Not one to normally celebrate milestones, this June was worth a raised glass or two for Mister Saturday Night, marking their 250th party. When you consider they achieved that in just eight years – that’s a rate of over 30 parties per annum – you start to understand the impact the Mister has made on their hometown of New York and the wider musical community worldwide.
While the parties, label and Nowadays venue are collective effort between Eamon Harkin and Justin Carter, both have clear individual musical identities as recording artists, broadcasters and DJs. Here, Justin steps forward to discuss his life as a record collector and has put together a vinyl only mix of field recordings, folk, jazz and ethereal soundscapes, recorded in the spirit of the Mister-affiliated Planetarium listening sessions.
Justin plays b2b with Eamon all day at Mister Sunday in London (27th Aug). ‘Mister Saturday Night: Then and Now’, a compilation looking back at some favourite tracks across 250 parties, is out now and available from Juno.
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?
This is certainly true for the beginning of my musical education. My dad is longtime musician and music lover. I spent a lot of time in the car with him growing up, and we listened to a lot of music on long drives. Records I remember listening to repeatedly were The Allman Brothers’ Live at Fillmore East, Christopher Parkening’s Parkening Plays Bach, Close to the Edge by Yes, Heart’s Horizon by Al Jarreau, lots of Earl Klugh, the Friday Night In San Francisco album by Al DiMeola, Paco DeLucia and John McLaughlin. My mom also had some choice CDs in her collection that I was addicted to: Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls, Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell and Carney by Leon Russell.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
Before 2003, it was all CDs and tapes for me (save for a 45 of Rainbow Connection that my uncle got me when I was a kid). But right after I graduated from college, I moved in with a couple friends, one of whom was a DJ who had turntables. That was a very, very important time of musical discovery for me. I was a voracious music buyer, in record stores like Other Music, Etherea and Rebel Rebel multiple times a week, picking the clerks’ brains for knowledge about corners of music that I didn’t know about and buying as many new releases as I could afford. One day, on the wall at Other Music, I saw a copy of Buy by the Contortions. It was the beginning of the post punk rebirth in New York, and I had heard about the Contortions and wanted to know what they were all about, and because I had access to a turntable at home, I bought it. That was the snowflake that started the avalanche.
Since then vinyl has become my primary medium for home listening and DJing. I’d say the main reason that I’ve continued on the vinyl path is that it’s been a good filter for me. Of course I like the tactile nature of records, and I like the way they sound (when they’re made well), but it’s really been a way for me to limit my purchases ever so slightly… I have recently started to get into Bandcamp, though, so that’s probably all out the window soon.
Where do you store all your records and how do you file them?
Most of the time my more “listening” records live at my home, and all the more dance floor oriented stuff lives at a little basement studio I have. But there’s a little back and forth.
My filing is pretty broad. I realized early on that if I made my filing system too narrow that I’d spend more time organizing than listening. For my listening music, I have basic genre categories – jazz, roots music (for blues, country and such), hip-hop, classics (which could contain anything from old Beatles records to Can records), contemporary rock (which could contain anything from Beak to Animal Collective), etc.
For my DJ collection, it’s even broader – just four categories:
organic and uptempo (disco, afrobeat, late high tempo R&B, etc)
low tempo (everything from rap to ambient to ballads)
uptempo and electronic (house, techno, etc)
uptempo and deep (which is just the moodier version of the uptempo and electronic category)
Keeping my records in that system also encourages me to cull my collection when it starts to get too unwieldy for me to make it through each category before a gig. Every couple years I do a deep dig and get rid of a ton of stuff. It’s just as important for me to purge from my collection as it is for me to add to it.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
My favorite place in New York is Human Head. It’s got a really great range of records. I always find something good in the blues and jazz sections, which is what I hit first when I go there. I’ve also found some great, unknown-to-me hip-hop and classic rock. It doesn’t have a ton in the way of dance music, but I’ve found myself buying more listening stuff and less dance stuff of late, probably because of Planetarium.
When I do go digging for dance floor stuff, I really like Tom Noble’s shop, Superior Elevation, and, of course, A1 Records.
For stores outside of NYC, I had a pretty amazing dig at Licorice Pie in Melbourne a couple years ago – everything from field recordings to kraut rock to hard-to-find Aussie soul. The amount of good pre-war blues in that shop was also pretty shocking. How the hell did those records get to Melbourne!? In London, I had a really special dig at Rye Wax last year. I showed the guy who runs the place a few records I was into, and he started pulling stuff from all corners of the store, and EVERY one was amazing. Alien electro, serene low-tempo J-pop, and this amazing record by Eyedress came one after the other. It felt like a perfect DJ set being delivered to me from behind the counter.
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 around the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Well the aforementioned Human Head Records is run by a guy named Travis Klein, who is so ego-less and so fair about the way he sells records. It’s funny; his store doesn’t feel intricately curated or anything, but I think because he’s an open and honest dude, good things come his way, so there are always gems in his store. Over the years I’ve also looked to dealers for records. Both Robbie Busch and Asaf Segal are New York dudes with serious, serious heat, and I’m very lucky to be able to pop into their spaces every now and again to have a dig.
DJs and producers often talk about a number of records that never leave their bag. Do you have any records like this?
Let me just go look at my DJ bag…
Yes! Bjørn Torske’s “Jeg Vil Være Søppelmann (Wow! Edit By Erot)”, Move D’s “Got Thing” and The Magick Edit All Stars edit of Billy Paul’s “Only The Strong Survive” have all been in rotation since I got them.
On the listening tip, my copies of D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Henry Thomas’s Ragtime Texas (Complete Recorded Works – 1927 to 1929 In Chronological Order) are rarely on the shelf; they live next to my turntable, waiting to be played again and again.
Is there a record (or records), which you’ve wanted to own but cannot afford or find in print anymore?
Yes. Well, there are two that come to mind immedaitely. I have a burgeoning 78 collection. Old, deep blues 78s are some of the rarest and most sought after objects in the world. (To be sure, my 78 collection does not have any of these mega-rare pieces.) For the most part, I’m happy to have vinyl reissues from labels like Arhoolie and Yazoo, but Henry Thomas’s “Bob McKinney” and Kid Bailey’s “Rowdy Blues” are two of my favorite songs ever recorded, and it would mean a lot to me to have them in their original format.
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 love shopping with people. It doesn’t happen often, but going digging with my buddy Jon Kirby from Numero is one of my favorite things. We have different ears and have pretty different knowledge bases, so we always learn from each other while we’re digging. Plus he’s hysterical and thoughtful and just a great guy. Walking down the street with Kirby is fun, so digging for records with him is superlative.
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? Is it about patience, diligence and a bit of luck or are you more methodical when you enter a record shop?
I probably should develop some kind of method. But alas, I just let the spirits guide me. I tend to pull waaaaaay too many records and spend hours listening.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging, esp. if you’re not familiar with something you pick up?
I often follow the typical diggers’ rules of pulling anything I don’t know that looks monochromatic and inexpensively produced, as it can signify rarity. But of course rare records are not the prize in and of themselves – it’s about whether or not I like the music. Mostly I just pull a lot of records, as that’s really the best way to learn. The last time I was in Superior Elevation, I had four or five hours, and I just went through each disco bin, and I pulled every single record I didn’t know.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you made for us? Where you recorded it, what your set-up was and the idea behind it.
I had such a good time recording this mix. It’s in the spirit of Planetarium, the listening session Eamon Harkin and I started a little over a year ago. The session has always happened at a private loft, and people bring pillows, blankets and sleeping bags and lie on the floor and get totally lost in the music. It’s my favorite environment to play in, intensely focused on music but not about a dance floor. It’s been a couple months since we did one, so I was hungry for it. I turned all the lights down low; my friend James popped by, and we tuned into the music for an hour or so. A lovely Monday afternoon. I recorded the mix on two Technics 1200s and an E&S DJR-400
Without revealing the whole tracklist and spoiling the surprise, could can you disclose any standouts in the mix?
I’m not precious about keeping tracks secret, but I think this mix works best if you don’t know what’s coming next, so I’m gonna leave it all a mystery.
You’ve just celebrated your 250th Mister party with Eamon – hell of an achievement! Did the party take on extra significance, or was it just like all the others? Connected to that, while did you feel 250 was a milestone worth celebrating, while you haven’t been big on celebrating anniversaries?
Celebrating the anniversary of a party, unless you’ve been doing it for a remarkable amount of time, feels like a contrived promotional tool to me. But to have done 250 parties – especially ones where we set up and break down the bar and sound system almost every single time – feels like an accomplishment worth celebrating. The party itself was super fun, with lots of old and new regulars on the dance floor and a surprise performance of “Stand on the Word “by the Joubert Singers.
What’s planned on the label in the coming months?
We’ve got a new ten-inch coming from a vibraphonist who’s played with us a couple times at Planetarium and a new record from Eamon on the way in September. I think we’ll have one more release to close the year out, something by a new producer from the north of England that is stunning.
Are you working on much away from Mister Saturday Night that’s getting you excited?
I released an album of my own music earlier this year, and that was really fulfilling for me. I grew up playing the guitar and singing, and I always knew that I needed to get that part of myself out into the world. I’m really looking forward to making some time for more writing and recording in the autumn, when the Mister Sunday outdoor season is done, though that may be difficult, because we’re also in the midst of opening a space in NYC, which is probably the most daunting thing I’ve ever done!