By Words: Ethan Holben Photo: Francesca Tamse (XLR8R)
In advance of this Saturday’s Record Store Day happenings around the globe, XLR8R has put together a week-long series of features devoted to taking a closer look at some of our favorite record-selling outlets from around the world. Check out the entire series here.
In 1996, New York City’s East Village (which was then simply called the Lower East Side) was a much different place than it is today. What’s now one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the Big Apple, an area stuffed with high-rise condos, exorbitantly priced cocktail lounges, and an inordinate number of sports bars, was then a neighborhood on the edge. Marijuana was being sold out of bodegas, heroin addicts occupied the benches and bathrooms of Tompkins Square Park, and cab drivers would sometimes refuse to even take people there. This was the East Village where bookstore owner and flea-market vendor Isaac Kosman opened a new kind of record store, which he named A-1.
Some 17 years later, hundreds of record stores have both opened and closed in America, but A-1 is still standing—and thriving. “It’s Darwinism,” says store elder Jay Delon, who humbly refers to himself as the “senior guy,” despite clearly leading the staff. “We try to adapt, and not be purists, and stay curious about what people are into.” A-1 keeps things simple, which is surely part of the reason it’s become one of the best-curated record stores in the US. Originally envisioned as both a store for collectors and an alternative to the overpriced classical- and rock-oriented stores in New York’s West Village, A-1 quickly became one of the top destinations in the United States, or perhaps even the world, for jazz, soul, and rare grooves. Producers like Gangstarr’s DJ Premier, Pete Rock, The Alchemist, and Masters at Work were early regulars, buying stacks of obscure records for sampling and use in their own productions, which DJs were in turn buying and playing as soon they were released. Over time, A-1 continued to evolve, expanding its racks to include hip-hop, rock, disco, boogie, house, and techno. With each addition, A-1′s importance to NY’s music scene only grew, a notion that legendary rare-groove DJ Amir (a.k.a. Amir Abdullah, of Kon & Amir, and owner of the reissue label 180 Proof), lays out in more detail. “Hip-Hop owes a lot to A-1 Records,” he says. “Everyone from Lord Finesse to Midi Mafia shopped there and made some of their classic tunes from records they bought there.”
Since 1996, A-1 Records on Sixth Street has attracted countless vinyl enthusiasts to its bins of hip-hop, jazz, soul, disco, and house music. On any given afternoon, disc diggers discuss what white-label 12-inches they’re going to DJ, tossing out obscure names that are foreign even to the other die-hards flipping through the stacks.
Ron Morelli, one of the four employees at A-1, has seen dramatic changes in the city’s electronic music scene during his ten years of spinning vinyl. The DJ, whose discovery of punk and hardcore started him on his journey into underground music and culture, started the DIY dance music label, Long Island Electrical Systems, in 2009 to showcase gritty, analog-based techno and house. He’s also used L.I.E.S. as a vehicle to release his own music (along with co-conspirators Jason Letkiewicz and Steve Summers) under the moniker Two Dogs In a House.
The small-run 12” records that Mr. Morelli releases (many of which feature hand-stamped track listings on the dust jacket) feel intimate: it’s clear they’ve been lovingly assembled by hand. Early releases by Steve Moore and Professor Genius started the buzz that has collectors rushing to buy the releases before they hitDiscogs for quadruple their initial price.
Despite the sold-out events Mr. Morelli DJs in New York and Brooklyn and the label’s success in Europe, there’s a low-key presence to L.I.E.S. Rather than a lavish release party, L.I.E.S. artist Professor Genius first spun his latest 12″,“Hassan,” at Heathers Bar on a Thursday night. Recently, Mr. Morelli shared his thoughts on the changing face of New York’s electronic music scene and the state of record stores.
by Eric Duncan (The Standard Culture )
This Friday January 18, Le Bain welcomes two of the New York icons: Danny Krivit and Eric Duncan. While Danny has been part of New York club scene since the 60’s, Eric Duncan (of Rub’N’Tug) has made his mark on the underground parties of the 90’s. We asked Eric if he was up to interview Danny and here it is – Enjoy the trip to the Village, way, way back in the 1970s.
Eric Duncan: I have heard various stories about you over the years. Is it true you grew up in your family’s bar? When and where was this?
Danny Krivit: I grew up in Greenwich Village, New York City, in the 1960s and I literally was surrounded by music. My mother was an accomplished jazz singer and my father was the manager of legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker before he went on to open up “The Ninth Circle”, a Village hot spot on West 10th Street just west of Greenwich Ave, where I also worked as a boy. It was here that I met some of the most influential people in the music scene: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Mingus, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, amongst others. The Mothers of Invention lived down the hall from me, and Sid Bernstein (Manager of The Rascals) lived upstairs, the Rascals would regularly pop down to our house to practice most of their future hits on our piano. At school, a close friend and classmate of mine was Creed Taylor Jr, son of Creed Taylor, the production genius behind many artists who recorded on the VERVE, C.T.I. and KUDA labels. I remember always hanging out at his house with his father trying to introduce us to his musicians, people like Freddie Hubbard, Hank Crawford, and Stanley Turrentine… I was maybe 11. I didn’t really know who they were yet. [Read More]
By Nickj – Lifelounge
Ricky Powell has lived the 20 years we all wish we had. He’s known the people we only get to see in the movies or read about in books. Our imaginations are his reality. From Cindy Crawford in the bathroom to Andy Warhol on the streets of Brooklyn, the born and bred New Yorker captures lives lived and lost.
Quitting his job at the Frozen Lemonade stall back in 1985, the iconic hip-hop/street photographer took his Minolta AF down a path of immeasurable proportions where celebrity and downright debauchery make him wonder today how he made it out alive.
Dubbed the ‘fourth member of the Beastie Boys’, Powell became their unofficial photographer during the late ’80s and early ’90s. He quickly gained notoriety for his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and for the photos that followed shortly thereafter.
His nonchalance shouldn’t be confused with irreverence but with his Jersey drawl, his ‘home-boy’ slouch and his womanising ways, he certainly isn’t a bashful fella.
Jasmine Phull takes a seat on the balcony of The Cullen hotel to talk about the ‘seven hustles’ with Ricky Powell – the self-proclaimed ‘Lazy Hustler’.
Jasmine: What’s that?
Ricky: That’s a transistor radio, baby. It’s my lifeline.
J: Do you listen to a specific radio station?
R: I just flip it around. Wherever I go I have a transistor. I need a soundtrack wherever I go.
J: It’s very ’70s. So this won’t be too much of integration. In fact, I think you may just come out of this alive.
R: You can ask me whatever you want.
J: Ok. Let’s talk about the influence of music. During the late ’80s and ’90s you were really ingrained in the music culture and your photos only highlight that. Describe the impact that the ‘evolution’ of the music industry has had on you and your work over the past 15 years?
R: To me, contemporary music just blows. Culture has just gotten toy. Generally speaking. You gotta look for the good stuff. The shit that’s force-fed from the media is weak. Terrible.
J: So has the focus of your work changed?
R: Yea. I don’t go out to clubs anymore. A lot of cornballs have replaced a lot of cool people. I kinda feel resentful about that. Not just cause they’re new people but cause they got a wack sense of self-entitlement. They have no substance. The neighbourhood that I live in, Greenwich Village, is full of that. A lot of the original people are gone and the people that have replaced them are ‘new jacks’ who think they’re cool because of the clothes they’re wearing. [Read More]
BPM Interview #14
It’s early in the evenings set at LOVE and I am playing a Balearic classic, a Mike Francis record with emblematic 80’s production, rich vocals, acoustic guitar and lush synthesizer washes. I just can’t believe how good it sounds, the warmth of the record, the fidelity of the mid range, the soft weight of the lows. I’m playing the record on a technics 1210 with a modified SME tone arm; it’s passing through a customized Urei mixer and emerging from an analogue sound system designed by this month’s interviewee Gary Stewart.
GSA (Gary Stewart Audio) has been a premier designer of club sound systems since the early 80’s. He has taken up the mantle of analogue sound design from its principle architect, the late Richard Long. In fact it was the result of an epiphany that occurred to Gary while poring over Richard’s late design notes: The supple and dynamic sonic range he wanted his systems to represent could be found in the modulation of an analogue structure. I recently sat down with Gary to cover his history and see what brought him to that revelatory point.
DK: OK Gary, how did you get to be the “Sound Guy” (laughter)
GS: I actually started as a musician; I had studied with a Gene Dell (a jazz guitarist) and was at the Manis College of music for trumpet, it was time for classical theory and the jump to the piano, and I made the jump to Studio 54. (laughter)
DK: A different kind of schooling…
GS: I would be there six or seven nights a week, the sound was so dramatic, it was a Richard Long system, they had the 3 way “Waldorf” horn loaded boxes, The “Levan” sub-bass horns, “Z” tweeter arrays and the “Ultima” stacks, with Richards 3-way crossover…it was like nothing I had ever experienced before, the records being played sounded so fresh, above and beyond the way I had heard them prior. Eventually I met Richard there one night, I was like “who are you”? The experience of that system changed the way I felt about music, it was really sublime.
DK: How did you transition into setting up systems?
GS: When I was about 19 I had started building Dynaco stereo products from a kit. I did it with my dad as a hobby, we weren’t that good, and invariably would have to take our stuff for repair, but I remember a service guy telling me my soldering work was very tight. I stayed with it, not really projecting a career but just enjoying it. I remember I once tried to test an amplifier with a toaster as a load, (laughter) don’t try that at home. I accrued more and more components over time. [Read More]
I first became aware of Richard Sen in the late ‘90s through his project (with Paul Eve) Bronx Dogs. Bronx Dogs celebrated the B-boy Zulu nation vibe. Three Legged Funk was steeped in a break-heavy sample-based grit, it was hard like The Bomb Squad or EPMD hip-hop, but driven in an old school way to the dancefloor. The follow up Enviro brought some Balearic tones and a heavy London nocturne feel to the proceedings. Richards next project was Padded Cell—done in collaboration with Neil Beatnik, the duo crafted songs that had a dark almost gothic vibe and reflected the compression and torpor/anxiety of the inner city. A number of 12-inches culminated in the release of the LP Night Must Fall—“Far Beneath London” one of my fav jams!
In addition to his original work Richard has done a number of remixes for a range of artists, among them; Bryan Ferry, LCD Soundsystem, The Glimmers, Hedford Vachal and um some guy named Kane…
Richard is also a stellar DJ, starting in the late ‘80s at the crazy club in Astoria and at present bringing it worldwide. I met Richard on New Years Eve 2006, he came to a party I was playing at Love in NYC, he subsequently joined me for a night at Apt that summer, and we have done a number of gigs together since then. Richard is the real deal and it is an honor to call him a friend.
Ed Note: On the occasion of the release party at Cielo for his amazing compilation on Strut Records, This Ain’t Chicago (The Underground Sound Of UK House And Acid), we thought a chat with Bronx Dog/Padded Cell producer/DJ /graf legend Richard Sen was in order. Who better to do it than his longtime pal (and DJ accomplice for the night) Magnetic hero Disques Sinthomme/Ghostown honcho Dennis “Citizen” Kane. The two got together for one of their frequent chats and turned on the recorder. [Read More]
Long Island Electrical Systems (L.I.E.S.) is exemplary of the private press label renaissance of recent years. Its releases largely draw upon the output of gifted friends and quintessences, are pressed up with few frills (and occasionally hand-stamped white labels), and have garnered rave reviews and full-throated DJ support with little or no promotion. Yet its founder, Ron Morelli, was initially reluctant to jump into the label game and shows no interest in seeking the spotlight. That hasn’t stopped it from finding him, based on the strength of records by Jason Letkiewicz (aka Steve Summers/Malvoeaux), Legowelt, Willie Burns, Steve Moore, Maxmillion Dunbar, and Marcos Cabral. He’s also introduced the world to the talents of erstwhile unknowns Terekke, Vapauteen, XOSAR, and Svenghalisghost, with more likely to follow. And while L.I.E.S. has hosted a range of techno and house aesthetics, an overarching punk ethos — via bruisingly raw and utterly human sonics — unites its first 12 records. LWE sat down with Morelli to discuss the label’s prolific last year and future plans, his straightforward A&R choices, and his feelings on New York’s contemporary club scene. He also contributed Talking Shopcast 15, an effortlessly diverse and eminently replayable mix recorded before his shift at A1 Records. [Read More]