OK, so record digging has been around for a while. One key aspect of DJ culture is the concept of collecting. Humans love collecting things, right? Stamps, autographs, priceless works of art, ceramic frogs, you name it. Records are just another thing for us nerdy boys to get excited about collecting and there are a LOT of records out there. Some are better than others and (most importantly to many) some are rarer than others.
This whole concept of searching out the rare, obscure, forgotten killer tunes that nobody’s heard of is older than most of us. Certainly, within the context of DJ culture, it goes all the way back to the beginning, to Jamaica in the 50s, when the DJs would get their contacts in the USA to find the latest unheard R&B records to send back to Jamaica, where the labels would be removed or defaced so that nobody would be able to find out what the tune was. Having a killer tune in your bag that nobody else had was (and still is) a deadset way of standing out from the crowd..
By the time Northern Soul came around, well, digging was firmly established – the whole Northern sound was about obscurity, about rare records – listen to this guy from 1977 explain it all:
So there you go – almost 40 years ago and you’ve got 50 quid bangers knocking around already, although these days a super rare Northern record is gonna set you back thousands!
Pre-internet, digging was still mostly the domain of weirdo collectors, hip-hop beatmakers looking for that fresh break and the dealers. If you wanted a rare record and weren’t prepared to spend months/years/decades on your knees hunting it out in dusty basements, the dealers were who you spoke to.
Dealers were typically ex-record store employees who were usually mega-collectors themselves, with all kinds of connections in the business; often with a high-profile customer list of wealthy collectors, superstar DJs and mega-producers, a good dealer could track down any record you wanted – for the right price! These days, the best ones still exist – their old-school networks still able to subvert the almighty power of the net – but on the whole, the digging scene is very different these days.
Time was that you had to spend years in the boxes before you could discover anything about a given scene or sound – now just one search term in YouTube will bring you a plethora of all kinds of music, even the super obscure stuff – you can easily cross-reference with Discogs. If you’ve got enough money, you can go from not knowing to owning, in the time it takes UPS to deliver. Even better, if you don’t want to be bothered doing an afternoon’s research on YouTube, you can just go straight to one of the many online stores that specialise in offering up music that’s already been dug from the back of beyond on your behalf.
This causes a bit of trouble, because there are lots of nerdy boys involved in this digging scene (check out our pal from 1977) and you know how it is with nerdy boys and their toys – many see the spreading of this music to a wider audience as a threat – as if the value of their precious find is somehow diminished by more people finding out about it. Remember – collectors are not always the most well-adjusted of folk; to say that there are some quite extreme personalities in this scene is something of an understatement. There’s loads of jealousy, secrecy, elitism, snobbery and downright sociopathic behaviour – and that’s just from the nice guys!
Fortunately, there is so much super obscure music out there that nobody is ever going to dig it all. Even in Northern Soul, which is a genre that is super precise in terms of style, that has possibly been more dug up than any other, people are still finding ‘new’ records. The current trends are for raw soul & disco from the Caribbean, South African ‘Bubblegum’ music and Japanese stuff from the late 70s and 80s – prices are getting higher every day and more and more people are spending a day on YouTube and becoming experts – much to the chagrin of many of the folk who first found this music.
Ultimately, music belongs to nobody and the beauty of the digital age is that the paradox our pal described in 1977 no longer exists – it’s possible for everyone to hear music these days, as long as it finds its way online; hoarding your record in your ivory tower just means you got one more piece of PVC than some others.
Catch Ruf Dug’s next event, here: www.facebook.com/events/1531718307149609
Catch Ruf Kutz, Ruf Dug’s label, here: www.rufkutz.net
Check out his tunes and more thoughts, here: www.twitter.com/RufDug