Manchester is home to some of our favourite selectors. It’s a city that has a clear feeling of comradeship, where DJs, labels and musicians alike are constantly pushing the local scene.
Annabel Fraser is without a doubt a Mancunian mainstay, our Manchester Spotlight feature on her a couple of years ago is yet more evidence of that. A regular feature on the NTS Manchester airwaves for over three years now, she continues to champion herself as a ‘lover of music not genres’. Connecting the dots between everything from minimal wave to disco and classic house to post-punk, her shows are true education from someone who’s dedicated many years to discovering and exploring sounds near and far. Aside from her radio pursuits she’s held residencies across the city at institutions like Soup Kitchen and Hidden before settling at Manchester’s newest underground space The White Hotel.
We chat to her about her connection with records, alongside a vinyl-only mix themed around her favourite synths and arpeggios.
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?
I don’t come from a musical background and because of that music wasn’t a big part of my early life, I had to go out and find it myself. One of my earliest memories was my mum having a turntable in our front room. She had a couple of Abba records and I used to place them on the turntable and dance to them. I was around four. I remember hearing the Bee Gees and Kraftwerk – ‘The Model’ on the radio. It stuck in my head and I didn’t know what it was until years later. I also listened to a lot of rubbish. I wasn’t cool.
My biggest influence was a local radio show I came across by chance in 1991 called New Dawn. It played rave tunes and at that point I’d never heard anything like that. I still have the tapes from those Sunday night radio shows, also going out dancing. Hearing mixes like Larry Levan live at the Paradise Garage and Danielle Baldelli’s Cosmic Tapes refined my ear for good music. I got the chance to play with Baldelli in 2006 in Nottingham and my head came off a bit.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I store my records at home. I don’t consider myself a collector as such, I’m a DJ and I buy stuff to play either at gigs or just to play at home because I love it, so usually I store things in a time of night order. I try to keep things as minimal as possible, it’s pointless having records that are just ok, good or collectable. It takes up room and it clutters my head when I’m packing my record bags for gigs.
I have a section for early doors stuff, a section for more bangers, middle of the night kind of vibe, a section for stuff I’ve absolutely rinsed and need to put to bed for a few years but still absolutely love, and a section for stuff I’m playing loads at the moment. I’ve got a proper weirdo section too, like soundtracks, noise and stuff, but thats about as genre specific as it gets. The rest is chaos and I’ve got records everywhere, in my front room, bedroom and hallway at home. I don’t have a TV so my front room is my record room and where I have friends over, so my floor is usually covered in records which I’m stepping over. I’m not very organised to be honest ha.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I love the internet for shopping, it has benefitted me massively. My favourite place in general is Tokyo for record shopping, the standard is really high. EAD, Disk Union, Cisco records (RIP) etc. They have been my most productive record shopping experiences I would say. My favourite shop to visit is probably Piccadilly Records in Manchester. Mainly because the staff are so ace and I always see people I know, always have a proper chat and talk bollocks about whats going on in Manchester. They don’t specialise in any particular area but have always been consistently good as an all rounder. I’ve bought so many amazing records there over the years that I will never sell. Vinyl Exchange is great too, for the above reasons. I should give Robs records in Nottingham a shout too. I’ve not made it over there for years, but it’s a proper record shop where all the records are in no order, all second hand, all over the place. There aren’t many of those kind of shops left.
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 first met Yozo from EAD at Shinjuku train station, which was a bit mad. I went to his shop and listened to records on a Yamaha GT200L turntable on the shop system.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
Not really, I’ve always managed to find what I want thanks to the internet. The issue is how much you want to pay for it. If people know about it and there aren’t many around, then it’s a matter of if you are prepared to wait on a bargain somewhere, or if you are willing to pay, sometimes a lot of money, to have the record immediately.
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?
Always on my own. I like seeing people I know in record shops and I love having a chat, but I can’t concentrate if I’ve made the trip with someone else generally. I have to listen to records too, so this takes time and I can’t be rushed, otherwise I end up with stuff I may regret buying when I get home. Records are expensive and I don’t have the money to waste, or the space in my flat to store them if they are a bad choice. I only play records for my radio shows, gigs, everything, so I have to be ruthless and very militant about what I buy. If I don’t instantly love it I don’t buy it, so record shopping needs my full attention.
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?
Yes, if it’s a shop that I can listen to clips online, then I’ll do that first, make a list of what I want to have a listen to in the shop and do that. Not all sound clips are listed online and the record may have a few surprises, good and bad, so I always listen in the shop if I can. Record shops are no where near as daunting as they used to be. Have a chat with the staff, a good record shop will point you in the right direction and will get to know your taste.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
It plays a huge role. I’m no format snob, I cannot stand that, but one of the reasons I play records is because I am useless at remembering what stuff is called. I remember record sleeves. I can’t look at a screen and have any kind of connection to it. I was shown how to use a CDJ a few weeks ago (thanks Leon!) but I can’t see myself getting into it, maybe to play stuff I’ve been making and maybe sometime in the future. Record sleeves add to the character of the music. It is whatever works for you of course. It’s always about the music, whatever format, but the artwork helps.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
The mix is roughly 80 minutes long. It’s been recorded on 1210’s on ATn-XP7 needles in my flat. The theme is synths and arpeggios I love.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
I love them all for different reasons. It’s a tough one. Some records more on other days depending on the mood I’m in.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
Collectors like Mr Scruff, Mark Seven, Jason Boardman, Moonboots, Balearic Mike and Kelvin Andrews who had decent record collections before the internet. I respect them massively. Some of the Northern Soul collectors are so obsessive it’s unreal. It’s another world and not one I know much about but going nuts over an acetate with a massive chunk missing out of it is something else isn’t it.