London’s underground nightlife is hive of activity, so much so that it’s not always easy for promoters to be heard amongst all the noise. One night that’s managed to not just survive but thrive is Left Alone. Ashton Holland is the man behind it who, with friend Alex Gross, has brought over some of the finest selectors and live acts to play at the party’s home of The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington.
The highly regarded mix series, and the newly added zine that run alongside the night, have featured the likes of DJ Sundae, Fergus Clark, Nosedrip and Elena Colombi and is a perfect reflection of the sound and artists the night champions. Ashton’s time spent working at East London’s Kristina Records, and the good company he keeps on digging trips, have furnished him with a taste for weird, cinematic and intriguing oddities. For this instalment, Ashton approaches his mix in the same way that he approaches his warm up sets for Left Alone; an experimental mix of atmospheric shades and textures via dubbed out post-punk trips, while his interview sheds some light on his relationship with records, keeping his collection fresh and how a private press will always catch his eye.
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?
To be honest, I wasn’t really around records much when I was growing up. When I was 12/13 yrs old, my brother got a pair of 1210’s for his Birthday – that’s when our Dad introduced us to record stores. I recall my brother buying the latest Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk LPs, but I don’t really think that had much of an impact on my musical taste whatsoever… I hope not anyway… ha!
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?
I’ve always liked collecting things. Whether it’s books, magazines, CDs, cassettes. But what really drew me to collecting records was owning the music that I enjoy listening too. Naturally this has lead me to always being on the hunt for new music to add to my collection. Whether thats undiscovered, rare records or new releases.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
My records are stored in my living space. I like to keep all my books and records in one place, good job really as I live in a studio flat with my girlfriend and cat so space is pretty tight! Haven’t really ever found time to start filing my collection, but they’re kinda organised in my own way. I have a habit of keeping my latest purchases to one side then everything slowly moves along. Chronological purchases so to speak! I like to keep my collection fresh and only keep stuff I’m either listening to a lot or play out. So every three to four months I tend to get rid of a bunch to help fund new purchases etc… It’s also a good way to prevent your collection from going stagnant I guess.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Annoyingly I don’t have enough time to venture to certain spots as they’re quite far out, so I tend to do a lot of my digging online. Although I do try swing by Low Company most weeks. That spots so refreshing for East London and definitely one of my favourites! Shouts to Kieran, Sanjay, Carla, Kenny & co.
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?
For sure. I worked at a record store for a few years in East London called Kristina Records with two guys, Emmaneul Correct who is one half of Nummer and Danny Pickthall aka Danny Bushes. Both of them have put me on to so many good records. Being from the Midlands, working with those guys was a great introduction to the record scene in London. Big ups!
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
Yes and no. Of course there’ve been lots of records that I would’ve done anything to get my hands on, but for me this isn’t something I thrive off as there’s plenty of records out there!
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 like to keep it pretty small. It also always tends to be the same friends, Danny, DJ Vegetable etc. and we hit up similar spots. It’s nice going digging with friends that have similar tastes as we always give each other recommendations. I also like heading out with the artists we book for Left Alone, we always take them to certain spots we think they’ll enjoy.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
Erm kinda… I’ll naturally have a quick flick through to get an idea of what kind of records there stocking. If I’m into it, then I’ll delve a little deeper.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Massive! We are all naturally drawn to records solely because of the cover. Purely on how odd or weird it looks you can definitely get an idea of how the record is gonna sound. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you can be totally wrong and thrown back by it, but i’ve definitely bought lots of records – especially if the shop doesn’t have any listening booth – totally down to the artwork. It’s always worth the risk. For me, if it has that private press, homemade feel, it will definitely grab my attention.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
I felt it made sense to approach it in a similar way to how I prepare my warm up sets for Left Alone. Line up depending of course, but this should give you a good idea of how the first few hours of our parties go down. It was recorded at home on my 1210’s, my beloved slowly dying Vestax mixer and through some wack recorder – apologies! (Disclaimer – wack sound never at Left Alone).
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
A record from the good dudes in Glasgow called 12th Isle, and this record from a Russian based artist called XYR – a super nice spaced out ambient thing. Big tip!
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
So many of these dudes to mention… lots of names that I’m sure have already been mentioned in previous interviews and features! Ewald aka Captain Starlight, Ziggy Nosedrip, Steele Bonus, Mikkel O’Brask, Quentin Zaltan, Jack Rollo, Filip Danza, Laurent DJ Sundae, Stefan Unkovic & Dusan! They all stick to what they’re doing and don’t follow trends or hype. Most importantly, they’re all so passionate about what they’re doing! Big upppsss!
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
Again lots of names to mention. I tend to spend a lot time sharing records in person or online with these dudes; Danny Bushes, DJ Vegetable, Nick Murray, Kenny White, Fergus Clark, Vio DJ, Customs boys, Disco Ma Non Troppo dudes… the list goes on!
You run Left Alone, a regular party and mix series, with your friend Alex. Can you tell us a bit about it?
That’s right. We’ve been running Left Alone for around three years now. The idea kinda changed from what we’d planned out but for the good. We’re just booking friends and DJ’s that we’re into at the moment whether they’re big or not, it will always stay that way. That’s probably why we’ll always stick to doing the events at smaller spots, not to mention we don’t really enjoy going clubbing in big spaces. The mix series is similar to how we approach the events really, very chilled and with DJ’s, artist and diggers that we’d love to hear a mix from.
You recently launched a zine and we can expect issue two at the end of next month. What’s the idea behind it?
Yeahh we launched the first zine last summer, which was a huge success. Much bigger than we had anticipated. The second issue will be out at the end of next month, if all goes to plan, and it will be way bigger than the first issue — much more content, plus a pin badge, poster and of course another tape. So keep your eyes out for that!
We’ve both always been really interested in old zines, particularly old punk kinda stuff and the whole DIY approach those scenes have, so it all came from there really. We always feel that everyone we book is great, both musically and on a personal level, so we basically thought it would be fun to start something like that – and luckily, all the DJs and artists are up for it. Also Alex is a graphic designer so it makes a lot of sense on that side too!
Finally what’s coming up on the horizon that’s getting you excited?
There’s lots more Left Alone parties coming up this year. We’re bringing over some amazing artists in 2018, none of which we can announce just yet! I’ll also be playing at few spots in London over the coming months; one at Pickle Factory with Vladimir and Interstellar Funk and another at Test Pressing Festival in April!