Diggers Directory: Manfredas

Manfredas is something of a legend in his home of Vilnius, Lithuania. From running Smala, a club night and sporadic radio show alongside fellow DJs 12 INČŲ PO ŽEME, to opening up Amadeus – a DJ bar with a record shop above that is lovingly referred to as Manfredas’ Bar – he has been indebted to his local scene, arguably putting the city on the map on a global scale.

It’s clear why he’s so respected in Vilnius and beyond, there’s truly an unmistakable passion for what he does. And he’s been doing it for a long time, near enough every job he has worked in has been related to music in some form, from programming radio and music television to promoting parties and producing his own music.

Growing up during the fall of the Soviet Union, records weren’t as easily acquired and Western sounds were unfamiliar. In this interview he talks about those early days of collecting and how his relationship with records has evolved over the years. This sits alongside a mix of cinematic and avant-garde selections, put together during a period of reflection on the passing of American singer-songwriter Scott Walker’s passing.

Manfredas plays with Andrew Weatherall at Gottwood Festival (6th-9th June 2019).

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 can remember my dad blasting Slade in his car and everybody in Lithuania had a bootleg copy of Kaoma – ‘Lambada’, but I wouldn’t say I grew up in a very musical household. My cousin had reel to reel of Russian band KINO and that’s the closest I could get to cool music when I was a little kid. The real journey began with the later appearance of MTV and Nirvana. When the first stores came about in the early 90s, they did not have records. You could order some, but then it was months of waiting for them to arrive. CDs were expensive so it was all about tapes, mostly bootleg tapes.

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? 

It was hip-hop when music became not just the background, but something more of a serious obsession. Getting my first records was more like getting piece of another world. They weren’t even meant for DJing or listening at first –  I didn’t even have turntables. But it was special owning this wonderful music recorded onto it’s original format. Maybe only getting inflatable sneakers could beat that. You shouldn’t forget what crazy times those were for us exiting the Soviet Union, all things Western were totally alien. Records were hard to get, but the community was small and tight and it was worth going to another city with an empty cassette to get a recording of something. The quality was the worst, but spirt was high and sharing game strong so we had lots of interesting music that happened in the 90s.

I started a weekly rap show on a local radio station with a friend when I was 13 so almost from the very beginning it was not only about my hunger for new sonic adventures, but also entertaining other people every week, preferably with something they hadn’t heard before. So it’s a bit of both – being born a curious feller and also trying to be good at the work that I’m doing. I’d still choose listening to every record possible over going to Uni or becoming a professional sportsmen any given day. Most of the work I’ve done in my life so far was music-related – programming radio and music television, being a promoter, playing at clubs, looking for samples to make music. All of this work had so much to do with finding stuff that’s off the map. 

Everybody on internet is a digger now, but I guess constantly collecting music and being a patient listener for almost 30 years naturally gets you into space where you can recognise something truly special. A handy quality in such a wild feed of music today. 

Where do you store your records and how do you file them? 

After two years of living like a nomad, moving from country to country, it’s only last month when I finally got most of my records from the storages, trunks and my old homes. They are very much all over our new place still. I’ve been going through the stuff I bought in the last two years, ripping things I’d like to play out and piling up the ones I wanna sell. All chapters of my life had precious pieces, but I don’t have this crazy attachment to things, maybe because I’ve lost all my records not once when I’ve been a mess and now I’m maybe entering some adult zone where I don’t want to store shit that I don’t use anymore. 

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

When at home I love buying music on Bandcamp. It’s cool to be connected not only to the labels and artists directly, but also other people that have similar tastes, I find this feature incredible. And then I have little routine once a week like reading reviews on Piccadilly Records and some other stores, maybe reading a Wire magazine, checking YouTube uploads, just like everybody. Then it’s the actual shopping on weekends when I travel. So many amazing shops out there today like Low Company in London or Dizonord in Paris. Last year I opened a new space for music in Vilnius and we share it with the local “Discotag” record joint, which is pretty good for some new things. 

Im happy if I find 10 good songs a week and then there’s so much music I can always go back to in my record collection and my folders because there’s always thing’s back into vogue.

Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years? 

Always things on the list but I’m as good without them. I’m just not as bothered anymore as there’s so much new and old music that I can discover everyday. 

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? 

I’m not taking the “digging” thing that seriously so I don’t mind company. My friend DJ Sundae is a great companion, he’s got the best taste in music and he knows the best pizza joint in Paris too. Andrei from Khidja is my man in Berlin and Niv from Red Axes hooks me up with Hebrew music in Tel Aviv. 

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? 

Sure, there’s sometimes awkward moments at first until you get on the same frequency with the person behind the counter, but I’m always carrying a wish list and I know some magic words.

How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?

Nine out of 10 times I’ll be checking the music out if I find the cover interesting and maybe two times out of 10 I’d even buy a record, even if the music’s average, cool. The chemistry of sounds and images is fascinating.

Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us? Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention? 

I started selecting records for this on the day when Scott Walker died. I rewatched his 30th Century Man just some days before that and was listening to his extraordinary music. But it’s not a tribute mix and there’s no music of Walker on here, more like a reflection of that. And then in the days to come I just kept adding stuff that would fit. Some songs are brighter, some more spaced out than the others. I also wanted to put something Lithuanian in there that maybe not so many people are familiar with, so you’ll find some sounds of Vladimir Tarasov. It’s the music I listen to at home.

Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why? 

I see music as a whole, I never cared if its only good for dancing or not, so I sympathise with people who are known for broad tastes – Ivan Smagghe, Optimo, Weatherall, Erol Alkan, Trevor Jackson, 2manydjs, Vladimir Ivkovic. I feel blessed to call some of them my friends today.

And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on? 

Marius Georgescu, Rick Shiver, Alexander Arpeggio, Octatanz. Not sure they’re young, but you might have missed them. These boys have some pretty advanced radars.

Manfredas plays with Andrew Weatherall at Gottwood Festival (6th-9th June 2019).

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