Now here’s a familiar face. For many heads based in London, you’ll know Guy Bingley as one 1/3 of DJ crew and party series Customs. We were first turned on to London-based collective through their wonderfully curated YouTube channel a few years back: a treasure chest of forgotten records and personal finds from across the globe.
Alongside fellow Customs members Tom Crookston and Brendan Marriot, Guy puts on outsider parties (for the insiders) in a little loft in Tottenham. The intimate series has welcomed a host of refined selectors and deep digging DJs including Jamie Tiller, Orpheu The Wizard, Jan Schulte and Chee Shimzu, and has led to the trio picking up gigs all over the shop.
With V Day just around the corner, Guy has pieced together a vinyl-only mix of romantic songs that span silky smooth boogie, soul and synth-pop. This one’s for all the lovers out there. Alongside this we chat to him about a lifetime spent copying, ripping and sharing music, the story behind Customs and the DJs who’ve inspired his own journey…
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?
My parents lost most of their stuff when they moved to the Philippines so their collection started from scratch when they came back in the 80s, mainly cassettes. My first music memories are listening to cassettes in the car. My dad rarely stopped at a petrol station without picking up a new tape. Disco, soul, OSTs, occasionally more flamboyant or pyrotechnic stuff like Jean-Michel Jarre. We had a disco lantern in our living room and on the odd Saturday night he’d turn the main lights off, flick the switch, and play a record for me and my brother to dance around to. Dancing was his main thing.
My mum tended more towards female vocalists. Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Carly Simon. Since she’s had more time for herself in the last few years, she’s become involved in acappella choirs. There is a gentleness in her tastes that must have influenced me.
I didn’t grow up thinking I was in a “musical family” but my aunt and uncle were in jazz groups and big bands. One of my cousins is in musical theatre, another in quite a big grindcore band (Kerrang wanted the photo op when he married his bandmate recently!) so I suppose we have plenty of performers and musical oddballs in our clan.
I have older kids in the neighbourhood and various babysitters to thank for bringing scuzzier music into my life in the 90s too – all the grunge and crossover stuff you’d expect of skater kids in that era.
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?
I’ve been buying, copying, ripping and swapping music in different formats for as long as I can remember. I don’t think I’ve ever been bothered about what format – just sharing and discovery. At one point I had a nice MiniDisc collection going, but only because that was the best way to borrow CDs from the local library or friends at school and keep a copy to listen back. The visual side was always as important. I used to tape music video shows and beg friends with satellite to record Yo! MTV Raps for me.
Records came later, when I lived in Scotland for a year. I was meant to be moving in with Brendan (1/3 of Customs), but he decided to do one to Italy at the last minute. The Gumtree random who replaced him was Tom (the other 1/3 of Customs), who brought his decks and crates of records. That was all the motivation it took for me to start picking up bits on vinyl from charity shops, eBay, wherever else.
The idea of DJing out seemed so distant. It was such a sacrosanct thing, there was no way a bozo like me could be allowed to do it. But I was involved in film, and started doing visuals/lights at places like Sub Club in Glasgow and Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh. Being closer to the performance pushed me to think about putting records together in that kind of context.
With records, it’s endless. There’s always more music to discover. Without looking through records, there might be no way you’d ever find it.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
Almost everything is at my home near Finsbury Park now, but some bits are still scattered with other friends. For a few years we DJ’d mainly with Serato, and I was happy to let the physical records I had go to people who’d play them (plus coming to London at first and crashing on sofas, it was easiest to stay light on possessions).
Most are in trusty Kallax units but like an alcoholic hiding bottles around the house, there are always more secreted away in different cupboards and drawers. There’s nothing forensic going on with the filing. Things are mainly clustered around different types of bag-packing needs, with a mixture of genre and country logic going on and constant ‘new in’ overspill.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I’m lucky to live a 15-minute walk from my favourite spot in London, The Little Record Shop, so I drop in on David there whenever I can. If I have more time, Alan’s Records in Finchley and Zen Records in Tottenham. If I’ve got a full day to waste, I’ll trek further – to places like Crazy Beat (Upminster), Vinyl Revelations (Luton) or places south that are harder for me to normally reach.
When I’m back in the north west, where I grew up, I’ll go to Oldham St in Manchester. The big Oxfam there was always good to me, and Vinyl Exchange.
There are totally different charms and attractions from spot to spot, but I do appreciate store owners who talk with you, feel out your tastes, and remember those details when you come back. With someone like Robert at Zen, I’ve taken some of my own records to play him at his store and it’s given him ideas. That’s how he came to show me Sam ‘Life’ (in this mix) and Stooge ‘Secrets’.
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?
Anyone who welcomes strangers into their home or schleps across the city to act as a flea market guide is a hero to me. So shout out to Vincent Privat, who did both those things when I started tagging along for my wife’s Paris Fashion Week trips. Clignancourt became way less of a maze with him, PAM and Boule O as company. You should check his store Dizonord if you visit.
Dubby in Tokyo and Matt McDermott in LA have both been selfless like that too. It’s pretty special to sit in Dubby’s apartment and listen to what he pulls from his shelves. Matt is a super knowledgeable journalist but also ex-Amoeba staff, so hooked me up with the good stuff there – and hit the road with me to the Pasadena Rose Bowl flea market, which felt like a total goldmine on my one fleeting visit.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
For a while, it was the Soul of Haringey EP. That was really killing me, because I live in Haringey (Haringey/ Harringay, ‘So good they spelt it twice’). I’m in stores here all the time, I tried so many different routes to find the artists involved and I passed on a copy a few years ago. But we got there in the end!
The hardest ones are when you pass on something, reflect, go back, and it’s gone. Those ones stick with you like a stone in the shoe – it can be hard to shake.
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?
When we have guests over for our parties in London we almost always go digging together. It’s like that vuja de thing of seeing the familiar in a fresh way. They’ll turn our usual spots inside out.
James (Calypso Steve/ Redlight Records), PAM (Okonkole Y Trompa/ Antinote), Louis and Guillaume (The Pilotwings) have all been great fun for that on their London trips. The Pilotwings and OKO DJ are underestimated diggers, IMO.
Otherwise I usually go solo, so my mood can dictate if it’s a quick skim or total bin-emptying session. It’s hard to keep that flexibility with anyone other than close friends, like Brendan and Tom. With online finds, we’re constantly interrupting each other during the day too. You can guess who’s most annoying for that.
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?
No, it depends on the store. Sometimes it’s best to go with their specialism, sometimes it’s best to look for mis-filed stuff they’ve treated as junk. I always like a little walk around first to suck in the air, check out the walls and get a sense of how I want to go about it.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
It’s your first clue when you pull something out, so you can’t ignore it. But like most people have said in this series – it’s a combination of visual cues, instruments involved, year and country, production credits etc that all add up to that quick first impression.
The choice of language for titling, dedications and track version names can give you an idea if you’re dealing with hacks or less conventional artists. Any unfamiliar shonkiness, hand-stamps, outsider-ish label artwork are often enough to reel me in for a listen, but no guarantee of quality. Just indicators you might be peering into the unknown.
Someone told me that when they go digging with Vidal Benjamin (not someone I know personally) he always knows which records with the shittest sleeves are winners. I don’t have the patience to give everything a chance – but I admire the commitment!
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
I wanted to do something with love songs, and the timing made sense with V Day. I realised much of what I enjoy most at home is kinda in that category, especially songs about endings and beginnings. I know it’s the source of some corny sayings, but there must be some truth in what they share – the fragility when something’s coming together or falling apart.
I went mainly for vocals, mainly sung in my native tongue. Not especially ‘new finds’, more favourites from the last two or three years. A late night “Quiet Storm” energy. It’s simpler than a lot of what we do as Customs. But I think I like that.
It was recorded pretty much in one take at home with my two Technics and the Urei I’m very grateful to have on extended loan from an old friend, Dave Adams. Brendan helped tidy up the levels because I’m an idiot who still doesn’t know how to do that.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
There’s nothing there to make up the numbers. I really just went for lots of tracks that I love listening to at home and when I’m walking around feeling a little heartbroken, or nervously excited, or a bit raw.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
Too many and I’m bound to be forgetting some important ones, but here goes…
There are foundational people who, whether you know them or not, have paved the way. The Red Light/ MFM family in Amsterdam. Chee, Dubby, Norio and Eiji in Japan. Basso in Germany. Andrew and PPU in DC. Lovefingers and his daily Fingertracks in LA. John Gómez’s nights with Invisible City were eye-openers, and the start of an important friendship. We’re lucky to have had Jamie, Orpheu, John and Chee come play with us in London over the years.
Growing up with Mr. Scruff’s Keep It Unreal nights at the Music Box in Manchester was a trip into expansive digger-style sets before I was aware that was even a thing.
More personally, in London, Des Morgan is an incredible collector and doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He schooled me when I first moved to the city, and keeps doing so. Jack Rollo has exceptional taste and I love the crisp prose on his Instagram posts too. Jordan (DJ Vegetable) should come out of retirement, because we miss him.
Someone like Charlie (Do!!You!!!/ NTS) probably doesn’t get much credit as a ‘digger’ but honestly what he does is remarkable. Finding music to play for 15 hours every week, to a big and knowledgeable audience, always staying true to his sound. That’s a bigger challenge – mixing rare and familiar, making forgotten pop tracks feel new – than scouring Discogs for UFOs.
Are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
We stay close with Viktor (No Frills), in-form sounds and Seiji Ono (who runs Melodies) here in London. Seiji is also an unreal musician and recently wrote new tracks for Leroy Burgess. He’s a special talent. Bruno is doing some really nice things with Perfect Lives. Exciting to hear he might collab with Henry (Smiling C), another young guy with really sharp taste. The Bruits de la Passion collective from Paris and Phaserboys from Düsseldorf both impressed us with their depth of knowledge but also knack for humour. Mikkel Brask, Beesmunt Soundsystem and Lauren Hansom all packed a ton of beauties when they joined us at Brilliant Corners. Great to see their stars rising in 2020.
With your loved up mix theme in mind, any special V Day plans?
Me and Audrey are in the bind of not wanting to do a candlelit dinner or whatever obvious nonsense but also not wanting to do nothing. So we’re going to the cinema. Makes some sense, as we met working at the Edinburgh Film Festival. The other Customs guys are playing at The Four Quarters in Peckham before spending the rest of their night in the doghouse.
Alongside your pals Tom and Brendan you’re better known as Customs. How did the collective first come to be?
I’ve known Brendan since we were 16 but looked younger. We were getting turned away from clubs in Manchester and got to share our woes on the street ha. We both met Tom in a roundabout way through living in Edinburgh. Those guys ended up living together. They were putting up mixes on Soundcloud and jobbing some DJ work in central London – Tom’s our one Londoner and has been playing here since he was a teenager, starting at hip hop nights in Camden.
A basement club in Stoke Newington (RIP) got in touch with them and asked if they wanted to do a night. It was the first time we had a blank canvas – and the first time I felt I could play what I want, so I got involved.
It was a good moment to do something in north London (in 2014). So many of our friends lived around Finsbury Park/Manor House and up towards Tottenham, but unlike east or south, there wasn’t an obvious scene. We found a home first at LIFE (also RIP) then eventually at a loft in the Manor House warehouse district, which was the perfect location.
Through the parties more people have come to know us as DJs. To be honest, it’s shifted more towards that lately, rather than doing regular events. But we might not be done with the loft yet…
What have you got in store for this year for Customs?
We’re playing in Berlin at arkaoda for the first time in a couple of weeks and Secretsundaze the weekend after that. Waiting to see what phoenix rises from the ashes of Giant Steps, but hopefully we’ll get to work on programming and parties again with Amit, Aneesh and Charlotte. We’re not repped in any way and how things find us is a bit of a mystery. In the last year or so Hunee invited us to play his residency at XOYO, we did an all-night set for Nuits Sonores festival – so I guess you just trust these things happen.
Anything else on the horizon you’re excited about?
I’m involved with some reissues but feel a bit conflicted about “fronting” that stuff. Happy to keep doing it from the shadows, especially when I get to speak to the artists and feel their buzz about the music getting a second life. Oh and I’ve made a documentary – about a world record attempt that went badly wrong. Fingers crossed we can get that out in the next few months!