Diggers Directory: Rebecca Vasmant

Sometimes passion oozes out of one’s pores; when talking about records, Rebecca Vasmant is someone that exemplifies this idea.

From her home base of Glasgow, she’s become a regular fixture on the music scene as a DJ, producer and promoter, showcasing her knack for blending her first love, jazz, with fresh dance floor selections.

As well as hosting her own nights, Era Suite at Sub Club and RV Presents at Blue Arrow, she’s graced the decks at some of the foremost jazz events across the UK and beyond, including Glasgow Jazz Festival, Baltic Soul Weekender and Worldwide. Also a skilled radio host, she can be found sharing her discoveries with listeners on her monthly Worldwide FM residency and formerly on the waves of BBC Radio Scotland.

Alongside an interview about her lifelong obsession, she delivers an almost 3 hour long vinyl mix that drifts through her favourite jazz finds – from spiritual to Latin, dance floor and Ethiopian – giving us a window into the music that first ignited her passion for collecting.

DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? 

In many senses yes, I did discover a lot of records through my family, but a lot of records relating to my adult tastes came from my friends / chosen family, and this continues to evolve. Its a journey of constant discovery that never stops involving my chosen family, which I am super grateful for. 

My mum and dad were into a lot of music, so of course I did grow up around music, my mum was a huge fan of trance and hard dance music and used to play rave CD compilations to my little brother and I in the car and we would all sing along to them in our element. Alice Deejay was one of the regular favourites that I remember singing along to. My dad was into lots of modern hip hop, like Eminem’s first album when it came out, and The Lighthouse Family was also a stand out album that I always remember him playing. I have a big brother, Julien, who was really into skating and did that professionally, so I picked up a lot of jazzy hip hop tastes through him, so I guess really that might have been a starting point for me getting into this journey of obsession for Jazz and collecting records. 

Actually now, the older my little brother gets, he will send me links to music and I am always so happy because he has sent me something completely amazing that I would never have heard before. I feel like the tastes of myself and my little brother are just merging closer and closer. He has such an excellent taste that I’m often so proud and buzzing when he sends me links to things he is listening to. 

I guess there’s a connection, a joining of all of those dots which have formed a complete picture of where things are at now, and how I arrived here. 

Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?

One record that sticks out in my mind from when I was in school was A Tribe Called Quest – Beats Rhymes and Life. I remember listening to that over and over and over and being absolutely blown away by it. I think that was the first album I really got heavily into, and on looking back, I think that it was the first Jazz-influenced hip hop that I heard, containing samples from Jazz records rather than just beats and angry rapping. I would have to say that, and also D’Angelo, played a massive part in my early influences. That was the first time I heard any of that stuff with loose drums and amazing vocals like his, still to this day when I listen to those two records I wonder how they have never aged badly, and how I still love them as much as I did when I first heard them.

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?

When I first started getting into buying records, it was always a musical discovery thing for me. I always used to go into record shops and just pick up random things and wish I knew what they were or knew any of the musicians on them, and it gave me a hunger to learn about music, in the hope that one day I would be able to walk into a record shop and know some of the records in there. Musical discovery and musical knowledge I guess you could say. 

I took a job in a record shop in Edinburgh when I was in my early 20s, and I remember George the owner, who I still love going in to visit to this day. He was like an encyclopedia of music, and whenever people would come into the shop asking for things, he would assess their tastes, go and pick up some records, give them to them and always seem to get it right every time. I was fascinated and in awe of how he could do that. I see my time working in the shop as pivotal in my journey in collecting records; it furthered my hunger for collecting and discovering music, and to this day I am grateful for that. 

I remember George saying to me, “you will have a great collection one day because you have the hunger” and I never really understood what he meant until 10 years down the line, with decreasing space in my flat, constantly telling myself I will buy less records this month (and it never actually working out like that), now I realise. It’s a hunger, like what you feel for food, only for people like us, it makes you buy records.

I feel like time only makes it worse. Each year that passes I think that the hunger gets stronger. It’s almost like, the more amazing records you discover, it creates this thought in my mind that “if I have found these records then what else have I missed”, so it just makes me look more and more. I get this thought sometimes where I think, there might not be enough time each day to discover all of the music you might potentially love, you might blink and miss something and that thought sometimes is overwhelming. Sad almost! It makes me so grateful for all of the time I am able to spend each day to try and make sure that this doesn’t happen. I realise that even if we spent every waking minute of every day searching for music, we would not have enough time to discover it all… and yeah, that thought kind of scares me! 

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

Well, my records are kind of all over my house. I like to keep my most treasured records in my bedroom so I can look at them while I work. I spend my days making music from my little bedroom studio, and I have all of my best piles close to where I work. I also have my living room filled with different shelving units that are all coordinated in quite a strange way. 

For some reason, I like to keep all of my records in order of when and where I bought them. When I pick up a record, I can always somehow remember exactly when and where I bought them, so yeah, I file them in order of location and time bought. Strange way perhaps, and it does take me so much longer grabbing records for gigs when they are not in sections based on genre or label or something, but it works for me, so I stick to my strange method! 

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

Paris has to be my favourite place to go digging, I always come home and have to check in a new bag because I have over bought. There is two spots that never disappoint: Superfly and Listen. I actually got a copy of Mike Westbrook’s Love Songs (an original) from Listen, I couldn’t believe it! That record had been on my list for years, and I just walked in and they had a copy on display on the wall! To this day I’m so happy about that. What an amazing surprise that was. 

They also do a record fair that I play at when I go over there called Paris Loves Vinyl, and there are an insane amount of vendors selling amazing records there too. That is worth a visit for sure if you are ever there. 

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?

Oh yeah absolutely, I think Thomas from Listen in Paris has to be an unsung hero. He has an immense ability to go over to Japan and pick up amazing records and come back and sell them at such fair prices; he is also the most lovely and welcoming record shop owner ever. 

Also I must shout out George at underground solush’n in Edinburgh, since that shop has been forever brilliant and local to me, and he let me join the guys and work there for a little period earlier in my life. Nicest person, loveliest of shop owners and also has the ability to find you what you want. 

I always feel very at home when visiting Love Vinyl in London also, so would love to shout out those guys. 

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

I would have to say without a doubt the one that I always manage to miss is Clifford Jordan – Glass Bead Games. My biggest regret in my whole life, is that I once saw it in Paris and didn’t believe it was the original. When I checked later on and it fact it was – it was insanely low in price and I crazily didn’t pick it up. It’s not necessarily a hard record to buy on Discogs if you can afford to spend that much, but it comes in at silly prices, so finding a fairly priced copy is the difficult task. I have only ever spotted it that one time in Paris when I didn’t buy it. I do have the reissue that the guys at Superfly did but I am still on the lookout for a copy. The search continues! 

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 actually really enjoy going digging with friends. On many occasions I’ve met up with DJs I have known online in the city they live when I’ve been over there to play, and it has formed long lasting and beautiful friendships. I feel like there is this wonderful thing that when you contact someone who you know online asking if they fancy a dig, or vice versa, the answer is pretty much always absolutely yes. It’s lovely when you are going somewhere and you don’t know anyone; it’s an amazing experience to dig out records that are in the store and sometimes the other person might not know it, and you are able to help each other find things that you have been lucky enough to discover. 

I have to say that my good friend Matt aka DJ Format has to be my favourite person to go digging with. He knows my taste inside out and has the ability to pull things out that he knows I don’t have and that I will love. I think every record he has ever pulled out for me when we have gone digging together (maybe only apart from a few) I have bought. Some of my all time favourite records I have discovered at our ‘Jazz nights’ when we get together and just play records at each other. The word “at” being deliberate because we usually end up just adding things to our Discogs from it, and in a way, that kind of counts for a dig too. Digging through each others collections, it’s wonderful really. I love it. 

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 usually have a game plan, so I usually go through phases where I don’t allow myself to buy any more Spiritual records, and I give myself a rule that for this one shop, it will only be dance floor friendly records or deep records, because I have something particular coming up that I am looking for new bits to play at. I find it helps to have some kind of plan rather than just going in with a totally open mind, because then you end up either being overwhelmed or buying way way too many records. 

Usually I have a few records on the mind that I have been looking for recently on Discogs where none are up for sale, and sometimes when you actually find one, it is a real buzzing moment. That has happened a few times actually and it’s awesome because you save on postage and can pre check the condition properly too. 

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

I would say it does play a part. I mean, the main reason I would always want to buy a record is because of how it sounds, however there has been times when I have bought records without listening to them just because of the artwork, and I will use them to display in my living room where I do my filming for my radio shows. 

Mainly though, if a record sounds amazing and I want it, and the sleeve is rubbish, I wouldn’t be put off buying it. However when you get a beautiful sleeve plus beautiful music, you really do tend to want it more. 

Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?

Firstly, thank you guys so much for having me, it is a real pleasure and I was super delighted to record this for you. 

So the mix is a bit of a journey through some of my favourite Jazz, spiritual Jazz, Latin, Dance Floor Jazz, Ethiopian Jazz, moving onto a few of my most treasured old broken beat records and into one of my all time favourite 7″s from my favourite ever Jazz singer – Norma Winstone and Michael Garrick, and finishing on a track by Mark Almond that actually Matt (DJ Format) showed me at one of our Jazz nights, which makes me melt every time I hear it. It’s beautiful, haunting, sad, warm, everything all in the one track. 

Yeah I guess its a bit of a glimpse into my head through music, a little trip through my records since a lot of them are filed in quite a special way.

Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?

The Norma Winstone and Michael Garrick track. I can honestly say that it’s one of the most beautiful tracks I have ever heard, it is just SO SO good. I can never wrap my head around how it exists because it’s just so mind blowing! 

Also, slightly different in style but Johh Klemmer – Free Soul. Again, absolutely mind blowing and I actually sometimes cry when I play it loud enough because I love it so much. 

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

I would have to say my friend Matt again (DJ Format), since I have got to know his collection a little through various Jazz nights, he just has an INSANELY amazing collection and taste in music, he never seems to stop surprising me with amazing new records. He is also one of the loveliest people and a great friend. 

Also a local collector from Edinburgh who has an insane collection called Jamie Wightman, he seems to have the exact same taste as me, but a far more advanced collection when it comes to the super expensive spiritual records. He actually did an amazing guest mix for my WWFM show, and I found him randomly through the internet which I think is awesome too. He’s not a DJ, just a music fan and record collector which is kind of rare nowadays. 

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

Coco Maria of course, she has an awesome collection and is the most lovely of people too, absolutely check her out. 

Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?

I am super excited to be able to one day play out some of the records that I have been buying during lockdown, that will be a really special time once that is able to happen again. 

Also, I have made an album with 22 local Jazz musicians which is my own take on Spiritual Jazz and should hopefully be coming out on 12″ at some point. That is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time and thanks to the amazing friends around me here in Glasgow, who are super talented musicians, it was able to happen. 

Mainly, I am excited to be able to dig for records with friends once again, in person. That would really be the dream.

Photo credit: Harrison Ried.

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