Diggers Directory: EM & STAV

After almost 15 years spent working on their individual projects, stalwarts of the Bristol music scene and fully fledged power couple EM & STAV have set upon merging their musical paths.

Individually they’ve had their fair share of accolades; Em has held a 15 year residency at Oxford’s Simple and co-runs MixNights alongside Daisy Moon and Danielle, and Stav hosts his regular Restless Nights parties in the city.

After sharing some of their individual productions with one another, they started making music together, releasing their debut EP on Midland’s Intergraded imprint last month, as well as contributing a track to Gottwood’s recent Nottwax compilation, a festival the pair both have close ties to.

To celebrate their inaugural production venture, they deliver a vinyl mix which celebrates the spirit of their favourite place to play and dance; the no frills, all thrills festival, Field Maneuvers. This sits alongside an interview about their 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?

EM: I remember music being played regularly at home when I was growing up. I have two older sisters who used to listen to artists like Primal Scream and Stone Roses. Tracks like ‘Come Together’ and ‘Fools Gold’ stand out massively and I have vivid memories of them sitting in their smokey bedrooms at my parents house, surrounded by plants listening to those records. I was definitely the annoying little sister wanting to hang out. Our parents have collected old 45’s from car boot sales and charity shops for as long as I can remember and they keep a log of the records bought, alphabetically, in a little book. They bought a jukebox super cheap which needed repairing and got a friend to fix it. It’s in a small box room in their house, surrounded by hundreds of 45 inch records spanning from 50s, 60s to 70s gems. The Juke box will always go on when we visit now. This is where my love for records started, no doubt.

STAV: My family loved music, they always had something on in the house growing up, whether it was my dad playing Irish folk music or my grandparents playing Jazz or Classical. I remember my grandparents had an amazing record player in a wooden cabinet which I wasn’t allowed to touch. I’m not sure if it was because I wasn’t allowed near it or if it was the actual record playing which drew me to it. Tbh I only just got into digging in the last eight years, but really fell in love with the whole process of hunting out undiscovered records.

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?

EM: I used to go to raves when I was 15, the crazy amount of effort that went into getting the turntables, the speaker stack and the generator out to the middle of nowhere, the DJs putting maximum effort into playing and seeing everyone just dancing until sunrise and beyond, was definitely the starting point for me getting into dance music.

I remember one of my sisters boyfriends having a wicked house and garage record collection too and used to bring his turntables over when my parents went on holiday and my sisters were meant to be looking after me. They would all have parties and I used to spend the whole time watching the guys mix records. Then, after a trip to Ibiza when I was 17, I came home and went on a mission to hunt out the tunes we’d been hearing and wanted to give mixing a go, it was just records then, so this was the go to. A friend was selling some belt drive turntables so I saved up and would drive to different cities to buy the records we’d been hearing at the parties. I had a big sort out of vinyl when we moved to Bristol and I go through phases when buying records now as I mix between vinyl and digital. I have a ‘music to buy’ list on my laptop and keep a want-list on Discogs and if we’re visiting a record store I’ll pull those lists up and hopefully pick some up.

STAV: I got into DJing later in life, so didn’t start collecting records until around eight years ago. Em had CDJs and turntables at her place, in the beginning I found it easier to learn on CDJs but I persevered with records and started to invest in a few. I really love buying tangible items and seeing the effort some people put into the artwork, it reminds me of when I used to buy jungle and garage tape packs growing up and how wicked the rave flier designs were. Nowadays I enjoy and keep digging due to a desire to hunt out new records that I haven’t heard before, and look forward to others hearing.

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

EM: Our good mate Oli made our DJ stand for us. It fits the decks and CDJs and is nice and compact. The Ikea kallax shelves we had beforehand got pretty battered over the years during house moves so we were happy Oli could make one for us. When filing, my records are divided in genre order – ish, the order makes sense to me, but maybe not to others 🙂 If I have a bunch of records from the same label or artist I tend to keep them together.

STAV: I usually have a bunch of records that never leave my bag, a box by our decks which has a bunch of my favourites that I tend to rotate around depending on what the vibe is for a party or mix and then I share half the unit with Em. They’re placed in genre order, with my favourites on the right hand side of each shelf.

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

EM: Pre lockdown, if I had a gig abroad I’d always try and pop into the local record store. I’ve loved the past couple of times we’ve both played in Berlin. We went record shopping before playing and tried to spend a decent amount of time, like a day or an afternoon at least, then play that night and then try and explore the city/do something ‘wholesome’ a couple of days after the party.

STAV: Popping into our local record shop Idle Hands to see Chris Farrell here in Bristol is always nice, it ends up being a combo of listening to records, swapping veggie meal ideas and chatting about clothes. Chris always has a great selection in there! Another spot I always enjoy digging in is Bikini Wax in Kreuzberg, Berlin. It’s like going digging in someone’s house, the staff are super laid back and it has a relaxed feel about the place. They also have a really good stock of records, be prepared to waste hours in 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?

STAV: No one in particular, I think all record store owners and staff deserve a shout out due to the amount of love and energy they’ve put into music and running a store. We’ve visited lots of shops on our travels, and had great experiences in all of them. I’ll always have a chat with a staff member, and get them to recommend some records to check along the lines of the records I’ve picked out, or label’s I like, it’s always interesting to listen to what they pull out for you.

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?

EM: I co-run a DJ course in Bristol for Womxn called ‘MixNights’ and this is one of the things we discuss in our sessions and it’s interesting to hear how people deal with this situation. If it’s a new shop I’ll tend to head to the house and techno crates first and flick through the rack and see if there are any artists or labels I recognise and then pull those out to listen. Once I’ve taken my time digging through those I tend to clock if the person is available to chat to in store and get some recommendations. I try to take my time and not rush the process.

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

EM: No not really, I love finding those rare records, with a white label, no info and you can’t Shazam it. I have one which I bought about 15 years ago, I have no idea who it’s by, the track name or label. I think it makes it even more special when playing it.

STAV: I have a few records in my Discogs Wantlist which I hope I stumble across one day. This one has been in my wantlist for a long time now, it’s a 1996 unknown Artist – untitled record with a sticker that reads E006 on it, Acid house/ tech house vibe. I’m not sure who tipped me off about it or where I heard it, all three tracks are great, but B2 is the one and I feel it would go down really well on the dance floor.

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?

EM: I love shopping with stav, we end up pulling out tracks for each other and we take our time and make a bit of a day or an afternoon of it.

STAV: If I’m heading to Idle Hands or travelling alone I’m happy to get my head down and spend some time looking and listening to records. It’s always nice when I head to a shop with Em, as we often stumble across a record or two that we know the other person will like. We try and head to a record store whenever we’re in a different city, it’s pretty much at the top of our list when visiting new places.

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

EM: I’m a sucker for colourful artwork, but you sometimes find the tune doesn’t link up, however, I also have to listen to all the tunes because guaranteed the one that has the most basic artwork or something not so inviting is gonna be a banger.

STAV: There is definitely some amazing artwork out there which catches the eye, but I try not to get too caught up in the artwork when digging, as I’ve got some cracking records that are no thrills, hand stamped.

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

EM: Ben UFO, he has without doubt the most versatile collection. I’m massively inspired by his approach to DJing, effortlessly shifts between genres and tempos and the records in his collection. Also, Eris Drew and her blend of ecstatic ‘90s breaks and house records. I was blown away after seeing her play last year in the Sputnik at Field Maneuvers. I read in an article that her mission is to send love through the speakers and heal the people on the dance floor and every time I’ve seen her play she definitely projects that through her tunes and her presence behind the decks. 

STAV: Sadly, he’s no longer with us. Alex T worked at Tribe Records based in Leeds and was a fountain of knowledge, he had an amazing collection and taste in music at such a young age. We were always swapping and recommending tunes to each other online, he would always send a batch of records down that he thought we would like. He probably didn’t know this but I definitely admired his collection and the infectious energy he had digging out those gems, and sharing them. Most people keep them a secret! He was one of life’s legends and is massively missed by everyone who knew him.

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

EM: This mix is based around Field Maneuvers, we were meant to play this summer but due to the pandemic it has been postponed until 2021. We have been every year and after year 1 it quickly became our favourite place to dance and play. It’s super intimate with just three stages that are all placed only a few yards from each other, literally no frills, full of quality music, all weekend at the tail end of the summer. We both wanted to pull out our favourite tunes which we would have packed for FM, between us, we both have record collections which bounce through a large spectrum of genres so wanted to encompass all of that in this mix. When we recorded it we just kept imagining playing in the Sputnik, the intense and sweaty geodesic rave dome 🙂

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

EM: I love the D. Tiffany ‘Cruel Trance’ track at the start of the mix, it’s one I’ve just picked up and is super deep and trippy. I would have loved to have played it in a festival setting this year.

STAV: A firm favourite that never leaves my bag is Stopouts ‎– Ahead Of Us. All 3 tracks are lovely, we start the mix off with ‘Looking for the books’. Class record!

Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?

EM: The launch of Saffrons Digital members club for Womxn in Tech, the music Stav and I have been making during lockdown and looking forward to the time we can dance on a dance floor with mates once again soon.

Afterglow is out now on Intergraded. Photo credit: Tom Ham.

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