Diggers Directory: a mix & interview series that salutes the diggers, record enthusiasts and music lovers. For more in the series, browse through the archive.
Mike Greenwell typifies why we started the Diggers Directory series. He may not be the best known name on the circuit but as a resident of the Leeds-based Cosmic Slop, he has been part of one of the most truly inspiring parties and charities in the country. His deep knowledge and passion has been channeled into the diverse musical identity of the Slop, as well as heading up the brilliant World Treasures Music, all of which has won him admirers in Mr Scruff, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Bradley Zero and Floating Points. We spoke to Mike about his travels digging around the world and the Cosmic Slop story. He’s also done a 100% vinyl mix dedicated to African music.
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 remember vinyl being in the house when I was younger and that’s when I first came across David Bowie, Bob Marley, Fleetwood Mac, Ian Drury and the Blockheads, John Lennon, Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones, more so on tapes and then CDs though. A fairly standard musical upbringing, but there nevertheless. From there the path was to lots of classic rock, hippie and psychedelic stuff. It wasn’t till I got into house music and its influences that my tastes truly widened.
What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
When I got into house music and clubbing through my friend Martin Darbyshire (Rather Hot radio) and we met Tom Smith (Cosmic Slop) and a range of other pals through clubbing, the vinyl/DJ/record collecting culture became immediately apparent.
Where do you store all your records and how do you file them?
All my records are at home across several rooms. They are in some kind of order, be it genre, by 12”, LPs or compilations, and what country they come from.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I used to love Anarchy Records in Nottingham when I lived there. Rob’s Records in Nottingham also. I’m in Leeds nowadays and so Manchester is also close for shops. Everywhere else in the UK seems to be Discogs orientated in terms of pricing now, though there are still warehouses here and there. My next steps are to look abroad again. I hope to visit Japan soon, I’d love to go back to Brazil and Africa. Turkey is also a target.
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?
My co-Cosmic Slop DJ Tom has turned me onto countless records and continues to, always. As does Darby and Nic (a key member of the Cosmic Slop team). When I moved to Nottingham for university, Rob and Jill at Anarchy Records, Rob at Rob’s Records, Dave Smith and Dave Boultbee at the now closed Funky Monkey, Rick Donahue and Paul Wain when Selectadisc was open. Danny Donnachie (Cosmic Dancing) used to be a constant inspiration musically. Nowadays I do a lot of online buying, but it’s hard to get the bargains you used to. I love making contact with some of the sellers and have met some fantastic characters. If I had the budget, I would be taking trips to countries abroad to dig, but there are lots of established labels and curators who do that job and then reissue or compile for us, something that we can all be really grateful of. One day, you never know. I’d love to have the life of someone like Frank Gossner who runs Voodoo Funk. Seeing him in containers trying to mine gold from a pile of dusty 7”s, although when I interviewed him he said it wasn’t as glam as it sounded. Bet it is though!
I think someone who is slightly unsung is Jeremy Spellacey at Crown Ruler, also known as Prince Jimmy, his radio show is superb and he has been finding some incredible records that I have been buying recently. On my travels, I have met lots and lots of characters when digging. It’s just a completely different experience shopping abroad. When you go to shops in the UK you see a lot of similar records, but this is totally different in other countries. Shopping in ‘gristle’ stores in Brazil is an experience. I love the markets in Barcelona, Berlin and Krakow, and the record ‘shops’ I have seen in Africa looked crazy. The sheer glut in New York was pretty mind blowing. I’ve loved digging pretty much anywhere I have been. I have been fortunate as I have been able to combine work with travel quite often and so it’s been made more affordable.
DJs and producers often talk about a number of records that never leave their bag. Do you have any records like this?
I have some staples that work at Cosmic Slop, but I try to freshen up the bags every time I play. Gloria Ann Taylor’s Love Is A Hurting Thing is in the bag, but I don’t play it every time.
Is there a record (or records), which you’ve wanted to own but cannot afford or find in print anymore?
Yes loads. The list keeps on growing as you discover more and more. Prices seem to be rising all the time too. Every time I hear jazz DJs Killer Jim and Daddio (Out To Lunch, Nottingham), or Perry Louis (Shiftless Shuffle, London), or an Invisible City set, or a DJ Harvey set, my want list grows. I would love a copy of The Cult The Mail Must Go Through LP, the one with the postwoman cover, not the man on the horse. I also went to an exhibition where they had original Sun Ra LPs in it. They looked hand painted and they looked absolutely priceless. I imagine they’re worth thousands and whomever they belong to must be very happy.
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 do both. With people you can recommend stuff to each other. You can get through more stuff on your own though, no distractions.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting process, with some many different genres and formats. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
My tastes are really wide and varied and so when I walk into shops at first I have that feeling of being overwhelmed too. I recently had a dig in Glasgow and just looked for weird covers.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Often a cover will draw you to it and you come up trumps. If I had the budget I would buy for covers also. Picture Discs, nudity, sleaze, inappropriateness, strung out musicians, there are some appalling and stunning LP covers. Sadly, I’m solely buying for the quality of the music, but I guess that’s what’s most important. I like seeing the artists photographed somewhere on an LP, especially if the music is premier league stuff and you become fascinated with the artist from their picture and wonder what must be going on in their life at the time. I also love really rubbish art and cover design, especially when the music is great. It makes you wonder again about the process going on at the time, their budget and what must have possessed them to release the LP in such a state. Again, if the record is amazing and the artwork is just so basic or amateur then I think it adds to the cult status of that record. I especially like cartoons or drawings on records, particularly on Brazilian records.
Coming onto Cosmic Slop now, can you summarise the story of Cosmic Slop, your role in the party, and what you feel makes it such a successful and widely loved event?
Cosmic Slop is the main fundraising event for the charity. It’s held in a gallery space next door to the classroom. Tom has built an amazing soundsystem and that’s what I get to play on. I’m so grateful. I have played from the first one in 2010 to the present day and have only missed the odd one, either from being abroad, or we have had a guest play. Guests who have played, such as Jon K, Kelvin Brown, Floating Points (all three several times), Four Tet, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Debruit, Ruf Dug, Joe’s Bakery, Pearson Sound, Alexander Nut, Eliphino, have devoted their time for free. Tom and I do the same, we play for the love and all profits go back into the charity. Shouts to Horace and Kazim also because of their input in the beginning. The quality of the soundsystem plays a big role, but I think Tom and I have kept things interesting musically, have been committed to playing a wide range of music and the general trend for eclecticism has helped. Cosmic Slop is definitely inspired by mine and Tom’s visits to The Loft/The Light parties in Shoreditch. Our crowd has been immensely supportive always and there is a hunger for eclectic and world music because of the internet culture today.
Can you tell us a bit more about MAP, the charity that’s supported by Cosmic Slop?
MAP stands for Music and Arts Production and operates in Leeds. It works with some amazing young people not accessing mainstream education. They get music and arts qualifications, as well as a range of other skills and they can then get back into mainstream school or start afresh in college. All of the staff members are inspirational. Contact if you want to help and it could be possible. Lots of volunteers help and they deserve credit too.
With the media being London obsessed, and the bulk of record labels and venues based in the capital, it seems great underground scenes across the country get unfairly obscured. Along with Cosmic Slop, what other things make Leeds such an exciting place for music and culture?
Leeds people love partying, have a strong appreciation for music and culture, are loyal to the city and proud of it and want it to succeed, have unique characters and humour, as well as being humble and modest to a degree; down to earth in other words. This means a lot of the rubbish that can surround ‘club life’ is done in a slightly different way. People hype, don’t get me wrong, but hearts seem to be in the right place. There is definitely a DIY culture in Leeds. The music scene and collecting culture is strong.
On a personal level, what is it about the city which you love so much?
I am Bradford born and bred, when I moved to the city as a teenager I was made to feel welcome. As I’ve said, the people make it.
You run a brilliant blog called World Treasures Music. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Music journalism is also a passion of mine. I worked in Zambia in 2014 and I was on the hunt for music having already collected a lot of Zamrock. I managed to get hold of some kalindula, bemba and lenje music from a radio DJ there and ended up interviewing him (he’s Ricky B) and he told me about the scene in the 1960s and 1970s. I then ended up interviewing Egon at Now Again/Stones Throw as his label reissued Zamrock. I needed somewhere to put this and so set up the blog and I had an encouraging response. I had been doing a mix series called ‘World Treasures’ on my Mixcloud page and so that was how it came together. Darby did the art for me and it’s grown from there.
I set it up by continent and aimed to get interviews related to those places in the world. So far, Chris Kirkley from SahelSounds, the Supreme Jubilees, Matsuli Music (a South African jazz specialist), Frank Gossner (Voodoo Funk), Light In The Attic artists and many more have given interviews for WTM. Coming up, all being well, will be Manu from Archeo Recordings (an Italian reissue label), the team behind a film coming soon about the techno scene in Iran, plus other stuff. I am always looking for new material, so please get in touch. It’s a way of sorting my interests and collection out in my own head really. I also have a newsfeed section where I cover new releases or events. It’s great because artists are getting in touch, such as Luiz Meldovia recently, a Brazilian singer who was embarking on her first European tour.
What are your plans for the rest of 2016 and beyond?
I am finishing my MA in Peace, Conflict and Development Studies at the University of Bradford in September. The course has been a fantastic and rewarding experience. I have met some amazing people from all over the world, as it’s a very international course. I am then planning my next move study or career wise. Not really looking too far ahead, but always looking forward to playing at Cosmic Slop. I am warming up for Awesome Tapes From Africa’s Leeds debut when he DJs at the Hifi nightclub in Leeds on 3rd June. Tom and I are playing at Dimensions Festival in Croatia in the summer (for the Stamp The Wax stage as it happens!).
Diggers Directory visual concept designed by Emily Dann.