Monday, 11 August 2008

Elite Force Musings 003 : Early Years as a Plastic Junky

[This piece originally appeared on Beatportal]

The key turns in the lock. Hands, damp with anticipation. Pushing gently, easing it apart. The bottom of the door catches on plastic wrap. Pushing some more. A red letterhead .... unmistakable card/postcard. Bending down with a broad grin, tossing aside the junk mail, the bills, the bank statements now.

Grabbing the card/postcard. The box is ticked. Reading quickly, scanning the scrawl ("we tried to deliver a package but you were out" blah, blah ....). A BIG number, annotated in a hurry. 4. FOUR. FOUR PACKAGES. What time? Shit, over an hour ago. Blinding!

They'll have it back at their base. Be quick, you'll catch them. Drop the shopping in the hallway. Abrupt about face. Mad scurry across town to beat the clock. They close at 12.30. 12.27 & they were expecting me.

Dave, I think his name is, has a dig around out back and then he's back. Four fat-stacked light brown 12-inch cardboard mailing squares sit in front of me. Sign forms. Mumble thanks. Calculus. "Must be three in here - and, is that 5?? ... ugh, just the one in this one, but their stuff's never any good ...".

Mentally unwrapped already, I slide apart the brown tape and peer into each package in turn, out in the light. I saunter home, read the accompanying blurb, imagine what I have in store, salivate just a little and smile to myself.

Twelve, yes twelve, slabs of high-grade, heavy duty, fresh cut slabs of mint condition vinyl await the gentle weight of my new stanton carts. Another perfect Saturday.

Later that night, I would be taking to the decks at Exeter University' s Lemon Grove. This was effectively my first proper DJ gig, and to say it was a baptism of fire was an understatement, and to be truthful I had blagged my way into a considerable promotion: for a couple of years I had been working security at the same night, and has been schooled in the dark art of providing entertainment to 1000+ students by a couple of my illustrious peers.

The first year I worked there, my good friend Frank Tope (of Rooty & Mixmag fame) was the resident, playing typically unforgiving sets that delved deep into Salsoul territory and whilst he had a small & devoted following, it wasn't until his unlikely successor Thom Yorke (yes, there is only one I know of) took over than the night began to soar. Thom was a close friend - at the time we were playing in several bands together - and as he was earning considerably more that I was, we would always arrive an hour early to listen through his latest 12's, and it was hugely exciting to hear the likes of Front 242, Shut Up & Dance, Massive Attack and the Young Gods rubbing shoulders with one another on that floor, and when Thom left to continue his work with some band or other back in Oxford, I seized the mantle and spent a happy 18 months cultivating my love of vinyl.

I had already been building quite a vinyl collection since being turned onto electronic music through a number of routes, routes that included the likes of Ministry & NIN as well as the burgeoning acid house movement, the cut & paste ethos of NWA, Eric B & Pubic Enemy and the dislocated downbeat grooves from the likes of Depthcharge & Renegade Soundwave, and this promotion simply funded my habit rather than line my pockets with silver. It also gave me my first passport to promo-land .....

...... Fast forward the future.

Promo culture is everywhere, and people crave 'upfront' copies of tracks as if they are the holy grail - the quick fix that will suddenly make them stellar talents overnight.

It goes without saying that nothing could be further from the truth, but given how easy it is now to disseminate copies of work just completed in the studio, it feels Iike there's been a real devaluing of many producer's studio output in their own eagerness for everyone to hear their latest work - in many cases, tracks are now being sent out unmastered, and in many cases, unfinished.

I am becoming a real fan of the digital age, and through it I have been exposed to a vast amount of music that would previously have been out of my reach, but somehow I don't think that the visceral thrill and mounting excitement that I'd have every Saturday on my walk to the Post Office will ever be matched by yet another yousendit link popping up in my inbox. Do you?

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