Photo credit: Kelly Guan
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Bianca Lexis grew up with music around her from an early age. Her days were soundtracked by LA’s old school R&B radio station Hot92.3, while her father regaled her with musical tales of his youth, evoking a sense of nostalgia that she says has stuck with her ever since.
When she moved to college she inherited her father’s collection of new wave 12 inches which set her on a course to start digging and DJing herself, and also brought about the opportunity to try her hand at another love: radio. Starting out as a volunteer at dublab, she now holds down a monthly residency there with her show Happy Hour, where she embraces her varied tastes and invites guests to join her on a two hour journey through everything from folk and disco to techno and soft rock. On her other residency, Panorama Heaven, on NTS, she reaches for those 80s sounds that shaped her upbringing, weaving between synth-pop, Italo, Balearic and new wave – some of the influences she brings to her mix for us.
Hotly tipped in Lauren Hansom’s Diggers Directory interview as a young collector to watch, and with a debut EU and UK tour coming up this spring, we’re certain we’ll be seeing a lot more of Bianca’s name in future.
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 definitely the case for me. My dad was a big music fan in the 80s and even dabbled in a bit of amateur DJing himself. Growing up, I remember him making everyone listen to his own mix CDs while riding in the car lol. I remember him telling me stories of seeing David Bowie front row, almost seeing The Smiths live, and showing me photos of paintings he made of 70s and 80s pop icons that he sold in high school. He romanticized music in a way that was so nostalgic that it has stuck with me since I was very young.
Because of him, I knew about new wave and post punk at an early age. The first record I bought with my own money was Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues, and it’s still one of my favorite LPs of all time.
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?
What first drew me to records was seeing my dad and cousin bond over DJing. They told me about these house parties they threw in the 90s and how they would play all 12 inches of classic new wave, electro, and house. My dad mentioned he’d had a record collection that he unfortunately had to sell when I was young, but my cousin still had some stored away that he never touched. When I went to university, he was kind enough to gift me his small collection of mostly new wave 12 inches. This kicked off my interest in growing my own collection so that I could DJ as well.
A couple years later, after gaining a weekly residency playing disco records at a bar, I quickly got bored of hearing the same songs every weekend. That motivated me to buy more and more to keep things fresh and new. The most exciting thing about digging is going through trash to find something really special and unique. That’s still the biggest reason why I stay motivated to dig.
I stopped limiting myself to vinyl once I picked up the CDJs because it gets very expensive constantly buying new records. But there is something profound in holding a physical piece of history that has lived longer than you and then watching it come alive and somehow make sound.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I just store them at home in the common area. I like keeping them there with my decks because I think of music as more of a shared experience. I sort by genre — disco, boogie, italo, new wave/post punk, house, soul, and hip hop.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
It’s best to go outside of central Los Angeles to find good stuff because the spots here are over picked. An old favorite is Record Jungle just outside of East LA in Montebello. It’s all used records, very disorganized — a true diggers store. Another favorite is Freakbeat which is north of LA in Sherman Oaks. I always find something unique there, it’s honestly pretty reliable. Besides that, it’s really just down to luck and chance in this city.
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?
I think most record store owners are kooky nerdy characters by default. They’re always worth chatting to and asking for suggestions.
As for people I’ve met around the world, I haven’t yet had the privilege and security of traveling far beyond my home city. Traveling is a privilege that not many people get to experience. It’s also something that has personally caused me huge amounts of anxiety and internal conflict. But at this point in my life, my desire to travel far outweighs the anxiety it gives me, thanks to years in therapy. And I’m finally getting the opportunity to do it this year. I’m so so grateful and cannot wait to dig in new cities and meet likeminded people along the way.
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 think both are different experiences. Digging is not a social activity for me, so I prefer to do it alone. However it can be helpful to dig with someone knowledgeable who can give you recommendations. Of course, when you’re digging with someone else, there is an element of competition which can be a good or bad thing… It’s a toss up haha. It’s always fun digging with Daniel T and Jonny Mons.
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?
The only rule I have is to start from the back of the bin. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll only check the disco/italo and house sections, but you never know what weird crossover gem is hiding in a different section.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
I’d like to say don’t judge a book by its cover, but if I see a sick sleeve I will definitely investigate further. The artwork usually tells you a lot about what’s inside. It can tell you what instruments are used, whether it features a male or female vocal, where and what era it’s from, or it can give away nothing at all. Generally the more 80s it looks, the more I’m intrigued.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
I wanted to include my personal favorites from my collection and weave them together in a way that made sense, which was easy because all of my favorites happen to be synth pop, Balearic disco, or Italo haha.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Hmmm, I never thought I’d find this Perfect Zebras LP out in the wild, but I found it just a couple of weekends ago when I was in Vancouver at a store called Audiopile. I was stoked! Oh and PFO’s ‘Touch Me Don’t Stop’ has never let me down. Crazy good.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
I have a lot of personal DJ heroes. Like, too many. The biggest are Raphael Top Secret, Palms Trax, Pender Street Steppers and Solar. Every time I see them live or hear their mixes, I feel so inspired and motivated it makes me want to scream. As for collectors and absolute bosses of digging, I really admire what Josh Cheon from Dark Entries Records and the guys at Music From Memory are doing.
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
You host monthly shows on dublab and NTS LA. Do you try to make a clear distinction between the two in terms of sound?
Sure. On my NTS show I like to stick to synth pop, italo, experimental pop, and international sounds from the 80s. On my dublab show, literally anything goes, so I try to bring on guests. It can go from sad folk to intricate techno. I like it all.
And what about the scene over in LA? Who – parties, promoters, DJs – are doing good things locally?
Huge shout out to Luke Kim and Directory Service. Luke was one of the first to give me a platform. They do their best to give representation and support for queer, trans, and femmes of color in the dance music community and focus on new and exciting talent. They saw a community in which most of the parties were ran, played, and attended by mainly straight white men. As a young woman of color trying to DJ in LA, this was very discouraging. They showed me that DJing was not just a rich white man’s game.
Any plans to come over to the UK and Europe soon?
Yes! 🙂 I will be coming over for the first time ever in late May. I have a few shows lined up and could not be happier.