This week our ongoing exploration of vinyl culture and collecting takes in its first international guest (by way of London Town) as we sit down with Swiss DJ / producer Breakplus. Now we’ve known about this cat for a while, a man about town his extensive knowledge of breaks and samples is flawless, and with it comes a compulsive record habit which easily throws up the odd story or two, as we will all soon learn.
Breakplus caught the record bug early while still living in Switzerland and namely thanks to what has now become known as the golden era of hip hop. Seeking out those long forgotten records that were used as the basis for many a 90s rap tune meant that he was soon digging in all types of crates and with it, exposing himself to a glut of artists, bands and genres. As time progressed he amassed a sizeable enough collection to embark on a career as a DJ in his homeland and by the year 2000, with an understanding of what makes listeners tick, he picked up his MPC 2000XL and started learning the ins and outs of music production.
He started hosting a radio show on the pioneering Swiss Internet radio station www.basic.ch in 2001, which meant the search for new and old sounds never ceased, and over seven years and close to 100 hours of mixes his audience was served up all manner of music that he would find on his travels. Soul and hip hop would rub shoulders with the more progressive sounds of drum and bass and broken beat, while the clear fascination for the past led to Breakplus excavating forgotten gems in the genres of funk, disco, library, jazz, rock, prog and Afro sounds. In other words he was covering the lot.
As his DJing and production ethic took off in his native Switzerland (even going as far as finding himself on the bill at the Montreux Jazz Festival, warming up for J Dilla, Madlib, Roots Manuva and Ty), a move to London beckoned and there he hooked up with Mr. Beatnick and put out a release under the moniker of Thieves Of Time. Alongside the record collecting and DJing, he continues the production work, collaborating on a host of projects as well as finishing up his own solo material.
So what about those digging exploits? A man who is always on the search for a cheeky sample or two must have a few right? Read on to find out what goes down in the life of our Swiss friend when he’s out looking for records…
#1: You & The Explosion Band “Theme From Lupin III”
I was in Geneva to visit some family there, and on Saturday afternoon I get a phone call from an unknown number. Turns out it’s Danny Krivit. My brother is friends with him and Danny had a gig in Geneva on Saturday evening.
But that’s not the reason for his call. He informs me that there is a record fair on Sunday and he wants me to take him there. He’s like: “it starts at 10am, so pick me up at my hotel at 8am”. Geneva’s not that big, and the record fair not that far from his hotel. The guy has over 50,000 records, been digging all over the world for so many years, plus he will be deejaying all night, but he has to get to the record fair before anyone else! You gotta admire his dedication. I mean I am serious about records, but I wouldn’t get up that early on a Sunday for that small a record fair. I managed to negotiate a pick up at 8:30am to which he reluctantly agrees.
The next morning I get to his hotel all red-eyed and still sleepy but Mr. Krivit is all fresh and ready to go. We get to the place before 9am. The vendors are far from all there yet and the ones who are, are still setting up their stalls. We try to get in but the attendant at the entrance is like “No no no. you have to wait until 10”. I’m a bit embarrassed at that stage, thinking in my head, “Dude, that’s Danny Krivit you’re talking to!”. Fortunately enough, I knew one of stall holders and he manages to get us in. We’re basically there before everyone else.
There wasn’t mad quality there, but I did pick up a few interesting Jazz LPs at decent prices, such as that Don Ellis Star Wars Theme record, and the Volker Kriegel double LP “Inside: Missing Link” on MPS. The best piece I got, although a bit pricey, was the first in the series of Lupin the Third Japanese Manga Soundtracks. With obi strip.
But to be honest, I was a bit tired and quickly done. I see my 70 year old Jazz Trumpeter friend (DJ C, we’d had a few dj gigs together playing some big band jazz) that I hadn’t hung out with since moving to London so we sit down to have a tea and a chat. But Danny is still going. The guy didn’t stop. He literally went through all the boxes of every stall! So yeah I’m a record nerd, but this guy is on another level. To have that kind of hunger after all these years and still making sure not to miss out on anything is truly astonishing.
#2: Ray Barretto “Lucretia The Cat”
This second, shorter story takes us back to Geneva. On the occasion of the Fetes de la Musique, on the 21st of June 2013, the state of Geneva’s discotheques (where you used to be able to borrow records as you do books in a Library) were selling off their stock. It’s funny because I initially took this trip to Geneva to present my two month old daughter to my family, and my wife swears I chose the dates on purpose to go and dig, when I fact I had no idea that this would go down as I bought the plane tickets! Anyway, the day came, and the event was supposed to start at 6pm. The way they did it is that they arranged an enclosure on a square closed to the traffic and arranged boxes of records there, by sections. As in your traditional record store, you had rows of boxes at table height, and other rows beneath on the floor.
Having learnt my lesson from Danny Krivit, I got there at 5pm to make sure to get an early start if possible. I could see all the usual digging suspects of the Geneva region including Mauro Bozzi of Stigmate Records fame, Cyril Martin of Holywax Records and many other guys. Like my wife, they all thought I came just for this! It’s true that it was something not to miss when all the records were being sold indiscriminately at 2 Swiss Francs a pop (about 1.35 GBP). All of us obviously tried to get in early but this being the state of Geneva they were having none of it.
Even worse, they announced that the start time wasn’t 6 anymore, but 7, because they wanted to wait for some official speech to be made first??!!?? We were all pissed off but undeterred. As time passed more and more people came and the crowd grew to the hundreds. As a true test of our diggers credentials, we had to wait in the searing June sun, all hemmed in together in the enclosure’s entrance, pressed like sardines. I think the guys working the security at this record sale started getting worried about the numbers and decided to let everybody in at around 6:40pm. It was an absolute stampede once they finally opened the gates, people all running towards the mystery boxes, nobody having a clue what would be in there. I can tell you one thing, it wasn’t civilised at all! At some point I was digging in one of the floor boxes, and I couldn’t get back up because I had three bodies on top of me going for the upper level boxes. People were literally falling over one another. Others were simply grabbing entire boxes for themselves.
I did find some really nice pieces though, like most of the Blood Sweat and Tears LPs, some Ray Barettos, the whole Albert Ayler discography. Also some weird instrument library LPs, Japanese Koto drums, Jew’s Harp and stuff. Not everything I got is great, but at that price you take chances. See a short TV report of the event here.
It was definitely mad but great to see people still get so enthusiastic for vinyl!
#3: Konadu’s Guitar Band “Medley”
I went to Ghana in March 2011 first of all for a bit of sun and some relaxing beach holidays. However, the real incentive was to be at the first edition of the Asabaako music festival, created and organised by friends of mine who had moved to Ghana specifically for that purpose. During my two weeks there I asked literally everybody about where I could find records but nobody had a clue. The general response was that you can’t really find records in Ghana anymore. At that point I was resigned to buying tapes instead, thinking I’ll at least have something to listen to in the car when back home (yes, I had only had a tape deck in the car back then, and I loved it, great sound).
So we’re in Accra, on the last day of our holidays, a Sunday, and we’ve got to catch the plane at 10pm that evening. “We” being myself and Guynamite who was on that trip with me. He wants to buy some souvenirs for his friends, I just want some tapes. We jump in a cab and ask the driver to take us to the arts and crafts market. Whilst on the way I start asking him where we can get some tapes, and the guy replies: “I know a place, but it’s closed on Sunday”. At that point I feel truly doomed, thinking I will come back to London empty handed. For the hundredth’s time I hazard the same question: “Do you know where to find records by any chance?”. The guy is a bit puzzled, “records??”. I’m like: “yeah records. You know, vinyl? Like CDs but bigger?”. So he’s like, “Ahhhh!! Plates! You lookin for plates! Ok… Ok..” (to be read with pidgin English accent).
As he’s driving he starts making phone calls on his mobile. My mood is perking up. At that stage we’ve got no idea where we’re going anymore. The plan of going to the arts and crafts market is suddenly taking a back seat. Sorry Guynamite! (he wasn’t that bothered to be honest, he’s a nice guy and a lover of music, especially African grooves too). So we’re driving around not knowing where we’re going or even what’s going on, and we end up picking up a guy who gets in the cab with us. He’s giving directions to the cabbie. But we only end up picking up another guy. That’s the thing in Ghana. When you want directions, you get told: “Walk in that direction for a little while, and then ask somebody else”. It’s actually a great system!
Anyway, we end up in a neighbourhood where we have to continue on foot, because the little dirt paths are too narrow for a car to drive on. At that stage we’re with our cabbie, who’s with his friend, who’s with a couple of guys, who take us to some Rasta’s house. If we hadn’t experienced how friendly and honest Ghanaians are we might have started to get a little bit tense and worried! So we get to that tiny little shack in the middle of a shanty town, the Rasta’s home. He invites us in (there’s really only enough room for his bed and two people to stand up), and behind the door and everywhere there is space are records! Like thousands of them, in dirt, stacked flat on the floor!
At this stage I’d like to point out that prior to this trip I didn’t know much or anything at all about Ghanaian music. I never bought or even listened to these Ghana Sounds compilations because I just don’t really buy comps. I don’t like to research stuff on the internet. I started digging way before the internet had any relevance in that department and to me it sort of kills the magic. For me the whole fun is discovering new stuff while digging. Using my nose. Sniffing those rare grooves. Looking at covers and trying to find which records will be funky. Visually uncovering those breaks.
I start to sift through those piles of records not knowing at all what to pick, trying to let my instincts guide me. To be fair though, it was mainly a case of picking up the records that were in a better condition because anybody who’s been digging in tropical places will tell you it’s extremely hard to find records in good nick. Here I am, in a dirty (no offence) little hut in Accra, sweating like a pig, breathing dust, when a live scorpion pops out of a record!! This has to go down as my most dangerous digging trip. I thought maybe it was the harmless type but when I told my new Rasta friend who was waiting outside, he seemed quite worried. I can tell you I was being extremely careful after that when sifting through the rest of the vinyl!
I picked up about 60 records because I couldn’t really take more with me. I found some real gems in there, not only some of the best Highlife, like C.K . Mann, including his famous Funky Highlife LP, the K Frimpong and His Cubano Fiestas Album, some incredible stuff from Alex Konadu, but also some Nigerian Juju Funk and Disco, some music from Zaire, Cameroon and Ivory Coast.
I took a long time to clean those records and I ended up putting some of the best bits on my Breakplus Digs Ghana mix. The mix was initially 2h45 minutes long, but I edited it down to 1:45 minutes to make it a bit more palatable. It’s funny because during my trip there all that I could hear everywhere was this auto-tune hip life stuff, but it’s only when I came back home that I could truly immerse myself in what I consider to be Ghana’s real legacy and contribution to the world of music. I finally had the music to go with the images that filled my head after this wonderful trip.
We couldn’t find a YouTube video of the said track, so instead stream the full Breakplus Digs Ghana mix tape below. We’re reliably informed it appears around the 1:28:40 mark!