We here at Krrb are honored to have the opportunity to partner with The Archive of Contemporary Music for their annual holiday sale right here in good ol’ New York City from December 10th to the 18th. Founded by the ever affable Bob George in 1985, the Archive has grown to include over “two million sound recordings,” including the Keith Richards Blues Collection, endowed by the Rolling Stones guitarist.
The Archive began with George’s collection of over 47,000 records—mostly hip-hop, reggae, punk-rock, and experimental/art music—he had collected in the ’70s on his world-wide travels and time spent as a DJ. When it was time to clear some space George tried to donate his collection but no one would take it thus prompting The Archive’s utterly unique approach to collecting. “We have no interest in quality whatsoever,” George is quick to explain. “We never turn down a donation of any sort. We never know what might be valuable in the future so we take whatever is given to us. Two of everything.” But what happens when there is three of something? “That’s what the sale is all about,” George says. “We have two sales every year to help us clear out triplicates and make space for new stuff.”
These bi-annual events are full of high and low masterpieces and, of course, you’ve got really got to dig (and get there early) for the great finds. (You can get a sense of some of what will be on offer at The Archive’s Krrb corner). To help us get a handle on what the Archive holds for us all and why it is important we invited musician, writer, and editor, Sam Grawe, of the down-tempo, synth-heavy, always trippy, Bay Area-based Hatchback to take a tour and share his take on music, vinyl, and the often awesome addiction of collecting.
Hey there Sam, can you tell us a little about yourself and your music?
For as long as I remember I’ve always been into synthesizers—ever since I first laid hands on a Casio VL-Tone in the second grade. Gradually my toys got bigger and I got more of them. I’ve been recording my own music for almost twenty years—everything from eccentric prog rock to spacey new age. Over the last few years—thanks to my friends at Dream Chimney I started putting out records. Gradually I hooked up with a label in London called Lo and they’ve released my last two albums.
I’ve also long been interested in architecture and design and was the editor in chief of Dwell Magazine for the last five years. Music and design go hand in hand.
How many records do you have? Anything in particular that you really focus on in your collection?
I’m definitely an avid record collector—I probably have a couple thousand. If I spot a pile of records in a junk shop or garage sale or flea market I can’t help but go through them all, and I’m always open to trying new things, especially when they’re only $1. When I’m looking at something I’ve never seen or heard of before I’ll generally check out the label, the year it was produced, what kind of instrumentation is listed on the record, and if I recognize any of the names involved. Even then I’ve found a lot of things I like where none of those clues led me anywhere familiar. I love shopping for records when I travel. I find things I wouldn’t ever find back home, and when you play that record a few years later you remember the trip and where you got it.
My taste is changing—broadening—all the time so there’s no heavy focus to my collection. I got really into Japanese music from the 70s a few years ago—they have a genre called City Pop which is a sort of sophisticated yacht rock pop kind of thing that’s pretty great, kind of like Steely Dan on a tropical island. That thread culminated in a trip to Japan in 2009. I was lucky to have friends there take me to a bunch of great vinyl shops in Tokyo and I found a lot of stuff that I had never even heard of before. A friend recently revived my interest in the CTI label, which was a jazz label run by Creed Taylor in the 1970s that had very high production value to both the music and the sleeves. Some of it is overproduced and a little awful, but nonetheless, its hard to go wrong with musicians like Ron Carter, George Benson, Gabor Szabo, and Stanley Turrentine. I’m not necessarily into collectible records, just the stuff I like listening to.
Obviously as a physical artifact vinyl has a presence—from the sleeves, to the act of putting a disc on a turntable—that’s attractive. I think I like it so much because when you go into a used record store you never know what you’re going to find. As the ever expanding number of amazing reissues that come out year after year prove, there’s an endless treasure trove of brilliant recorded music out there. In that sense vinyl represents this incredible vault that we can tap into for inspiration and enjoyment. As much as I’m stoked when somebody rereleases some impossibly rare afrofunk album or German aquatic new age album of which only 100 were originally pressed, I’m more excited by digging through some dusty back corner of a record shop and coming away with my own finds.
You visited The Archive when you were last in New York, what did you think? What were your impressions?
For anyone who owns a couple records, or gets that tingly feeling around vinyl, it’s an amazing place to be. Generally when you’re around that much vinyl its all for sale—so that’s a little frustrating for a collector in a way—but it’s an outstanding collection and a valuable resource. When I go into a record store I usually have a few things at the top of my list that I’ll look for, and The Archive is the kind of place where if you think of something, you can go and find it. That’s pretty awesome.
Did they have anything in particular that you were interested in? If you are in town for the upcoming sale, what are you getting?
I found a couple things there that I’d love to have: the first Linda Lewis album; a blues compilation on Tomato Records with a sweet Milton Glaser gatefold cover.
If I go to the sale I’ll be keeping my eyes open for pretty much anything that looks good!
Twice a year the ARChive hosts it’s record + CD Sale. Saturday, December 10 – Sunday, December 18. Everyday 11 am. to 6 pm. 54 White Street, New York, New York.
Admission is free! Over 20,000 items for sale. New items added daily.