Diggers Directory: a mix series that salutes the diggers, record enthusiasts and music lovers. For more in the series, browse through the archive.
As a co-founder of Red Light Radio, Orpheu The Wizard has been of the most valuable patrons of underground music in Amsterdam but occupied this position more in the shadows. Through close affiliation with the Dekmantel and Music From Memory family though, his own DJing prowess has become the subject of much more attention beyond those in the know in his hometown. We trace his roots as a record collector across an extended interview, which is accompanied by an 80 minute vinyl mix that is as difficult to define as all Orpheu’s sets are!
Catch Orpheu on the Red Light Radio stage at Farr Festival (13th-15th July).
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
I grew up with a Surinamese mother and a Dutch father so the music they exposed me to was diverse but I don’t think it was so much my parents actual records. There was some vinyl in the house growing up, but not more than average I guess. But the neighbourhood I grew up in Amsterdam and especially the building I lived in was the kind where everyone had their windows open to blast music LOUD for everyone to enjoy, and it being a very mixed neighbourhood in the late 80ies/early 90ies you can imagine the diversity of what came out of the houses, especially in summertime. Also my 5 year old sister’s records had an influence, I remember her bringing NWA – Straight Outta Compton in the house, LL Cool J – Bigger and Deffer, the Do The Right Thing soundtrack etcetera. Those were definitely a start of my musical and cultural journey looking back, as a kid and a teenager.
People buy records for a multiple of reason. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
I think all the reasons mentioned above make sense to me, but mostly I think the magic that there is always another record to discover is what keeps me looking for them. It’s pretty incredible how after all these years you still only know a tiny fraction and keep being encountered with things you never heard of. All these records are also not just a disc and a sleeve, they are all bigger or smaller efforts of creativity that actual people devoted part of their life to, with their ideas, time and skills.
Where do you store all your records and how do you file them?
I store most of my records at home (below), there are some at Red Light Radio too, but the ones I listen to often and use to play out are in the house. I really suck at filing and organising, every once in a while I will give it a shot, and put disco with disco, house with house, experimental with experimental, and then… “There is a great synth pop jam on this one, but also a great ambient track, so maybe???? And this one, how would you even classify this?? Aaargh forget it, I know where it is..” Luckily I don’t have that many records in DJ or collectors numbers, I’m not in the 5-10K league, thank god. So it’s relatively easy to find things, even if it’s really lost I can go through all of my records in an hour max I guess.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Anywhere works for me, a bit of organisation in a shop is definitely a plus, that just makes it a bit more comfortable. I really like hitting up shops abroad now I’m travelling a bit more, every country or city has their own specifics you are more likely to find there than in other places, New Beat in Belgium, Afro/West Indies in France, Experimental in Spain etcetera. Making a good round in Amsterdam can be really nice too, although I don’t have the time to do it often. Amsterdam is really small but has quite a few good shops, you can do all of them in a day and definitely find good stuff. I walk into Redlight Records on a daily basis, that is definitely my favourite spot, first off because they have great taste and James is a tireless digger sourcing new stuff for the shop and secondly because it is a very social place. I also buy a fair share online through Discogs and other dodgy webshops.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
He is not really unsung, but you can’t underestimate the worldwide influence Tako had on “the scene”, he inspired so many people that in turn had influence on other people again. I consider him the master Yoda of the music “scene” myself and many others are part of. He is basically buying the records right now that the kids will be playing dodgy rips of in a year or 2 on a festival near you. And if there is anyone that is humble about it it’s him.
James (Calypso Steve) from Red Light Records deserves so much more credit, the amount of people he has in his shop that he recommends records to, and his recommendations are always on point. There are always a few James tips in my bag for sure. He basically digs harder than anyone, and knows his shit. Mikkel Brask aka Copenhagen Family Man also deserves a shout, he is fairly under the radar, but throughout the years pointed me in the direction of a number of great records I never heard of, same goes for Danza in Stockholm who keeps discovering crazy Scandinavian jams, one of them in this mix too.
DJs and producers often talk about a number of records that never leave their bag. Do you have any records like this?
Certain records are in my bag for a while, and periods I play them every time, you kind of figure them out, master them and make them part of your musical vocabulary, but after a while they need to get out before you bore yourself. I tend to digitise them when I feel I played them too much and challenge myself by keeping my bag fresh. You don’t want to tell the same story over and over again, I could also never be in a band playing the same songs over and over again.
Is there a record (or records), which you’ve wanted to own but cannot afford or find in print anymore?
Many of course, but a wise man once said, any record will cross your path if you are patient enough. And it has happened to me many times, you want a record for years and then, when you least expect it, there it is. Like buying a few OG copies of the Napoleon Cherry EP on Ebay while standing in line in the supermarket with a few kilo’s of cat litter. But you should also understand that besides these records you really want there are thousands and thousands more of which you don’t know yet that you really, really want them. Often it’s more satisfying to discover something you never heard of before than scoring that one record you want for ages.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
I prefer to be in shops alone, so you can take your time and listen to loads without having the feeling your buddy is getting to that box with that one killer record before you do. Also quite often with friends you can have a laugh and chill before you enter the shop and the minute you are inside, the possessed crazy eyes, sweaty forehead and nervous mumbling starts, not a pretty sight. In Redlight Records it’s a totally different thing though, that’s a very social place to me, you hang out with friends, recommend each other things, have a beer and talk shit. And then sometimes it goes, “Hey I found this the other day. ” and 6 iphones come out to clear out remaining copies on Discogs, hehe…
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting process, with some many different genres and formats. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I first check the new in, then the locally relevant bins, depending of the country and/or city you are in, then every bin. Then the cheap bins. I hardly check the 45s though, honestly I just have a hard time going through those tiny records. But still patience is key and don’t hope to find certain records, be open to what comes your way.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging, esp. if you’re not familiar with something you pick up?
I think it plays a very important role as it’s the first contact and first indicator of a certain direction of creativity of the music on there. But the info plays a role after that, year, country, people involved, big label, private press, instruments played, etcetera. I really like how Zaltan from Antinote compares it to collecting wine, as in you first look at the label, then at the other info like country/region, producer, year and you know what you are holding or at least can imagine what it will be like.
Thanks for recording this mix for us. Where and how did you record it and what was the idea behind it?
I actually didn’t record a mix in quite a long time, but it is one of my favourite things to do. It’s a great way to make sense of all the different records you bought in the time leading up to a mix. I buy from ambient to wave to afro to experimental things and more, just anything I like, and to shape a narrative that cuts through different genres is the challenge I really enjoy. I recorded it on a really over the top setting actually, ha! We are opening a new space with Red Light Radio, it will be a shop and a place for instore sessions and broadcasts and we have 2 Klipschorn speakers in there. I connected my Condesa Lucia mixer, 2 Technics and a CDJ for 2 yet to be released tracks to it and zoned out for 80 minutes.
We asked you to keep the tracklist secret (to get listeners to dig deep for their IDs!) but are there any standouts from the mix you’d like to shout out?
I have mixed feelings about secret tracklists actually, because I really like to share music and knowledge, but sometimes people check tracklists for the wrong reasons or certain records get hyped and the price blows up, which sucks. Anyway, one of the tracks that needs a shout is from Cybe, Om Swastiastu, coming up on the great Stroom label by Ziggy AKA Nosedrip, this will be an amazing release. There is also an upcoming one on Second Circle in there, can’t wait for that one to come out too.
London and its music, culture and nightlife has changed irrevocably over the last decade; gentrification, huge rent rises, mass club closures. From someone who has lived in Amsterdam for a significant period, has the city endured similar changes, and if so, how has this effect it’s nightlife and culture?
I was born and raised in Amsterdam and this city too has changed irrevocably. There are positive changes and negative ones, as far as music I think Amsterdam is in an amazing place right now compared to when I just started playing, if you look at the things programmed every weekend it’s exceptionally good for such a small city. Crowds in Amsterdam are very openminded and the music that would draw 10 heads to the club 10 years ago is now very popular. There are also quite a lot of good clubs, then again when I started going out mid/late 90ies there was a booming illegal party scene and most of that disappeared. Apart from music, as a city, it changed a lot, I remember growing up in a strange and raw city, with a good share of weirdos and lot’s of counterculture. Now the city is becoming more normal and expensive every year and that kind of smoothes things out to the level that it becomes too slick and exclusive. I miss the freaks! I can go on and on about this, but I don’t want to sound like a nostalgic old guy, I just really hope the new generation of Amsterdammers will reclaim their city as much as possible, Make Amsterdam Weird Again!
Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
We have a lot planned with Red Light Radio in 2017, there are many nice collaborations coming up and we are opening up a new space as I mentioned above. This space is a very cool addition to our buildings, it will be a sort of public extension of the studio, for listening sessions, instore events, and to buy some RLR gear and support the station! There will be a lot of travelling, both with RLR and DJing, it looks as if I will visit at least 4 out of the 6 continents this year, who knows, if I’m really lucky maybe all of them!