It was some 25 years ago when I was just some kid in my early teens. I got hooked on electronic music and as I got to know more about it, would marvel at some the DJs. I hadn’t the slightest clue what was going on, but did I ever want to be in control of the music. I didn’t know any DJ names, and buying records wasn’t exactly a task where I could just beg my parents to drive me to the mall so I could pick them up. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue where I’d even go about buying a record as opposed to a CD. That is until my 16th birthday.
That year I came to Toronto with my then girlfriend. She knew even less about this mythical rave scene than I did, and my knowledge was juvenile at best. It was at Numb clothing that I saw my first records, a small little rack with maybe 80 or so on them – a very meager selection, but I gazed. I believe they ended up giving us the names of a few other places to check out for more selection and remember walking aimlessly around the city streets looking for these places. We left the city later that evening, and I was proudly carrying 3 records I’d bought. I was hooked.
Future trips to the city would always consist of going to the record stores. The usual haunts of Eastern Bloc, The Pit, Metropolis, and I’d pop my head into Numb to see what they had. I found used record bins in some clothing stores, which was an excellent source of cheap vinyl – music to the ears of a 16 year old with limited cash with a brand new addiction. I managed to expropriate my father’s belt drive home stereo turntable so I could listen to these prized possessions and listen I did. My first mixer was a Pyramid 4 channel monstrosity bought for my by my father a year earlier on my birthday – and my second my most prized possession at the time – only to be overshadowed by my considerably growing music collection. It was always a constant battle of how much money I could spend on vinyl vs CDs. Burning CDs hadn’t yet been offered on a commercial scale as of yet, Napster hadn’t even become a thought in Shawn Parker’s mind, and I was forced to choose if I’d buy new commercial music on CD to play at house parties, or another record to add to my collection of “rave” music. If I recall correctly it was usually a 70/30 split between CDs to vinyl as I simply had no place to ever play that vinyl besides my home.
I started playing music out at hockey games during intermissions. That progressed to the school cafeteria, and naturally high school house parties. With my trusty Pyramid mixer, 5 disc CD changer, and portable Sony Discman hooked up with an aux cable, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and was too ignorant to know that was even the case. I didn’t know how to mix, but I seemed to really have an ear for good music. I still always itched to play that vinyl though and would take any opportunity to do so. Heck, I even got a job at a local DJ shop and would routinely pull out a single Technics SL-1200MKII turntable – the holy grail of turntables – to listen to my records at work. I would get excited when we’d get a rental for turntables because it meant I had a chance to play some of my records, and you best believe I ALWAYS brought some with me just in case. By dumb luck, the darnedest thing happened.
A guy by the name of Dwayne McDowell was renting some turntables, heard some of the records I had, and told me they were pretty awesome. He told me I should show up at this house party he was playing that night and bring my music. I think I pissed my pants with excitement just a little bit, but more likely a lot bit. Conveniently the party was about 2 blocks from where I lived so I could easily get there and home without the help of my father who likely would have never agreed to letting me go – and I’m pretty sure I told him I was going to one of my friend’s places to hangout or whatever. Amazing.
Now, unknown to me at the time, with my record collection of about 12 at this point, knew that almost none of them were even all the same genre. I had some melodic trance, a banging techno record, 2 happy hardcore records, house, and one that had some commercial dance tunes on it. Shortly after I arrived and the basement of this house was filled with people, cigarette smoke thick in the air, Dwayne told me “play some tunes man!” as he stepped out likely to smoke dope with others. I played every one of my records, flipped them over and played the other sides, mixing them together about as good as you could imagine a kid mixing who has never heard the word “beatmatching” (to those that aren’t familiar, just think of bad, and then multiply that by like 3). Only, I had no idea that I sucked (some argue I still do!). I think I played for a good 45 minutes or so until Dwayne returned, and we played a few together. I’d watch what he was doing and hadn’t the slightest clue what was going on. I slid out of there before my dad would become too suspect that I was out too late, and called it a night. I went to bed glowing.
The next day Dwayne returned his rental and told me everyone loved my stuff. I thought I was some badass, despite being absolute trash. Looking back, I imagine 90% of the people there were all high out of their minds or had no idea what a good DJ sounded like so as far as they were concerned I could have probably played nothing but white noise layered overtop of a Bob Segar tune and they would have thought it was glorious. This led to him having me be the opening DJ at this place called the Chamelon Cafe. I’d play my records, and all the other DJs knew I was trash, but they tried to give me some pointers along the way. Bless their hearts. My collection began to grow rapidly at this point as I was sinking the majority of my money into new wax as opposed to CDs now.
Ask any DJ the story of how they got their collection to where it is and you’ll likely hear the same thing over and over. They’d spend hours at a time in record stores listening to sky high stacks. They’d have the seasoned record store DJs salivate seeing you walk through the door because they knew you would buy whatever they told you was a “must have banger!” and you damn well would shell out – meanwhile they’re unloading their trash nobody else will buy on you. When you are standing there idolizing the guy trying desperately to hold back “OMG, are you the real DJ ____”, while they play the trash and make grimacing faces to signal this is a total gem, it’s near impossible to tell them “naw, I don’t like it”. That’s how many of us ended up with that one crate we never touched, and likely never have since. As the Internet began to evolve, DJs will tell you that they’d spend days on record store websites from the UK, amassing a shopping cart easily reaching 500 quid and having to whittle that down to less than 100 if not a lot less. Getting a credit card was not only a blessing, but also a massive curse. That’s many of their stories, and it’s mine too.
As time went on, I’d find other DJs with parts of their collections they were looking to unload and would offer them half decent prices for the entire lot. I planned to resell them individually and keep the stuff I liked to help offset the cost. My one biggest score was a roller rink that was unloading their entire vinyl collection. I paid $1000 and ended up getting somewhere in the realm of 10 crates of records – an absolute steal. Many got sold but I kept more than I care to admit. And things more or less continued like that for some time. I’d buy another shipment from IMO records and occasionally get in on a “big shipment” with other DJs because if we did it that way we’d save on the insane shipping prices we all paid to get them here. While I got deals on these big lots I’d find used, new ones would usually work out to be about $15/record, and sometimes you only got one track. If you were lucky you’d get a remix and maybe a second song on the flipside. I’d dread double packs, because you’d get 4 tracks, have to pay $25-$30 and you usually only wanted it for one song. It was the worst.
When I was 18, still with a very small vinyl collection, I knew I’d need turntables to practice at home if I was ever going to properly learn how to DJ. I “rented to own” a pair of Technics SL-1200MKii’s from my work. I think at the end of it all I paid a ton of interest, but at one point they were finally mine free and clear. It was a big investment – something along the lines of $1800 with tax – especially for an 18 year old with an after-school job. I set them up proudly in my mother’s living room because that’s where the stereo was. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she must have absolutely hated this idea, yet she didn’t complain.
Things progressed and I began to buy professional DJ CD Players. At first it was a Gemini dual CD player with pitch bend buttons and a miniscule pitch control slider about 1″ long. That progressed to a better dual CD player, and then Pioneer CDJ-100’s and CDJ-200’s – a pretty standard unit for most DJs at the time. Slowly but surely I was using my turntables less and my CD players almost exclusively. I had all but stopped buying new vinyl as it was so expensive and availing myself of the digital downloads I could buy instead and burn. Times were changing, and fast.
What’s a promo you ask? It’s when a producer or record label sends you an advance copy of a song that’s coming out (or, may never come out). That’s the easiest way of saying it. Promos were rare on vinyl due to the cost so getting one was a fucking honour; but with digital taking hold, producers could send them out a lot easier and to more people, at basically no cost. I can’t remember my first one, but I do remember the feeling.
Promos, or dubplates, or whatever you want to call them – they were – and very much are – prized possessions. When you get a promo, you don’t share that stuff. Ever. Dubplates are a whole other things and could easily be it’s own post.
As I began becoming a bit more of a prominent DJ and playing bigger shows, promos came more often. Producers hoping I’d use their tracks in a set, or even on a mixtape. It’d get them exposure and hopefully create some hype for that track to be released. Maybe it was just a bootleg they’d made which could never be released so they gave it to some friends to play anyways. Having a stack of promos is kind of like having a collection of music nobody else on the planet has – it’s invaluable.
CDs were the mainstay for quite some time, but players soon evolved to have USB slots in them. You could load up your music on a thumb drive and voila – you’d have thousands of songs on a little tiny device. The sigh of relief DJs had when they could bring a CD binder to a gig with more music than 4 heavy crates of vinyl was essentially the same sigh they all had when those CD binders turned to something about 3 grams and fit in their pocket.
I turned in my _very_ trusty CDJ-800’s for a pair of Pioneer CDJ-900 NEXUS players. These things had this special software called RecordBox built into it. Without getting into a big thing, it’s more or less software that changes the entire landscape of DJing and where the industry was going at a rapid pace. It brought a whole new angle to DJing and I had these players in my home – which certainly came in handy as I started an online weekly live stream – and having the latest technology in the studio was pretty critical for having guests over.
As the stream evolved, so did my setup. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that the stream more or less ceased to exist overnight. Nobody in their right mind was having people into their homes and I saw it as a good time to likely call it a day. It was then that I realized I had basically quit as a DJ in the public eye. I never intended it to happen like this, but it did.
Even months into the pandemic, and all but fully accepted I probably wasn’t going to do another radio show or ever play out again, I still kept going. I upgraded my studio, bought a 3rd CD Player, upgraded my mixer, and bought some other toys. The studio computer got completely revamped, and I added additional high-def cameras. They’ve been used once.
And just like I can’t seem to let go of wanting to just have “the perfect studio”, I can’t seem to let go of the idea of selling my music. The reality is, I haven’t played even ONE of my records in nearly 6 years now. My turntables are safely in heavy duty flight cases, sitting in storage. As for my vinyl, some of it still sits on a shelf in my studio, but most of it is all in storage too. I sold about 4 crates few years ago – all of the stuff that I knew I’d never play again, tracks I’d got as parts of collections, and more or less things I didn’t care about in the least.
Thinking back, my collection of records probably cost me $30,000, likely even more over the years. If I was to piece it out one by one and find sellers, I’d be lucky to get $5k for it all now – only because there’s a handful of super rare shit in there that’s still fetching a pretty penny. If I sold it as a lot, maybe I could get $2500 on a good day. The collection is a pretty significant history of Happy Hardcore from the late 90’s through 2005 – arguably one of the better collections of that stuff still remaining in Canada and maybe North America. I’ve got a very respectable collection of UK Hard House & Trance from the golden era of those genres.
I think about this from time to time. If they’ll never get played again, what am I holding onto? A bunch of torn record sleeves on a shelf? Some personal trophy that really means nothing with inches of dust caked on it so thick you can’t even read the plaque anymore? Sitting there, these absolute gems of another era will never be heard, never be enjoyed, or never have the remaining life they have left in them lived.
It was for that reason that about 5 years ago I more or less gave about 5 crates of my collection to someone. They were a relatively new DJ, and had bought my spare pair of SL-1200’s from me (ya, I had 2 pairs at one point). This person was really excited and enthusiastic – they reminded me of myself as I bought my first pair of 12’s nearly 20 years prior. I dug through my various crates, probably about 15 at the time, and came out with about 1/3rd of it that I wasn’t emotionally attached to – all records I knew would never get played by me ever again – even if one day I decided I wanted to start playing vinyl again. I could pay it forward and give them to someone who only had a few. They’d cherish this stuff far more than I ever would again. I did those records justice. I let those go, and from what I gather they got (and I hope still do) get regular use.
But, just as I wrote previously – I always kept my core.
And that’s more or less where I sit with them today. Of the nearly 20 crates I’d amassed at one point in my life, I’m down to about 8 now. Of those remaining 8 crates – what I’d estimate to be 700 or so records – I’d say about half are pretty important to me. The rest I put up on Discogs for sale. There’s a lot of classic stuff in there, rare stuff, and things that if I let go, I’ll never again have even if I search for them.
I sold a record a few weeks ago that was a VERY limited test press, only 20 ever made. The guy who bought it from me was the original producer of the record. He’d lost his original files over time, and his only copy of the record was completely destroyed. He paid me $30 for it, plus another $40 to ship it to Spain in an insured package. His messages to me begging me to properly pack the thing so it wasn’t damaged were a cry to get a piece of his life back that he thought he’d lost forever. The thing was, I don’t remember buying this record, which store it came from, or if I’d ever played it. It was just some non-descript whitelabel release of a track that wasn’t bad, but wasn’t really my style. Yet it meant something to him. That record had found justice.
I’ve battle with that thought for the better part of 10 years, it becoming a more and more serious question as the years roll on. I think I’ve come to a conclusion. My “core” collection of tunes sits in my studio, where-as the stuff in storage are things that while valuable to me, do not hold a considerable sentimental or valuable place in my heart. They’ll be sold off bit by bit, however I’m in no rush – and if they don’t sell, that’s totally OK too. I’m only looking for people who truly want what they buy – and slowly but surely I’m finding buyers – about one every 2-3 weeks.
I have 2 full sized, and 2 half sized record flight cases. They should hold about 250 records. The way I see it, what I can fit in there, I’ll keep forever – no matter what. If the rest stay with me, that’s cool, but it’s not needed. I’ve found most of this stuff digitally and have copies of it, and the ones I don’t, I’ll (maybe) get around the ripping one day in the future (I say this, and I’m sure I still won’t have done it in 10 years from now).
I’ll continue to hold onto this vision of having a studio when I move out of the city. I don’t know what it’ll look like, but I know it absolutely will have my turntables once again brought out and setup. I’ll have a shelf of records, my digital players, mixer, and various streaming gear. If it gets used once a month I’d be baffled – likely more like once every 6 months. But, it’s there. Maybe I’ll have some old friends over one day and we’ll all reminisce and play old tunes that only I’ve kept all these years once again. That’s kind of a little happy thought of mine – getting together with the old crew and reliving times we’d nearly forgotten.
Maybe I’ll have a kid one day that would take an interest in the silly music dad used to play 30 years ago. I doubt it, but I guess that’s kind of many parents’ dream – to have their kid take a real interest in what they used to be into, and loved at one time, to share that bond with your child. It’s a nice thought, but usually an unrealistic one. After all, I can’t particularly see a teenager growing up in 2040 thinking “You know what’s fucking amazing? Happy Hardcore from 1998”.
Technics SL-1200’s are harder to come by these days, fetching around $2500 a pair. They’re still by and large the most sought after and requested turntable on the market – even though they haven’t been made in forever. Other brands have knocked them off and done a pretty good job – but nothing will ever dethrone the king. If I sold my turntables, the records I’d keep from then-on-in would be all but decorations. I’m not selling my decks.
The vinyl, I’ll let go of some – I think that’s a reasonable compromise. But the rest, I’ll move that stuff as many times as I need to. If I’m 70 years old, I’ll drag those bloody crates into the retirement home if I need to. Or, at least I want to hope I will. I’m going to hold onto this idea that one day I’ll pour myself a drink and revisit my collection. I’ll smack that solid aluminum start/stop button, and the platter will spin up to full speed in a fraction of a second. Tunes I nearly forgot will fill the studio with life, and it’ll be a moment of nostalgia. I laugh at the thought of some 55 year old guy playing cheesy techno music at obscene speeds in his man cave, but that’s essentially what it’d be.
It makes me think about if I was to die tomorrow, would the person who has to sort out my affairs just toss this collection in the trash, or drop it off at some music store? Would the music store even know what they have? I don’t have any specific instructions for my vinyl in my last will & testament, but that makes me think that maybe I should consider putting in a provision as such. At very least, it could be given to a list of people I know who would appreciate what’s been collected, even if they’ll never use them or listen to them again. People who could put this stuff in the hands of someone who would one day. I’ll be dead, what do I care – but while I’m living it does matter. What happens to that music is important to me.
That collection is a serious slice of my life. It represents a passion I’ve held, a passion that took my life in a direction I never thought it’d go, and a passion that allowed me to meet people that have forever changed & shaped my life. I’d be silly to believe anyone else would see the same value in it that I do, but that’s kind of the point. This is something that I built for myself, something that took me decades to put together, and holds a sentimental part of my heart. I’m going to hold onto that until the day I realize it’s OK to let it go. But, that day certainly isn’t today – I’ve still got some children to annoy with dad’s shitty old man music – or at very least, a few nights many years from now revisiting that sentimental place in my heart.