Discogs and YouTube have made the quest for musical rarities an easy task in recent years. But what about the days before these tools existed? Northampton digger and Vintage Future resident Mark Worley knows a thing or two about this. Having been digging, collecting (and hoarding) for 34 years now, he fondly remembers the days of sifting through stacks of records in stranger’s garages and sending off stamp-addressed envelopes to mail order record shops to get his hands on the latest catalogue.
In the current climate, it’s difficult to come across music that hasn’t been added to a YouTube channel or rocketed in price after being dropped in a Boiler Room set, so it’s no easy feat to produce a mix of predominantly unknown tracks, most of which aren’t on YouTube. If anyone is up to the task though, it’s Mark Worley. So, in the spirit of digging that little bit deeper, there’s no track list on this one – get your ID hats on and see what you can discover for yourselves. In this vinyl-only mix he journeys through raw house and driving techno cuts, and in an in-depth interview raises the question “has YouTube killed off the old school digger?”
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?
My sister is four years older than me and back in the early 80s she was into synth pop such as OMD, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Human League etc. Hearing these bands blasting out of my sister’s bedroom had a profound effect on me! They were my musical awakening and I still love them to this day.
The albums of her’s I particularly loved were Architecture & Morality by OMD, Speak & Spell by Depeche Mode and Non Stop Erotic Caberet by Soft Cell. When she played me Native Love by Divine that was it – I was hooked. Aged 12, I had never heard or seen anything quite like it!
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?
In my younger days when I heard something I liked I wasn’t happy just taping it off the radio, I had to have it for myself. I’ve always had a bit of a collecting obsession. Age 8, it was model aircaft and not just any sort – post war Royal Airforce and The Fleet Air Arm, proper nerd stuff! So collecting records became my next obsession and one I expect to take to the grave. The feeling of excitement and anticipation en route to a record shop, junk shop or record fair is as intense for me now as it was in my youth in the 80s.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
We were fortunate enough to build our own home and my music room was a key priority. I wanted to create a space where I could share my music with friends and family. We have hosted many a party and are lucky to have many talented DJs amongst my friends who all take to the decks. The records take pride of place along two floor to ceiling record shelves leaving space for a dance floor and a couple of sofas.
My records are arranged in styles – Detroit techno, UK and European techno, Industrial, Wave, Chicago house, NY house, Italo, ambient etc and then within those styles, artists together and labels. It’s not an exact science as a fair few are missing in action but it works for me.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Northampton is my home town and so I am fortunate to have Vinyl Underground on my doorstep. It’s without a doubt one of the best places for records in the UK. Spend a few hours there you will find some great records and no super inflated Discogs prices! Aidy, the owner is a real genuine and super knowledgable guy who will always unearth a few gems for you.
Record Loft in Berlin is a proper old school digging heaven! There are thousands upon thousands of records in no particular order – just how I like it. It’s quite easy to lose a whole day there.
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?
In terms of unsung heroes, there was a guy called Horace who had a stall on Camden market in the early 90s. A real character. I would visit him on Saturdays and he would tell me about certain tracks that DJs had played the night before at some london rave – this was played by Top Buzz, this one by Grooverider. Record dealer spiel but with such charisma. I’m sure he used to come and set up his stall straight from the raves.
Chris Energy was another guy from around the same time who did all the record fairs. A proper East End Londoner. I used to see him regularly at the Camden Ball room record fairs that ran every two weeks (I think) on a Saturday. I didn’t start buying house and techno until 1989 so had a few gaps to fill. I bought lots from him, his prices always seemed a bit questionable but then again £15 seemed expensive for a record in the early 90s. How times have changed!
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
I’ve got about a thousand records in my want list which has been running for many years. Admittedly, I have no clue what some of them are now but they will remain on the list as I must have put them there for good reason! My most sort after is She Male – ‘I Wanna Discover You’ – a proper tearjerker Italo record. It’s somewhat an acquired taste, not the kind of Italo record that would have been played at the Music Box but one I’m desperate for. I’ve never even seen a copy for sale so it may elude me for some time, but I will keep digging and who knows one day!
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
Digging for me has always been a very solitary process. My friends just don’t have the patience or stamina (or sense) to keep digging through thousands of awful Val Doonican records or terrible 80s and 90s pop dance to hit gold. Nothing is more off putting than friends standing there arms folded ready to go after only a half hour dig, I’m only getting warmed up!
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
As a majority of the records I’ve picked up over the years have been house and techno, sleeve art has played less of a roll though. That said if I find something with great artwork that looks interesting and cheap then it’s always worth a punt.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
My mix is mostly house and techno. I’ve tried to use records that some people may not know, a tall order as there are some very knowledgeable people out there. I’ve dug deep into my collection. Several were records I gambled on as they looked interesting and were relatively cheap. This was before the days of Discogs and YouTube.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
I always like to throw a few oddities in there. One such track is The Zap Rap by Tyler Von Jeebes, an early 80s New York no-wave track with a killer rap! It sounds awful but I really love it. I’ve played it to various friends over the years and they either love it and totally freak out or really don’t get it. I always like records that divide opinions.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
Paul Wise aka Placid has an amazing record collection – with lots of killer acid and Chicago records amongst it. He was way ahead of the game with Chicago house obscurities, most are known about these days with the advent of Discogs and YouTube. Years back only a few music heads knew about these as many didn’t have much European distribution and were very hard to pick up. Paul is a top class DJ as well.
It only seems like five minutes ago I was sending off stamp addressed envelopes to receive the latest catalogue from various mail order record shops. A slow old process! The internet changed all this with records and information at your finger tips. Collecting became a whole lot easier and quicker. Suddenly all those records I could only dream of finding were out easily within reach. The downside being that the excitement of digging for that elusive record had diminished.
Do you think it’s now a rich person’s sport?
Collecting records is not cheap these days. The price of some new records is crazy. As for the older stuff, some prices are totally insane yet we still pay it! Discogs super inflated prices have created a false value in many cases. It’s funny for us older heads to see records that were once sale bin fodder now go for a fortune. Walt J records are a prime example. I lost count of the number of copies of the Depth EP I picked up for pence over the years. I don’t think people quite got his dusty lo-fi sound back then. I wonder how it will end as more and more people get in to DJing and collecting. Maybe in 20 years we will see people paying £200-300 for the likes of the Depth EP, possibly more.
YouTube and Discogs has massively increased the accessibility and knowledge of most records. In the past I would pick up certain records that were quite seminal even though I had no clue what they sounded like! In the 90s I just took a chance on many Italo records. A new school of digger – one that trawls through YouTube/Discogs – now exists. Digging in dusty warehouses and damp basements has become a rare thing, as has bagging a bargain unbeknown to the record seller. Having Discogs as a pricing guide has put a stop to that!
What do you think the future holds for diggers?
It doesn’t have to be all about Discogs. If you are prepared to put the time and effort in there are still places to find records. Record fairs are a great place to dig, they do seem to be very rock orientated these days but I’m often pleasantly surprised at what turns up. Recently, I picked up Laser Dance by Sponooch, a wonderful Disco track that was in my wants for years. I’ve lost count of the amount of great records I’ve found in Vintage shops though you do have to dig deep into tons of worthless junk to hit the jackpot! These kind of places are yet to catch on to the Discogs pricing guide, so may be where you find those elusive records from your want list for £1.00!