Sometimes it feels like we have the whole world within our reach — and we’re still too lazy to lean over and grab it.
By “we” I mostly mean “me.” The number of free records — promos — sent to 5 Mag every day hasn’t yet crested and it’s rarely less than 100 per day. The problem used to be trying to get through all of that (and we still, aspirationally, try to do that). That’s not the problem now though. The problem now is we’re rarely looking outside of it. Record by record is hand-delivered to us. Brick by brick they form a wall, and we find ourselves less and less frequently walking outside of it.
It’s all “the inbox” — the emails, the promo services, the Facebook feed, the algorithm, the notification pings. We even set up alerts ourselves, believing it will alert us to the next hot record, but in reality it’s just nagging us about the next one that’s similar to the last. If you liked that, you’ll love this. But do you? In a moment of weakness, I once bought a Chocolate Puma record in 2007 and I’ve been trapped in the Defected sales funnel ever since. Since Pandora broke in a big way I’ve been hearing that recommendation engines are amazing. I’ve never seen it. One out of every five Beatport or Traxsource recommendations seem relevant and Discogs has been trying to sell me that same copy of Andrés New 4 U since 2012.
The dopest music, we all know, lives in the margins — the hand-stamped white label, the disco/drone mix up, the strange music that comes from artists that don’t sound like something we already love…
Some might argue there was a time when the flow of “inbox” music more or less matched the scene. If that was ever true, it’s not true today. When people are only playing or covering records they’re sent, they’re missing out. On a lot.
This is not one of those stories crying that Instacart, Postmates and Amazon have made people’s brains flabby. They’re all probably fine for most consumers (particularly since they’re each selling their services at a loss to try to drive each other out of the market.) But I don’t think a model in which you play what you’re delivered is good for music or culture generally — particularly not for DJs or fans of DJ-centric music.
Serendipity has always played a major role in this scene. The originators of this scene — the Frankies, the Larrys, the Ronnies, the Tonys — found crazy records and some of them by accident. While there was an informal circuit of DJs trading 12″s (and the NY connection was important above all else), some of those weird Italo cutouts and space disco monsters never would have been found and transformed into “house classics” if the DJs hadn’t been digging for something more.
What’s the oldest record in your set? Without being silly, what’s the oldest record that you seem to play the most? How did you find it?
I realize this is more difficult today, but I’m astounded by how many absolute fucking legends I never heard of before I stumbled across a random record. I mean that their name has never been mentioned in my presence, that I remember. We can all be smug about it but we all are introduced to TK Disco or Anthony Shakir for the first time at some point. How often does that process of rediscovery happen today, and is it as often as it should?
How many records do you play and have no idea who made them?
When was the last time you scanned a distributor’s up & coming list? When did you last just hit a hashtag on Bandcamp or SoundCloud and scroll by “most recent”?
And how is a new artist supposed to break into this bubble world, unless they consciously attempt to sound like someone that’s already made it inside?
Young people are being shut out. Joining them are other folks who are better at making music than kissing ass.
Getting out of the inbox isn’t something you just do once and you’ve made it to the promised land of good music and better karma. I think you have to make a constant effort at it. I’m still always going to instinctively gravitate toward names and labels that I know in genres I already like. But the dopest music, we all know, lives in the margins — the hand-stamped white label, the disco/drone mix up, the strange music that comes from artists that don’t sound like something we already love. It’s just a hard road to get there.
Yet it’s one of those things that’s a truly virtuous circle — it’s as good for the people whose music you find as it is for yourself. Outside of the stimulation of escaping your comfort zone, finding something new builds out your neural pathways. It tickles your brain.
So it’s our aspirational goal this year not to get to “Inbox Zero” but to get out of the inbox altogether, to plan stories with people we’ve never heard of and mixes from unknown bedroom DJs without bios or headshots. Maybe Spotify and the algorithms have won and it’s too late to totally escape from our bubbles, but we shouldn’t go down without a fight.