From his home of New Zealand, Ben Stevens AKA Longboss helps to run the Strangelove Music imprint. He popped up on our radar with his first release, a captivating reissue of Lena D’Agua’s ‘Jardim Zoológico’, and so our interests were piqued, eager to hear what he’d unearth next.
Ben deals in forgotten and “sometimes newly hatched” exotic sounds, including the new age folk musings of Frank Harris & Maria Marquez and new wave oddities of DWART, more of which are penned for release soon. And there’s more in the pipeline to keep tabs on, for the past three years he’s been working on a compilation of music that’s more close to home; charting 1980s pop from New Zealand artists.
Alongside a vinyl-only mix of tracks that explore the junctures between organic and synthetic, Longboss talks about his relationship with records…
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?
Pretty much… Mum played Led Zep through to John Mayall via the Pretenders, Roxy Music & Sinead O’Connor. Dad was an 80s ad man, wrote radio jingles and played ‘cool’ music; Big Audio Dynamite, OMD and Kraftwerk were ones I remember. But really it was my uncle who has a massive record collection, his compilation tapes for me were heavily orientated around British indie, US College Rock, Daisy age hip hop and loads in between.
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 a late start with vinyl, I mostly bought tapes because they were cheaper, it’s what my friends collected and I was getting all my uncles compilations. I coveted TDK Chrome AD-90’s rather than 12”s! I then started buying new records from artists I had heard from him, Sub Pop, early 90’s british things etc;- Mudhoney through to Buffalo Tom, through to Definition of Sound. The strong roots culture in NZ meant On-U Sound also had a big following here which I was into. The Gary Clail record I included on this mix is on the poppy end of that sound but a wonderful album I still play.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
Mostly shelved in the dining room, plus there’s a few hundred in the attic and the spare bedroom has Jazz, 7’s and other bits stashed. Its sorted by musical geography/vibe and timeline. Think African & JA /Japanese/ Folk and Funky Rock/Techno & House. 70’s/80’s/Contemporary electronic bits and headphone stuff past and present.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Real Groovy in Auckland is the biggest store in NZ – always treasure, Lo-Cost records in suburban Wellington for local surprises, Family Jewels in provincial Nelson is great, Revelation Time, Ondas & Rare Groove Records in Japan for the best in boutique digging. I also used to love the regular West London record fairs that Des from DT records put on;- Nick Record, Chris Soft Rocks and Gerry Rooney were all regular sellers there. Alan’s in East Finchley was great too the last time I was in London. Locally in Wellington there’s an unknown spot run by someone who closed down their record store a few years ago, which yielded some gold recently.
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?
Well there’s Johnny Reynolds ex FatCat & Atlas in Soho. Super generous with his knowledge and who almost single-handedly steered me on to dubby disco, punk funk, Arthur Russell and all sorts of leftfield oddities from around 1999, soon after I arrived in London. He’d hand me a compilation tapes of those sounds, we’d be playing some banging DJD edit of ESG on Noid at Atlas and thumbing through DJ Friendly postal (!) mailing list with all the latest U.S. finds Nick had bought back. More recently Dubby & Chee’s LN-CC pop-up in 2011 opened up the Japanese sound to me, a rabbit hole I’m still down.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
A copy of Eddy Louiss’ beautiful spiritual jazz LP would be nice and I thought it would have been reissued by now. But the fun is really in being surprised by the unexpected, lists tend to go a bit stale after a while!
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?
My best friend lived in Auckland for a long time, I loved staying with his family going into Real Groovy, finding copies of things that I had and passing them on to him. Music is often an evangelical thing, you want to share this amazing song or LP and I love the revelatory experience of seeing other people buzz on a piece of great music for the first time.
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?
These days in local stores its all about digging for NZ stuff. I’ve been working on a compilation of oddball NZ pop for the past three years so I’m always on the lookout for things I haven’t heard before and that music is always turning over locally. Actually the best local dig was researching at the Radio NZ archives, 8000-10000 NZ artist records!
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
There’s certainly great music with shitty artwork but the odds are a little against it. Yeah I guess start with interesting artwork and then its a quick flip to the credits and who the players/ producers are, or stuff that clearly looks homemade or private press is always going to hold surprises (good and bad).
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
The mix sort of intersects a bunch of sounds I’m into, the Frank Harris and Maria Marquez project reminded me that I’m still fascinated by junctures between organic and synthetic and how these elements sit and contrast when put together. My heart sits somewhere between leftfield 80’s electronic pop and I’m enjoying revisiting 90’s techno and that’s probably apparent too.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Interning at Strangelove has consumed most of my free time for the past three years (and more recently my daughter) so to be honest there’s only a handful of recent finds such as the mind blowing Alfombra Magica, a few of the remainder stretch back a little – some right back to things I bought in the 90s – the Low Res track is an all time favourite record I never tire of. More recently I love the Tom Wolger record with ‘Rush Pop’ which I was put on to a couple of years ago, it’s a total 80s arthouse take on techno. I wanted to release some of Tom’s music but his records are quite conceptually complete and although we chatted I felt it would be a weird muddle to try compile them together, and for the most part I tend to shy away from straight reissues on Strangelove. Elsewhere there’s a New Beat record by Shock Taktix – I always played the other side and then realised this side also sounded great on 33rpm. The Mother of Pearl record is a favourite find from early last year in amongst an estate collection a buddy got hold of in Auckland.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
Oh the usual Amsterdam/ Berlin suspects… maestro Vidal Benjamin and Sundae have been a big influence, Mikkel in Copenhagen. More recently my OZ friends/ fiends who run similar archival labels Chris Bonato and Jeremy Spellacey who are always generous with their knowledge and time, Micheal Kucyk’s E.S. ears and curation are always revelatory. Locally there’s good buddy Geoff Stahl aka TV Disko who has a wonderfully eclectic take on record collecting with a penchant for German avante-schlager covers of David Bowie songs…But the biggest influence would be an unsung hero called Wolfgang aka Zuckerzeit whose deeply eclectic but beautifully selected compilations showed a tender sort of musical programming I hadn’t really heard on DJ mixes before.
Are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
There’s 101 youtube channels of digital ‘finds’, endless Instagram feeds and Facebook uploads. The internet has made the whole process of discovering music infinitely easier and conversely infinitely blander. “Digging” has inevitably become a bit smoke and mirrors. Being in Wellington means my local accessibility to a wide range of music is limited so the web is a necessary evil on some level… all that said Michael Kejeblos is a wonderful digger and selector, there’s also Hampus in London, who is also not exactly young but his finds are refreshing because its a local London-centric musical vein he’s mining. Henry from Smiling C is always surprising me and his record releases are always interesting.
You launched your imprint Strangelove Music in 2017 with a beautiful reissue of Lena D’Água, what was the original impetus behind starting it?
The label had been floating around as an idea for far too many years (I have a 90s school excercise book at home with various label logos and compilation listings!)
Lena’s record happened quite organically, “Jardim” was a song I kept going back to and I knew it represented exactly the sort of music I wanted to present on Strangelove; it fell between genres, while still being this electrifying, hooky song with these tender pop sensibilities. Pulling it together with Tao I felt it presented a really beautiful balance of moods – A NZer releasing a Lisbon artist is still pretty bloody random… I had a couple of odd bits of feedback initially from Portuguese people, Lena was/is a massive trail blazing star in Portugal and I think the idea of her music being critically reconsidered was a bit of a head scratch. I often struggle with whether Strangelove should be parachuting into other cultures and the legitimacy of reissuing or appropriation of music from elsewhere. Then I think back to all the Flying Nun and NZ music of the 80s reissued or released by European and American labels at a time when locally the recognition of those bands was sometimes marginal. An outsiders perspective can be helpful in reappraising artists who might be ubiquitous, ignored or taken for granted, that said I’m trying as best I can to have an Antipodean orientation to the label as well.
Also its a cliche but the label is a labour of love and while it can be quite time consuming to engage the artists all the way through the process I view the label as a partnership, peoples artistic legacy are generally incredibly personal experiences and I never take that for granted. The ARVO record happened as a result of slowly building enough trust with Deb & Roy and reassuring them that the release we did together wasn’t going to be simply a transactional process that they would be dislocated from.
How do you go about A&R for the label?
Concepts for the label generally form quite slowly and organically, favourite songs stay with me and tend to rise to the surface over the course of a few months or years, which is helpful as of course I want to try and present music which has an out of time element to it. Striking gold occurs really when you can find unreleased material which is good enough to issue, Frank & Maria’s release started as a 12″ proposed for Canto and Campesina and evolved into the album ‘Echoes’ as we found more draft material in the archives to work with – compiling and honing it all together was a really fun experience. There’s so many archival labels now that I try and avoid straight reissues, sometimes it’s hard to avoid that but I love constructing and compiling artist music in different ways. I think Ziggy from Stroom aptly described it about creating something like ‘alternate musical histories’.
Any releases in the pipeline you’re excited about?
Well coming up in the next couple of months is a compilation of strange NZ pop from the 1980’s called ‘Kiwi Animals’ that I’ve spent the good part of three years pulling together. I’m a generation removed from the artists who made the music and so I didn’t feel beholden to creating a historical document of local scenes, instead I’m trying to pull together some imagined seams of sound. The artists might be a bit disparate, there’s odd selections from well known NZ musicians and other things dredged from more obscure sources but I think there’s a commonality of outsider attitude to technology and artistic practice and a bleak melancholic humour which comes from being perched at the edge of the world…