The Record Karma Cycle – Recorder interview with Gábor Vályi

The following is a translation of the original Hungarian article on Recorder, published with permission from Gábor Vályi and Recorder.

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Photo from IASPM 2013 conference in Gijón (by E. Barna)

The first guest of Recorder’s LP Kollektor series features Gábor Vályi, a.k.a. as DJ Shuriken, whose doctoral dissertation is on the collective aspects of record collecting, and who runs a 2-hour radio show with DJ Keyser every Thursday from 22.00 on Tilos Radio.

Gábor Vályi is the perfect example of record collecting becoming an organising principle of one’s life: it started out as a hobby, later his love of music led him to doing the radio show, then being a DJ lended new momentum to crate digging, and as an academic he also wrote his PhD thesis on the topic, delving ever deeper into the world of shiny black records. It should be self-evident that the works of art that are album covers, the scratchy sounds, and the best sound quality provided by the trinity of record plus pickup plus a good sound system all guarantee that crate digging will continue to remain relevant – this is also evident from ever-growing vinyl sales. So let us look at a professional collector whose collection is in the tens of thousands.

‘There is a photo of me as a child staring into the world with headphones on my head. The picture obviously demonstrates that this was a characteristic childhood activity for me. At the same time I always had an inclination towards hoarding, collecting. Starting with my matchbox collection, everything was assembled in a compulsive manner’ – thus Gábor begins unfolding the foundations. His most important musical experience was Tilos Radio, then he started visiting Wave record shop [in Budapest], and competed with his secondary school friend in exploring new music after new music, both inspiring the other. ‘If I had only been buying for myself, it had been less entertaining. This way I was able to show the records to someone else’ – an important characteristic of any hobby that involves collecting.

‘In October 1995 I got a show on Tilos from 3 to 6 am. I met plenty of DJs there and I formed an interest in electronic music. It was around this time that I bought my first vinyl. The song Wilmo by Sabres Of Paradise was on MTV Chill Out, and because they didn’t have it on CD, I bought it in Underground Records on a 10’’. The other big record influence came from Belgium, where, funnily enough, I happened to be at a psychology conference, but then I quickly made friends with local rappers and chose to hang out with them instead. They only listened to vinyl and that stuck with me at the time.’

He started DJing in connection with the radio, first as a member of the Future Retro 2000 collective, together with Péter Nádori (a.k.a. DJ Parker) and Balázs Weyer (a.k.a. DJ Kretén). It was here that we began doing easy listening gigs, with mostly Hungarian dance singles. I learnt an awful lot about music from Nádori – that you had to read up on it in books, that the cultural context of this whole genre was important. This was the time when I started discovering where the samples were from. I preferred easy listening, crime jazz and similar music because they were better produced that electronic music at that time, so I began collecting these and then jazz followed and there was no way back.’ It was this mutual musical interest that brought him together with DJ Keyser: besides the radio show running up till today, they have also done live gigs and remixes together.

Initially the growth of the record collection is a natural process: ‘we began DJing, which made us some money, which one could invest. It has never earned me a living. The fact that I have hoarded this quantity is also thanks to the fact that I always had work to support myself. At the same time, that also proved an obstacle because I didn’t proceed to do music making as a career. I have had this album that I had promised ages ago and never completed. I really love my radio programme though, that helps me relax for two hours even in a bad week, and with live gigs, I can decide whether to do them or not, they are not a pressure, so record collecting has remained a nice hobby – in relation to which the quantity of accumulation is of course unrealistic.

It is undeniable that in any kind of collecting there is an element that seems to be taking over. ‘When opportunities are there, because you have money in your pocket and you are in places where you can find good records – for me these are Sixties’ and Seventies’ American jazz records, impossible to get in Budapest, well in that case it can easily happen that the buying instinct or desire gets hold of you. When I’m in America and I’m bringing 100 records back, then I’m getting into all this explanation of how much I had saved, how much cheaper they are than at home. There are these stories of me carrying the records all over New York in a trolley suitcase made in China, with the wheels coming off, my other suitcase full and I had also left two more cases of records at a friends’ place. At such moments you can sense that this is a story of obsession.

From Hungarian folk to Nineties’ drum’n’bass, from hip hop to rock, from Brazilian music to jazz, Gábor collects many different genres. His biggest collections are of American jazz albums (about 700) and Hungarian singles (about 1000). He talks about the fact that collecting only becomes difficult after a while, as it is possible to get hold of the records relating to your interest at a reasonable price category in 5-10 years, but once you have everything you come up against walls. Although nowadays almost anything can be found, ‘the internet and this “anything is available” approach has also ruined hings a little, the prices of rare records have really gone up.’

What is record collecting about? Fundamentally it is obviously about the love of music, but there is a part of it that points beyond this. ‘The excitement, the pleasure of discovery – from this point of view, the best records are those on which you don’t even find anything on the internet. It is the archaeology of urban people. You begin to look at the places you go to with different eyes. You go to a city and you don’t look for architectural sights but legendary record stores. It is not about what you have seen from the Eiffel Tower but whether you had been to the shop with one-euro records. You get to corners of the city you wouldn’t otherwise see. You learn a little bit about what kind of music the people who had lived in those places were listening to. But this is also true about individual collections.’

And finally, a very typical record collecting experience: ‘athletes dreams about the coming competition, while my dream was about a Zalatnay album that doesn’t exist in reality, but in your dream you don’t know this. Fold-out cover, you put it on and the goosebumps appear, mind-blowing funk and then you wake up.

Favourite Budapest record shops

For new releases, my favourite used to be Underground Records, for used, it is still Rockin’ Box.

Most expensive record purchased

Hungarian rarities around 10,000 HUF, I don’t buy very expensive records. 

Biggest margin

The Rubaiyat Of Dorothy Ashby and Song Of Innocence by David Axelrod. I got both of them for 1590 HUF from Rockin’ Box, they are usually over 100 dollars. I have a Moses Smith single for 100 HUF which is selling for 2-400 dollars among Northern Soul collectors on eBay. Once I got the Körössy Jancsi LP released by Qualiton at a Pécs fair for 100 HUF, now it’s around 15,000 HUF, if you see it at all.

Coolest record shop experience

There is a store specialising in singles in Philadelphia with hundreds of thousands of singles, endless corridors, as if you were in a library. Then there’s a Brooklyn cellar called The Thing, with 100,000 cheap records. But my favourite is Groove Merchant in San Francisco, which is essentially like a museum, you can learn so much there.

Record karma

If you don’t feel a record close enough to yourself, you let it back into the cycle, and new things will start coming at you.

by Endre Dömötör

Links:

DJ Shuriken on Mixcloud

DJ Shuriken on Soundcloud