Dusty Grooves: Treasures Uncovered
- Words: Ken Taylor
For better or worse, the idea of a "lost" album almost no longer exists. Whether it's the effect of the internet's hyper-real search possibilities, or simply collectors' affinity for uncovering that which remains to be uncovered, the reissue movement is in full swing, with venerable curators like Soul Jazz leading the charge.
But why now? "The market has shifted from the Goldmine collector mindset that labels like Ace, Rhino, and Collectables service to a younger, more ravenous youth culture," says Numero Group's Ken Shipley. "There's also been a lot more uncovered in the past decade that larger labels won't touch because of its lack of hit status. But if you look at no-hits subcultures like indie rock, dance, freak folk, or whatever, it's no surprise that the audience is gravitating to the unknown."
Here we profile a few of the lesser-known reissue labels, whose founders comb through discographies, junk shops, and phone books to bring you the goods that you never knew you needed.
Finders Keepers, named after a track that founder Andy Votel made with his hip-hop crew Violators Of The English Language, falls under Votel's B-Music conglomerate, which also houses Twisted Nerve (home to Badly Drawn Boy) and Delay 68. Finders Keepers ignited in 1999 when Votel and DJ partner Boney released a compilation of "obscure European and American psych-sploitation anomalies" for Fat City records. "When Boney went back to his day job' began to realize the potential enjoyment of releasing this kind of music on a larger scale," Votel informs. "I just called up the best record collectors I knew, which happened to be my best mates, and we hatched a ridiculous plan."
They've been slogging away ever since, lately reissuing Gallic pop soundtracker Jean-Claude Vannier's L'Enfant Assassin des Mouches and Turkish protest songs from Selda, who, "When she answered the phone, would put on a fake accent and even told us she had died!" exclaims Votel. The typical problems they face? "Plenty of people pretend that they own rights to music when they don't," he offers. "[You risk] getting caught in the crossfire of bootlegger shrapnel and being held responsible for ill-advised band reunions or dodgy remixes."
Next up: Japanese biker soundtracks, more Czech fairytales, Polish animation, and Welsh books.
Specializing in old soul and funk from forgotten eras and places, Chicago's Numero Group has had remarkable success with their Eccentric Soul series, which takes whole catalogs of lost labels and makes them available again. Their own catalog isn't huge, but their holdings might be–they've been buying up a number of small labels and publishing companies over the past year for future release, informs Ken Shipley, head of promotions. "We're of the quality-over-quantity mindset, so you'll probably never see us issue 20 albums in a year," he assures.
Still, it's the thrill of the chase that proves most interesting. A&R man Rob Sevier went vacationing in Belize in 2005 armed with just a scan of a funk 45 by the Soul Creations entitled "Funky Jive," the only music he'd known from Belize. Junk stores, antique shops, and bootleg bodegas knew nothing of the record, but Sevier sought out a phone number for the label, Contemporary Electronic Systems. The owner, who now operates a security installation company under the same name, was more than happy to chat, sparking the compilation Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up.
Next up: What a Beautiful Place–wintry English folk from Catherine Howe.
Light in the Attic
Started years ago as a Seattle concert promotions company, LITA has since blossomed into a full-on label (with a distribution arm for labels like Daptone and Trikont). LITA not only reissues lost classics–like the soundtrack to Deep Throat and Jackie Mittoo's keyboard suite Wishbone–but also compilations that pair new artists with older material, such as The Free Design: The Now Sound Redesigned (remixes of The Free Design by the likes of Madlib and The Mars Volta).
But the feather in their Kangol caps, aside from the recent success of folkie Karen Dalton's In My Own Time and their Jamaica to Toronto series, is the proper re-release of music by feminist punk-funkist Betty Davis (the one-time wife of Miles Davis). In the '70s, after a nervous breakdown, Davis disposed of most of her worldly things, so it's taken a long time to find old photos and miscellany surrounding her career. With her full involvement, it's the first time that Davis will properly be compensated for her groundbreaking work.
Next up: Additional titles for Jamaica to Toronto (including a documentary on the project), and Betty Davis' first two albums on CD.
Started by Kemado Records' A&R man Keith Abrahamsson just a short year ago, Anthology is one of a growing number of online-only reissue labels. And because of its nature, it may also be the most ambitious. "We presently have about 15 records up on the site," says Abrahamsson, "but I have nearly 75 licensed already and I expect to see that grow significantly." The label seems to favor odd metal (Sir Lord Baltimore's Kingdom Come is incredible) and even odder psychedelic rock from the likes of Peru's Traffic Sound and Trenton, NJ's Sainte Anthony's Fyre. Anthology has released one original artist album, "King of Latin R&B" Joe Bataan's Call My Name, but Abrahamsson remains dedicated to reissues. He's presently searching for a way to put out German acid rockers Night Sun, who had one record out in 1972. "The hardest part is tracking down the owner, but that's also one of the things I enjoy the most," he admits.
Next up: Experimental Krautrock from Dom entitled Edge of Time, and stuff from the U.K. label Sunbeam.
Blur's Damon Albarn finds himself in the most unlikely positions. Besides heading up his enormously successful cartoon music side-project Gorillaz, he also has a hand in Honest Jon's, the label wing of the Ladbroke Grove, London record shop that's been in business since 1974. Alongside shop-keeps Mark Ainley and Alan Scholefield–who helped birth Mo' Wax, PK, and Boplicity out of the store–Albarn gave Honest Jon's the push it needed to put out its first release: Albarn's Mali Music project.
Since then, they've issued some 30 albums and 40 singles, including homeless jazz recluse Moondog's The Viking of Sixth Avenue (featuring the well-known and sample-friendly "Bird's Lament"), Candi Staton's self-titled record, and Afrobeat co-creator Tony Allen's Lagos No Shaking. Licensing these things can be difficult, but Ainsley states that "whatever the hassles, it's a satisfaction to put out something that has been unavailable–to breathe a little life into something that was gone."
Next up: More singles from Tony Allen, including a remix by Basic Channel's Moritz von Oswald.
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An outpost for lost queer poetry, prison funk, and John Peel's record collection.
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