Sometimes the best music haunts can be found in the most unassuming places. Northampton record shop Vinyl Underground is a perfect example. Hidden on the top floor of a dated furniture shop on the town’s main high street, it boasts refined and thought out selections, all down to the man at the helm, Aidy West. A name known throughout diggers circles, this year marks his 25th manning the shop and blessing visitors with his deep knowledge and on point recommendations. Although not a full time DJ, over the years he’s become a regular fixture at Jane Fitz and Jade Seatle’s Night Moves parties and part of the Field Maneuvers family, as well as a resident at the Vintage Future events in his home town.
Here he talks to us about digging trips across the world, the promoters doing things for Northampton’s scene and his knack for telling the difference in shades of white labels. This sits alongside a mix of 80’s soul that he describes as music for dancing with a partner and songs of life to connect with.
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?
No that wasn’t the case for me but my dad did have a decent stereo system, which I took over and used, plus he was involved in managing bands when he was younger so music was very much encouraged from a young age. As for pivotal records I guess as a kid the first record my mum said she heard me dancing about to upstairs was Madness – ‘One Step Beyond’, then Adam And The Ants’ ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ was interesting – two drummers! A friend brought round a cassette of Street Sounds Electro Two when I was 11 or 12 and I can remember listening to it in my garden thinking it was going to be something really rude or illegal. Then it all started – electro, breakdancing and soul music.
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?
As a kid that’s what we did to get music – buy records. I taped the charts on a Sunday from the radio then my sister and I were allowed to buy a 7″ each from WHSmith on a Saturday. The interest continued into my teens when I was massively involved in all things electro, hip hop and soul. Soon I was spending every penny I got. My motivation for music, and finding new music, goes up and down sometimes, but as I do it for work I can always dig. Most of the time I buy things for the shop and to pass on to other people. I love it, it is life.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I have about 2k in my bedroom – it feels nice having vinyl close. Same in a spare room and a stack of boxes in the basement at Vinyl Underground. I do not file them, there is a few sections like hip hop or jazz, but it’s a serious problem! I guess I have a collection of records and there is a few artists who I have lots of records by but I am not really a collector – if I was I’m sure my records would be in much better condition, plus I’d be able to find them.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Any spot where you get lucky! You have to keep looking, always follow leads and get your fingers dirty. In the past; warehouses in Chicago, A1 in NYC, when they didn’t care about house music much, random shops in Northampton. Nowadays my personal records and odd corners of Vinyl Underground I had forgotten about. I also love getting tips from people or finding out about a new spot. It could be the one…
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?
Oh man, every record shop has a character, good and bad. But Walter Paas in Chicago springs to mind, plus this old dude at a random shop in New York way up 6th Ave. He was playing some Jimmy Hendrix which I‘d never really listened to and after he educated me I brought the crackly copy he was playing as it was my first experience. I still play it now. Then there is Bill in Dallas – everyone knows him. I think we seriously considered holding the shop up at gun point after meeting him for the first time. Can remember myself and Chris Soft Rocks sitting in a diner across the road from his shop with our heads in our hands. So many great records but he just sat there deciding high prices when you took them to the counter. After going in a few times trying hard he did warm up a little .
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?
Generally on my own but its always good to chat and swap knowledge with people particularly if I’m digging for myself. Adam Naked from Northampton educated us all in the 90s so digging with him is always interesting, he has a crazy memory and full of facts about all things like breaks and jazz. Went on a mini trip with Jon K a while back that was fun, first time I’d done that for a while – he’s another with some deep reaching knowledge. When it comes to buying for the shop then its often best on your own. I used to go round the States with Chris Soft Rocks and we’d almost be racing each other to the entrance of shops! Can’t remember going digging with Nick (The Record) properly much, now that would be educational I’m sure.
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?
Not really, just perseverance and also the luck of the record dealer. It’s an energy that you can harness with the correct breathing techniques and facial expressions. Ask Nick he’s good at it too.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Well I love an interesting cover, the best obscure records have crazy covers but thats sometimes more of a pot luck purchase. House music is my main area of expertise; I’m a 12″ fiend and can tell the difference in shades of white labels and pressing plant marks.
You’re the man behind Vinyl Underground, an unassuming record shop in Northampton with a booming Discogs store. How long have you been running things there? What can people expect from a trip down to VU?
We are 25 years old this year, which is pretty mad thinking about it. Expect a blend of odd shop/warehouse storage/records everywhere/mess/discarded download cards on the floor. We are normally polite and friendly but might take a while to warm up. If we have time and like you I’m sure the help and the knowledge will flow. It’s all about getting the records to the right people – proper record shop backroom vibes.
Being immersed in records on a daily basis must inform the way you dig. How has running Vinyl Underground influenced your approach to digging?
Just knowing what to buy, knowing what people want, what will sell – and if you find some good bits – leave nothing! I also like going into record shops and spending money. You like record shops? Support them, its tough!
You’ve also been a resident for a number of years at Vintage Future, a night pushing underground electronic music in Northampton. Who’s doing things for the scene there in terms of nightlife?
VF just gets better and better. It’s normally just in a back room of a pub but the atmosphere has been great – the residents are all involved along with other friends helping out but its Paul’s thing, and thats why its building so well. He has a definite attitude of how it should be done, attention to detail and a strong consistency – a proper promoter. For years now that’s been missing. DJs have to put on parties or promoters become DJs because they want the limelight and the whole UK/worldwide scene becomes watered down because of this. It’s better when you have a team of people each getting on with different roles, attention to detail like I said! The amount of parties I’ve put on over the years where DJing just becomes an afterthought.
GMZ are building up with some great underground house nights, plus went to a great NNR party recently – the younger guys are bubbling. Atom Funk are smashing it, they’ve put on some killer parties with really good guests too and such a good up for it crowd. They have got one of the biggest underground bookings ever in NN coming up on Sept 28th – not sure if it’s secret or not but get on it and get in touch, not to be missed.
For me personally I love going to Sound Of The Oldschool at the Bradlaugh run by guys a little older than me who I didn’t know much when I was coming up in the late 80’s. The selection is uniquely Northampton and the playlist is from the US soul, hip hop and early house we all grew up with. It’s got nothing to do with work or my DJing or the current underground scene, for me it’s just tunes – original 80s vibes with people dancing properly. It’s real and definitely influenced my mix. I hear tunes there I’d forgotten about or didn’t even know, you never know it all.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
Mainly 80s soul which is where a lot of my personal digging is. Songs about love, lust and heartbreak, records with meaning and rhythm – trying to tell a story. Music for dancing with a partner, songs of life to connect with, no drinks on the dance floor please! Makes you think how modern relationships have become more complicated in some ways. No rare records for the sake of it. All done in one take so it’s real and not a house mix which would be the usual for me.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Loose Ends – ‘Nights Of Pleasure’. It’s just a joint. Bas Noir – ‘I’m Glad You Came To Me’; it’s one of those Burrell Nugroove records I always loved but never heard out. I guess it was difficult for DJs to place as it’s too different for soul spots but not house enough. I recently picked up a lovely picture cover version for a Dollar on a US trip.
Finally, what have you got coming up for the rest of the year that you’re looking forward to?
I’m not doing a house set in the Night Moves tent at Field Maneuvers this year which has been amazing over the last 4 years, but I’m doing a special 80s soul and boogie set at the festival which is going to be a lot of fun. I just did Spiritland again which I really enjoyed, I would like to do a more focused concept night down there. First VU 25th party kicks off in Northampton on the 29th September and we have a few things planned for that. I don’t DJ for a living so just like to keep it special every now and again or when inspiration hits.