Berlin-based DJ Curtis Barber moonlights as Vio DJ, a moniker for his musical movements on the dance floor and on the airwaves. A few trusted sources pointed us in the direction of Curtis’ musical pursuits, and after catching him at last year’s Cosmic Roots Festival we knew we had to lock him in for a mix.
With contributions to a string of mix series for the most discerning of listeners, including Ashton Holland’s Left Alone and Sasha Tessio’s Krossfingers, as well as regular radio transmissions on NTS and his new residency ‘Stil’ on Cologne’s dublab, Curtis displays a knack for digging out under-the radar-finds and forgotten gems, and piecing them together with a cohesive narrative.
He continues this on his Diggers Directory mix, which is an ode to his favourite season of the year spring, channelled through an introspective mix of folk, soft rock and synth-pop. This sits alongside an interview 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?
I can’t say I grew up in a particularly musical household, but there was always great music around. We had tons of tapes, and later CDs, in the car and I still remember listening to groups like The Carpenters for the first time. Around ten years ago, I discovered a huge stack of records in the loft at my parents’ place and went through them all. I kept all manner of things, but Human League’s ‘Dignity of Labour’ is one that has really stuck with me.
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 suppose I was drawn to the format. The idea of building a collection was always an attractive prospect to me. Once I’d accrued enough records, I began learning to mix with them.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I have three 2×2 Kallax on wheels in my bedroom that have moved around multiple times. At present, they’re in the corner of the room by my window, which is nice because this part of my apartment gets a lot of light. My filing system is more madness than method, since I’m playing with records often and tend to just put them back wherever I can find the space.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Whenever I’m in a new city I’ll always check the shops. It can be very interesting learning about other countries and cultures through the music that you find, especially if a shop is well curated. I actually do very little record shopping in Berlin, but Pop on Yorckstrasse has a good selection. It’s close to my work, too, so I’ll occasionally check in there to see what they’ve got.
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?
There’s no shortage of miserable record store clerks here in Berlin, which is probably why the nice ones stand out. Christian Pannenborg of The Record Loft is someone who has always been very kind to me. He’s also put me onto some amazing records. Other lovely folk include James from Redlight Records in Amsterdam, Mikkel in Copenhagen and Kenny at Low Company in London.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
There are many records I would like to own but don’t. Living in Germany, I suppose some of the Ströer Bros stuff, but I find it’s better to go out with no expectations than to come home disappointed. For this reason, I try to go record shopping with an open mind.
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?
I much prefer record shopping alone. I like to take my time, pick a district or a handful of shops and visit them all in one afternoon. I’ll take my headphones and a tote bag and stop for coffee half way through. When I get home, I’ll clean the records and listen to the day’s yield. It’s a calming exercise and one that allows me to take a bit of time out to wander the city alone.
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?
I tend to immediately check for cheap bins and start there. If there are specialist genres I will check those too. And then pop/rock for LPs. Unfortunately, the top racks are often overpriced. For that reason, I prefer to start low.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
It depends what I’m looking for. Lately I’m deriving great satisfaction from trying to expand my collection of records by ‘known’ artists, so the artwork plays less of a role. But if I’m looking to discover something new, I tend to rely on the cover. I’ll also check for year released and instruments used.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
Much like everyone else, I’m pretty bummed to be stuck inside at the moment, so I decided to try and put together something to drift away to during the lockdown. Since starting the new dublab show, I’ve been playing mostly folk/singer-songwriter stuff on the radio. The aim with this mix was to capture that same introspective essence, but mixed, and with an evolving and cohesive narrative. Spring is definitely my favourite time of year, and it’s been great to hear the birds outside my window again lately. I suppose that inspired the final theme I settled on. This mix is an ode to spring.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Some of the newer music, probably. There are tracks by G.S. Schray and Inre Kretsen Grupp in there. It’s still amazing to me that people are making great music like that today.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
There are really too many to mention but off the top of my head I would have to say Jack and Elaine of Time is Away, Tilly in Bristol, Tom of All Night Flight Records in Stockport, the whole 12th Isle crew, Danny Bushes, Ashton Holland, Flo Dill, Lauren Hansom, Bianca Lexis, Tako and Jamie, the whole Bruits de la Passion crew (all 18 of them!), Parker, Extrawater Andrew in NYC… the list goes on…
Are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
Definitely! Special shout out to the following local DJs who keep the scene alive here in Berlin: Frank from Kashual Plastik, William (Tanzparty), Laurel and Tom, Peter Booran and Slippery Crisps… but also Oswin in Cologne, Charlie Satsumas, Adam Oko + loads more! Sorry if I forgot anyone!
Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?
The end of lockdown and returning to normality.