Collecting records is much like collecting anything else. The thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction when you find something really unique or rare is a rewarding experience. There is a zen to collecting, whether it’s vinyl or baseball cards, that is comforting. Vinyl, however, is unique because of it’s abundance and diversity. The wide spectrum of genres, formats and geographical categories could keep a collector occupied for many life times. Our buddy Eilon over at Dust & Grooves recently published a book documenting the art of record collecting. Eilon traveled the world, from Australia to Cuba and Argentina to Ghana, in pursuit of intriguing and memorable subjects. What resulted was a accumulation of over 130 vinyl collectors profiles with photographic essays and in-depth interviews. We recently sat down with Eilon for a short Q&A to talk about his new book.
How did Dust & Grooves first get started?
I was always a record collector. I grew up with vinyl back in Israel. Music was always important in my life; I was always that boy in school who people would come to for music advice. In the ’80s, vinyl was the only format available (except for tapes), until it slowly switched to CDs. But I remained a vinyl person, and as time passed, it started to become associated with nostalgia for me, and with special attention paid to music. That’s also the reason I keep collecting now—the fact that it makes music special, but I’m not an audiophile or a purist.
I moved to NYC in 2008, at the beginning of the big recession, and was jobless for a while. So instead of being busy with work, I found myself spending a lot of time (and money) in record stores. In these periods in life when you have a lot of time, when you’re in a new country, there’s a strong drive to justify the sacrifice you made by leaving your family and friends and coming to a new place; I felt a real drive to do something worthwhile. I was impressed by the abundance of records here and by the vinyl community: people talking about records, buying and selling—even in the streets. So my interest in vinyl perked up when I came here, but what really ignited the flame was reading this article in the Village Voice about this German guy, Frank Gossner, who digs for records in Africa. It was a mind blowing story. I found out he was living in Brooklyn and asked him if we could meet, and I told him about this new idea I had to document the vinyl community here. He was supportive, he liked the idea, so he took me to some record stores and I met Joel Oliveira of Tropicalia in Furs, who was great. And that’s where it all started.
I never thought this would be a website or a book. I only wanted to work on a personal photography project, and I found that my unemployment was a good opportunity to do something that I really cared about—to combine these elements of my life that I really loved: music, photography, and vinyl.
You recently published a book which documents record collectors from all around the world, can you tell us a little about the book? What lead you on this epic journey?
It was an evolution of a project that was very dear to me. As I said before, it was never meant to become a book, but the support and encouragement from the vinyl community all around had pushed me to work harder and realize that this little photo project of mine is not just about my personal interest with vinyl; it’s about a whole community that was kind of hiding in the shadows. There were books and articles about record collectors in the past, but I guess there weren’t any projects that were dealing with the subject in that depth and with a photographic angle.
I think it was about two or three years after I started the blog, when King Britt—an artist who had a big influence on me (I used to DJ in bars in Tel Aviv playing his records)—approached me and asked if I would come to his place and profile him and his collection. It was a real pat on the back for me and it made me believe in this project, and it confirmed that I’m on the right path. I spent five hours in King’s house, going through his records, listening to his favorite tracks, shooting, and just having fun. He then pulled out a photo book from his library and started telling me how much he loves photo books. Then he asked, “Why don’t you make a book out of this project?”
Weirdly enough, I dismissed him immediately telling him that I don’t think I have enough material or enough depth for a real book. Thank god King is a man of vision and that he dismissed my comments and insisted that I do have what it takes for a great book. It took me a few more months until I decided to print some of the photos on real paper, not just look at them on the screen.
I spent the entire day in my studio printing 5×7 prints of my favorite shots and then it hit me! It was obvious that these pictures deserved a better format. Just like music on vinyl, these photos just resonated on paper, and also being able to see them all together, made a real impact. (look here) From that day, I started to take the project much more seriously. I decided that this book will become a reality and prepared a plan to raise the funds through Kickstarter and get on a long road trip across the US to collect more material for the book.
(*Photo by Eilon Paz from the book Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting)
How long did it take you to complete the book?
A little over two years since I launched the Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been collecting collectors since 2008, but I actually started working on the book in 2012. It was a long and interesting process. I learned so much from it. At first, I was only trying to make a small self-printed book, 8×8 inch, soft cover, about 200 pages. But the success of the Kickstarter campaign and the support from the vinyl community encouraged me to push my limits and believe in my project and then eventually think much much bigger. The book turned out to be a huge 416 page hardcover, with two different paper stocks, a fancy slipcase (limited edition) and in-depth interviews and essays by some of my favorite artists.
What is your process when shooting your subjects?
It’s pretty simple and straightforward. I come by myself usually, no other people, no complicated lighting, no writers. It started out like that since I was always doing this project on a low budget, so I couldn’t pay anyone to come and work with me. But then I discovered that this is actually what gives me the ability to get up close and personal with my subject. It’s just two dudes (or a dude and a girl) geeking out about records and occasionally taking some photos. Most people are a bit hesitant in the beginning, but when they drop the needle on one of their favorite albums, they immediately lose all their inhibitions and open up. I always considered music as the number one cure to any mental or emotional illness, and in these moments, it was so clear. Music brings people together.
What have been the most valuable record you have come across?
I don’t care about valuable records.
Who’s collection maybe sticks in your mind the most?
So many! What a tough one. Joe Bussard who I named “King of 78s” has an amazing basement filled with 78s all meticulously lined up and categorized. His record basement is a door into our history. Amazing and important.
Then, on the other end, Dante Candelora, a young kid from Philadelphia, collects all the Sesame Street records that ever existed. Such devotion… Haha.
(*Photo by Eilon Paz from the book Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting)
As a connoisseur yourself, what’s your most prized record?
Like I said, I don’t really care about monetary value. It really misses the point. Vinyl is cool and helps you connect with your music and feel more attached to it, but for me, it really doesn’t matter if it’s rare or if it goes for $1000 on eBay.
About a week ago, while traveling in Europe on our book launch tour, I lost my bag of records on the train from Amsterdam to Paris. I was really bummed about it. It took me a full day to really recover, but hey, these records were nothing “special,” all of them were cheap records. So why was I so bummed? It’s because each record had a story. I remember where and when I got each one of them, and they resonated with a period in my life. A record I used to listen when I was 16 back in Israel—gone. A record I picked up from a farmer in Ghana while shooting a story for the book—gone. A James Brown record that always made me feel good—gone. I guess all of these records were my prized possessions. Now, two weeks later, I have moved on, but in
some really weird way, I am now looking for these records when I go and dig.
Although you travel the world documenting record enthusiasts, your home base is in Israel. What’s the scene like there? Are there many serious collectors in Israel?
I grew up in Israel and lived there most of my adult life, but I was never a serious nerdy collector. I always loved music, but I wouldn’t go out and search for records in weird places. Record stores and flea markets were the furthest I would go. Now, after working on this project for quite a while, I’ve discovered a digging scene in Israel, a scene that I wasn’t part of before I left. It’s fascinating to see what is considered a collectible or a white whale in the Israeli digging scene.
Like so many other things in Israel, which you can label as “it’s complicated,” the music scene was governed by a few elitist “Ashkenazi” dudes, who looked down on any music that came from the North African Jewish music, like Egypt, Morocco, and Ethiopia for example. I guess you can compare it to the black music “revolution” in the mid-century here in the US. Anyways, that music was overlooked or dismissed by the radio and the mainstream media, but in the recent years, people are rediscovering it with a new appreciation of its tradition, and all of a sudden, there is an entire digging scene built around old and forgotten Middle Eastern records, which 20-30 years ago, nobody gave a shit about.
What do you think it is about vinyl that leads people to amass these huge collections?
We humans share the same illusion of eternal life. We can’t really grasp the idea that we are gonna die and be forgotten one day. Collecting records is a way to deal with that, I think. Same as collecting coins or stamps. The good thing about records is that they play music, and music is the cure for everything. ;)
Before you take off on yet another vinyl adventure, can you tell us what are you listening to these days?
Whatever comes my way, and a lot comes my way these days. I was getting into some Word Jazz on my recent trip to the UK. Ken Nordine is a genius. My friend Julia turned me onto the music and compositions of Floating Points, which then led me to other artists like Shigeto and FourTet. Zach Cowie and Jess Rotter turned me onto a special niche—a combination of old school rock, with a dark smokey cloud above it, kind of psychedelic, experimental artists. Their mixes on Dust & Grooves are among my favorites.
Classics from Jess Rotter for Dust & Grooves by Dust & Grooves on Mixcloud
The Dust & Grooves book is available online and in select record stores.
Please join us this Thursday and Saturday on our book launch parties at Sonos Studio. Details
and RSVP HERE.