, Zoe Pea, Will Davies, Curbside crew, Sayang, Lydia Aletha and Vilija Milasiute. There’s probably some I’ve missed (sorry!) but these lot are full of energy and love for records so keep an eye out for them!
Alex T plays Cosmic Roots Festival (18th-20th July)
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