There’s a raw sense of love and emotion that permeates everything that Amsterdam-based DJ Mendel does. Whether it’s on the dance floor, the airwaves or in the studio, he’s doing it all with heart.
Born and raised in the Dutch capital, his musical journey has very much been rooted in the sounds, experiences and people that have surrounded him. Starting out his DJ career playing the hiphop that sparked his interest at an early age, he then went on to work behind the counter at Waxwell Records which exposed him to a plethora of sounds he’d yet to explore; the likes of disco, afro and soul. As well as soundtracking the dance floor, in 2014 Mendel made his way into the world of production, more specifically editing, charting EPs on the likes of Basic Fingers and Lumberjacks In Hell.
Alongside an interview about his deep-rooted connection with records, for this vinyl-only mix Mendel explores a story of love and heartbreak through two hours of soulful and uplifting disco, boogie and house – the signature sounds he’s become synonymous with over the years.
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 listened mostly to classical music and jazz, which might have influenced me indirectly, but as a youngster it was too abstract I think. They only had a few “pop” albums, among which was Tracy Chapman’s first album. That was the first piece of music I remember that I really loved. And till this day she’s one of my favourite artists, her voice, her storytelling remain special to me. Probably partly because she was my “first love”. I also remember my first hiphop CD, Wu-Tang Forever when I was 11 years old. All these cool characters really sparked the imagination of a young teenager.
And much later my first few disco / boogie records: The SOS Band, Young & Company, Evelyn Champagne King. When I realised that disco could be much more than just cheesy. And look at me now, knee deep in the cheese haha.
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 think the charm of a record; browsing through them, the cover art, the way of handling it, is undeniable for most people. And the fact that you find completely different things on records compared to searching for music online, always keeps me returning to the crates.
However I never really identified with the term digger. I guess cause I know people who are much more obsessed and always searching for those obscure crazy records. I really don’t have the rarest brazil, deepest disco or biggest house collection. Collecting itself has never been an objective for me. However I do love finding beautiful music that touches me. And I love presenting that to other people in the hope that I can transmit some of those feelings that I had when listening to those records. That’s why I got into this thing. Of course it gets me excited if I find something that I haven’t heard before but I also have a strong love for beautiful classics that move me time and time again.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
On my record shelves in my little home studio. I try to file them by genre, 12”s and albums, sometimes a bit by sub-genre, but in reality the stuff that I’m currently playing sits all jumbled up on the floor, haha.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I definitely prefer record shops as opposed to record fairs, flea markets, thrift stores or the internet. And Amsterdam, and the rest of the world, is full of nice stores. I like a good pre-selection and some recommendations. I really like the social aspect of hanging around and meeting people. And for me it’s especially important to take the time to listen relaxed to records I don’t know. There is always something to find, it just depends on the setting and my mood whether I feel like searching and listening closely.
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?
When I worked in the record shop there were colourful characters every day. People collecting everything and only records by a specific artist. People tediously writing every detail down about the records in a big notebook. People raving behind the listening stations, singing out loud. People asking if I could keep the records aside for them because they were not allowed to bring them home from their spouse. You name it.
There are many unsung heroes, or people who deserve more shine in the DJ circuit I think. So many local DJs who know their crowd and know how to create a vibe. So many record store clerks who’ve developed their taste over decennia. So many shy collectors who have a unique view on music. The list is long, but I will keep it short in the hope that you will check them out: Mike Shawe, Darryn Jones and Patrick Gibin.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
It’s funny how you can think you really need a specific record. If I go through my record shelves now and see those records, I notice that they don’t necessarily get me excited. Some of them are just sitting there, rarely being played. I think it’s important when we buy things, in this case music, to discern what it’s for. People tend to want to own everything and everything is available and for sale if you have the money. Often ‘ego’ and ‘ownership’ play a big part in collecting. But at the end of the day, the only thing that really counts is discovering and listening to some beautiful music right? And putting some money in the pockets of the artists you love – which is also often not the case – so they can pay their bills and focus their time on elevating their art and creating more beauty.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we live in an incredible time where so much beautiful music, that maybe previously was hard to obtain, is available to the masses but it’s sometimes also fun to not have certain things. To cherish the few records you have because they came to you in a natural way and they’ve grown on you over time. And to hear other people play music that you don’t have and to enjoy that.
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 think searching for records alone is usually more fruitful because you can focus a bit better. But I definitely love to go with friends like Marcel Vogel, Rahaan or Esa and hang out and crack jokes. That’s often more important, to have fun! Also friends have great suggestions because they know what you like.
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?
Yeah usually when I walk into a store I notice immediately when going through the first crate if I’m in the mood or not. I think it’s really about patience and curiosity. Just listening to as many things as possible with an open mind, or “open feeling” I should say. When I’m feeling a bit more conservative I go through the genres I know, listening to things I might recognise, and if I feel adventurous I just take out some more random things that draw my attention for whatever reason.
Sometimes you’re lucky and find a bunch of new things that will stay with you for years to come, and sometimes you search for hours and come home with two records that will go on to catch dust.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Although often it doesn’t say anything about the music, I’m often influenced by the artwork or the label design or the artist name and the associations all those things evoke. However you can discover all kinds of wonderful music by letting go of your assumptions and just listen, listen, listen.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
It’s mainly songs that currently resonate strongly with me in this strange time for the world and me personally. It’s a slow paced mix with some deep tunes, mainly disco and house. Quite fragile and melancholic, sometimes hopeful. I guess it’s a story of love and heartbreak.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
It’s actually full of favourites, some all time favourites, some new. But I’ve put two tracks off the same album in the mix, and I almost just played the whole thing. It’s “Twylyte 81 – The First Coming” which Antal recommended to me recently. A really wonderful album from A to Z.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
In general I like the more seasoned DJs and collectors. Who over time developed a strong inner compass of what music resonates with them personally. Cause usually you will hear that immediately when they play something. The love for that music will shine bright through. People like: KC The Funkaholic, Red Greg, Sassy J, Mark Seven, Volcov, Millos Kaiser, Zaf and the earlier mentioned unsung heroes and friends of course.
Are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?
DJing at any party really, now with this Corona thing going on. Getting together with people and listening to some good music will be extra enjoyable.
Also after this edit I did of Jeanette N’Diaye, there are two more records coming out on Kalita with remixes of mine on it. Two lovely projects I think, that will keep the sun shining no matter the weather.
Thanks and I hope you enjoy the mix!