This week, our MIX SERIES has been taken over by Fraser Moss of YMC.
An avid record collector – he described recently being featured in vinyl aficionado's magazine Record Collector as like "being on the front of Vogue" - Fraser produces his own Radio Buzzy podcast series for YMC and we invited him to release the latest installment as part of our MIX SERIES.
What's more, the YMC co-founder also invited us over to Brighton to talk to him about his mammoth record collection.
What follows is the result of a hazy afternoon spent in the pub with Fraser, talking about music, life, and the various trials and tribulations associated with record collecting.
Each of us, either on a large scale or small, is a collector. Whether it is football cards, autographs, or egg cups, collecting is an intriguing quirk of human nature, with each collection bearing the indelible fingerprint of the collector. Collections impose order on chaos and preserve fragments of the past encoded in physical form – relics of memories made and lives lived.
There is, however, something specific about vinyl that can transform a run-of-the-mill collector into a certified obsessive: the type of person who will get up at 6am on a wet Sunday morning to visit a car boot sale; the type of person who can't pass a charity shop without stopping to leaf through boxes of dusty records; and the type of person who will spend the majority of their adult life searching for a first pressing of Bowie's Space Oddity.
Fraser Moss, the co-founder of London label YMC, is a record collector, and proudly so. His collection lives in a shed – it's actually more of a small bungalow – at the bottom of his garden in Brighton and consists of over 15,000 singles and 7,000 LPs. There used to be more.
"When I moved down here I liberated a lot of my collection and got rid of 5,000 LPs", he recalls, "but it's built up again". The thing about record collectors, you see, is that once they've started they find it very hard to stop.
We met Fraser in a pub in Brighton not too far from his house. It was a world of dark wood and worn leather. Locals huddled around tables sipping pints at three in the afternoon and although five years had passed since the introduction of the smoking ban, as light poured in through small grubby windows the air still curled with the memory of cigarette smoke.
Prejudice tells you that this is the natural habitat of the record collector, a self-contained world where elderly men talk in hushed, reverent tones about rare LPs and recall former glories. Fraser tells a different story.
As a youngster in Newport, he remembers saving his dinner money, not for sweets or comics but for second hand vinyl. "It got me into this weird and wonderful world" he says. "First I went through a real rock phase. Then I grew out of that and got into the electro scene of the early-80s. From there I discovered p-funk and by the late-80s I was heavily into the Seattle scene and the whole Subpop thing."
Discovery is central to the appeal, as is the hope that the next life-changing record is just around the corner. Fraser enthusiastically talks about a "domino effect" where records connect in a colossal sonic family tree and "you find something knocks onto the next and then you're lost". To emphasise the point, as we are talking Robert Wyatt's crisp falsetto cuts through the background noise of the pub, provoking a conversation that branches off on tangents that span decades and cross continents. In Fraser's world the box sitting in the corner of the room isn't a record player, it's a space ship and a time machine.
But while record collectors may play at being archaeologists "digging up the past", to use Fraser's words, they are also archivists, cataloguing and curating their own personal museum of memories. "My record collection is like a diary" says Fraser, "I don't write things down".
What sounds like an affectation lifted from Nick Hornby's High Fidelity - the ultimate work on love, loss, and record collecting – points to an underlying truth about collecting. It's a point that is captured perfectly in a scene from the film adaptation of the aforementioned novel, where the main character, in a moment of emotional turmoil, decides to reorganise his record collection not alphabetically or chronologically but autobiographically. When asked to describe how this feels, he replies with one word: "comforting".
Collecting certainly provides comfort - an extended adult form of the child's security blanket – yet any record collector will tell you that, at times, the hobby is far from calming. "You see people at a boot fair and they're running to the cars", says Fraser. "It's that kind of mentality".
There lies the irony, the schizophrenic nature of collecting. On the one hand you have the ecstatic joy of discovery and the reassurance that expanding your collection brings - "I'm 46 now", says Fraser, "and I'm discovering new things every day". Yet on the other hand there is the background anxiety sorrounding where your next record will come from, the fear that someone else might find it first, and the unconscious knowledge that a record collection is like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with 999 pieces – it will never be complete.
"It's 2012 and people are still discovering new psych tracks from 1967", remarks Fraser. Seemingly, the collector's job is never done. Yet, this is as much due to changing tastes as it is to do with the wealth of music out there to discover. This is an idea that Fraser relates to his design work with YMC.
"If I took anything from punk", he says, "because I certainly didn't get into it, it was that reactionary thing. As soon as you see someone wearing a certain look you think: 'right it's time to move on.'" The same is true of music, your favourite track one week can sound tired and mundane the next.
The need to keep things fresh drives collectors to expand their collections, but it also creates a competitive streak, and in the world of record collecting music is power.
"I've never been like those Northern Soul DJs who used to paint out their labels", says Fraser. "They'd play these tunes and everyone would go mental, but no one would ever know what they were dancing to. I just never got that. If I found something I loved my natural reaction is 'listen to this, listen to this!' Even if people were like 'that's shit!'"
At one end of the record collecting spectrum is the closeted compulsive who keeps rare records under glass and delights in never showing his hand, while at the other end is Fraser, the habitual sharer.
YMC's podcast series, Radio Buzzy, is this attitude writ large and played loud. "We just had this idea that my records were going to waste, just festering in my shed," says Fraser, "and I had my own little discothèque in my head, so I thought it would be a good idea to do podcasts."
Charting the progression of Fraser's musical tastes, each show focuses on a particular genre and is lovingly crafted from rare records pulled from the depths of Fraser's collection. Sunshine pop and frat rock have already been covered, and Fraser has kindly allowed us to exclusively release the next show – titled Dad's Disco - as part of our oki-ni MIX SERIES.
Many collectors have a sense of humour bypass where their collections are concerned, but every element of the Radio Buzzy podcast series, from the show titles down to the artwork, created by illustrator Will Sweeney, has a lightness and humour that introduces levity into what could be a very serious business.
That said, now and again Fraser's inner record collector does break out. "I know it sounds anal", he says almost apologetically, "but I wanted to try and do it on original 45s, no represses, no LPs, just hardcore, you know, anal!"
We're not complaining! While everyone is a collector on some scale, it is that obsessive streak that drives a collector to become an expert. If the line between madness and genius is fine, then the boundary between collector and obsessive is similarly slender. The remarkable thing isn't that Fraser's collection exists, it is that he is allowing us to share it, via Radio Buzzy. This is the chance to take a guided tour of his life's work – an admission ticket to the little disco in his head.