Diggers Directory: a new mix & interview series that salutes the diggers, record enthusiasts and music lovers. For more in the series, browse through the archive.
As house/techno specialist for Manchester institution Piccadilly Records, Matt Ward (a.k. Kickin’ Pigeon) is an obvious choice for our Diggers Directory series. With genres ranging from Krautrock to experimental dub, Piccadilly’s success is helped by its desire to be open-minded, which is reflected in Ward’s deep selections and musical taste. As Kickin Pigeon, Ward also spins at Wet Play, a Manchester party he runs with Ruf Dug and Randall Marsh, which gave Beautiful Swimmers their UK debut and will host Mori Ra tomorrow at Aatma. We spoke to Ward about his life with vinyl and some insights into Piccadilly and Wet Play.
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?
Unfortunately I wasn’t blessed with particularly music-centred parents. My mum was an art teacher and my dad a joiner, neither of which I’m very good at! The most obvious influence was simply growing up in a small, run-down cotton town and feeling, from a very early age, the urgent need of escapism. Free parties in Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, then later Manchester’s infamous ‘party line’ all threw me into underground electronic music from a very early age. Then I came to uni in Manchester (mainly to escape the dreariness of small town life) and discovered (amongst other things): Tribal Sessions and Redlight @ Sankeys (around 2002 – 2006 are my golden years) and Electric Chair (RIP) at the Music Box. I’d say my musical taste and DJ style is simply a culmination of all those years partying, seeing which DJs really did it for me, and trying to both replicate what I heard whilst putting my own stamp on it. There’s simply too many pivotal records to mention over those years, and I think it’s important to always look forward, and let records have their 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?
My first forays into DJing were learning to scratch. I had no intention of mixing! I’d listen to Qbert and Invisible Skratch Piklz and had a ripped copy of Fruity Loops and one Vestax deck. I’d make beats and scratch over the beats for hours upon hours. Then, as I started going out more, the idea of mixing more styles took over. This was before the download revolution. Ok, we had Napster and myspace but if you were a DJ back then the obvious format was vinyl. And that’s just carried on till now. It’s all I know. Listen, I’d LOVE to be able to rock up to a gig with a USB. My back thanks me for it my house would be tidier and I’d probably have more money to show for it. But would I be a good DJ? No way. Like a mechanic and his trusted wrench, vinyl is simply the only format I can work with. Simple as that. No elitism, no precious beard stroking exclusivity. Just the way it God damn feels.
Where do you store all your records and how do you file them?
At home, with the typical disgruntlement of my girlfriend. When records actually make it into the file (as opposed to being strewn across the house) it’s quite simple really. Albums and comps in alphabetical. 12″s usually in style or label (this can get quite abstract and would only make sense to me and me alone) and then 7″s and 10″s kinda just all bunched together. I don’t really like 7″s, so they just kinda all get put in a box until I’m looking for that killer bar single that I haven’t played for god knows how long.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Working in Piccadilly Records and with Vinyl Exchange across the road can make you very lazy! We’re very lucky in Manchester to have two stores selling new, cutting edge shit (Piccadilly and Eastern Bloc) then Vinyl Exchange seems to be where all the rare-ass, cutting edge second hand shit turns up! You don’t need to go far to fill in the gaps. If I’m on holiday out and about I like to get music that suits the environment. For example I picked up a great Celtic harp record from Cob in Wales, some demolition ball techno from Space Hall in Berlin, and some proper rude boy garage from a market stall somewhere around Bethnal Green (this was a long time ago and London always baffles me so apologies for the lack of detail!). Digging for old records is great, but for me the real thrill is getting on that brand new banger before anyone else. I sometimes think people view old records through a rose tinted glass: by simply being old it’s better than anything current. To me dance music seems to get better every year.
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?
So many but unfortunately most are based here in the Northwest. Neil at Astonishing Sounds in Burnley was possibly our first mentor (and big hustler!). I didn’t eat lunch at college just gave all my money to Neil. He did, however, veer us away from funky house and into a world of Arthur Russell and sexy 70s disco. Russ and Duncan at Vinyl Exchange have an unrivalled knowledge of dance music, and I owe far too much too those guys. Dunc’s label Ourtime is my favourite techno label at the moment. Danny Webb used to work at Piccadilly and he was another great influence – handing me Jamal Moss’ Members Only Series along with the best Chicago and Detroit records while Conner at Boomkat probably put us all onto stuff that at the time left us scratching our head but then two years later the whole world would be going nuts for.
DJs and producers often talk about a number of records that never leave their bag. Do you have any records like this?
It’s cyclical no, seasonal. I guess I move with the seasons. Stuff’ll keep on rotation for two or three months (depending on how much I’m gigging too) then it’s time for a change around. I’ve been lucky to play a few festivals this summer so there’s a few soundsystem bangers that are currently in permanent residence: D. Futers – ‘Dolphin Trax 001‘, D. Ball – ‘Elements‘, Willie Burns – ‘Ultimate Hits‘ record, Dem 2 Ruff – ‘Nice Tune VIP‘. Most of ’em are actually in the mix I’ve just gave you! Come winter it’ll be a different set, all backed up a load of fresh new sounds for the cold dark winter months.
Is there a record (or records), which you’ve wanted to own but cannot afford or find in print anymore?
I’ll be honest here: when half the world’s living in poverty I find it pretty depressing that people can knock out £100 – £200 for a 12″. That said, I’ve been guilty of selling records at inflated prices myself! It’s the discogs machine – and it’s a double edged sword. No, I’ve never ‘desired’ after a record I couldn’t afford. There’s PLENTY of £1 bangers out there to fill the gap, and it’s often the cheap records that turn heads – as people haven’t heard them or relegated them due to cheapness. There’s obviously gonna be records you can’t get hold of, but with me it’s usually actually finding out the artist / label / song title. I can hear the tune in my head but my fact finding and trainspotting knowledge is terrible!
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?
Solitary every time I’m afraid. Music is a temperamental but beautiful woman who must be given all the attention she needs. You wouldn’t bring your best mate to a romantic date with your lover would you?
Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after? Is it about patience, diligence and a bit of luck or are you more methodical when you enter a record shop?
I just throw myself at it and get involved! Artwork plays a big part, and over the years you start to get an eye for labels; it’s sad I know but I can usually even work out where a 12″ is manufactured these days just by looking at the disco bag. There’s no method. There’s never any method. Music is an infinite stream of frequencies that we, as humans, have the privilege to tap into and absorb. It’s important not get too familiar or follow the same routine otherwise you’ll end up missing the full spectrum!
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging, esp. if you’re not familiar with something you pick up?
I think I answered that above. But yeah – artwork’s great. But it doesn’t have to be showy. I love hand stamped white labels in a black sleeve. But the stamp’s gotta be gooood. Gotta be sexy 🙂
We asked you to keep the tracklist secret but are there any standouts from the mix you’d like to shout out?
I’ve already mentioned D. Ball ‘Elements’ and D. Futers ‘I Care’ – possibly the two best records of 2016 for me. And both from Manchester! Al Zander’s ‘Second To None’ on Wolf is also rocking my world at the moment. For the heads, there’s a classic Gene Harris number just after half way that’s a precious little weapon of mine.
You work at Piccadilly Records, in Manchester. How did you first get involved and what’s your role with them?
I used to work and party hard at Electric Chair. Philippa, one of the owners was aways there. I’d be dropping flyers off in the shop on a Saturday and buying records from Danny Webb at the time. One saturday she said “would you like to work Saturdays here”. I said “I’m not very knowledgeable about music other than techno”, she said “it doesn’t matter – you’ve got the personality and the enthusiasm”. Nine years later here I am. I owe a lot to Phil for reaching out like that. It’s funny how the course of events can change so quickly. In the shop I buy in a lot of the house and techno and bass records. Stuff like Numbers, Firecracker, Leleka, Seahawks, all the Detroit and Chicago shit, Mood Hut etc etc. Pulling out fresh records for working DJs is always one of the highlights, but then as time goes on your start to explore the other parts of the shop: world music, psychedelic rock, even folk now! It’s all a journey and it’s full of surprises.
Even with the resurgence of vinyl, running a record store isn’t easy. How does one of Manchester most popular, and oldest spots stay relevant and unique?
It’s crazy isn’t it. Nearly 40 years old and it’s gone through many ups and downs, including a huge bomb explosion in 1996. Piccadilly’s ethos has always been to be both friendly, knowledgable and enthusiastic. Things got scary around financial crisis of 2008 but since then it’s really picked up. It’s hard to place. Great choice of staff by the owners has meant we’ve got a super friendly and knowledgeable counter staff, our mail order department and website absolutely kills it, and I guess we always stay open and unassuming to new styles and sounds. I remember when dubstep was taking off and and an ex-employee and I just didn’t get it. Philippa chastised us for slating it over the counter and sure enough, it grew on us. I never thought I’d be playing jungle records in my sets when I started working there nine years ago. I think being progressive is the key.
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 Piccadilly Records, what other things make Manchester such an exciting place for music and culture?
You so right. I remember about six years ago, Conner and I from Boomkat had secured Jamal Moss’ UK debut. We tried to get some journalists from some well known music publications to cover the event, simply to be met with “we don’t have a northern representative”. Now look, a month doesn’t go by without him being on the cover of Wire, Fact or RA. Without sounding mega egotistical, we know what’s REAL in Manchester. You can’t fake it here, we’ll call you out. With such a smaller population and footfall than London you really have to work hard to make a party special, but when it works, it beats all cities in the world hands down. Francois K and Joe Claussell said Electric Chair was the best party in the world, we’ve had Tom Nobel going absolutely mental with 120 people in an African dive bar. It’s tricky though. Unlike London (or most European cities), Manchester people are, shall we say, worn down. You only really get Friday and Saturday nights to work with. For some reason people just don’t go out in the week (perhaps cos we have to work for pittance and consequently long hours!) or on a Sunday. That can make things tricky. Especially if you have two really cool and quite similar nights on at the same time. There’s not enough people to go around and inevitably one will suffer.
You run an event called Wet Play with Ruf Dug and Randall Marsh. Could you tell us a bit more about that and the music we can expect to hear at one of the parties?
Loosely we are a “hedonistic lifestyle upgrade”. Our parties are wild. And Wet. We move around alot and we decorate them in crazy out-there shit. There’s no music policy – we’ve had Seahawks with Tim Burgess play, while in another room was a 2012 apocolypse nuclear reactor meltdown. We broke Beautiful Swimmers to England and played alongside John Morales, Lenny Fontana and Victor Rosado. As residents we cover hi-nrg, boogie, lysergia, psychedlia, techno, odd-ball bounce and trippy house but these are simply signposts along a very celestial journey. Body and mind stimulation are the foremost important aspects.
Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2016, and beyond?
20th August is the first Wet Play of 2016. We have Mori Ra over from Japan and we are back at our spiritual home Kraak (now Atmaa). Then we’re doing a warehouse party early December in one of the most underground and wicked venues in town – The Whyte Hotel aka the Boneyard – a dystopian madmax adventure playground with wall shaking speaker stacks.