The highly respected record shop owner, label boss and vinyl digger selects some classics from his collection.
Buttle's record shop, once based in London but now located in Brighton, became a hub for intercontinental dance music. He later branched out into reissues, redistributing fantastic music and films from all over the world. His Brazilian Beats compilations, for instance, are an exhaustive introduction to the nation's unique music. He's made otherwise unobtainable music widely available, and helped obscure artists find a global audience.
Buttle's enthusiasm remains striking today. When we met in Brighton, he was jetlagged from a recent digging trip and had the beginnings of a cold. But he still talked eagerly about new musical finds and the artists who have inspired him. Buttle proves that even for the most hardcore record nerd, there's always a new discovery just around the corner.
Cuban Music Jam Session
Tell me about Cachao.
He came from a family of bass players. Cachao and his brother invented the mambo. So they are very important. All these tracks are really heavy. They've got all the classic musicians of that era that he was working with. All the percussionists on here, they're all legends. This for me this was the holy grail. It wasn't that it was that hard to get or anything, but the sound is so deep.
When did you first encounter this kind of music?
I suppose the first of it was getting it through Northern soul. You've got your Ray Barrettos and your Joe Bataans, which are great, and then you just carry on digging from there. And then if you get into salsa, you might be into Cuban stuff, the heavy stuff. Obviously the DJs of that time, Gilles [Peterson] and that, were very influential in playing stuff and giving it the platform.
You've been to South America many times to dig. Tell me about your first trip.
I knew that I could get the Fania catalogue, and they were all being repressed in Venezuela. I was about 22, 23. I didn't know anyone in Venezuela. So I'm getting to this hotel, and you checked your guns in at the hotel. It was like a bank window, you just put your gun in as you took your key. It was bizarre. I didn't really know how rough Venezuela was until I got there. We had some good times there, digging through these warehouses. And then there was lots of good Venezuelan stuff. Again similar trips to Cuba, not as heavy, but digging through people's houses. And then some of the Colombian warehouses were good. And again, obviously digging around Brazil was always fun.
Were you bringing back stuff to sell?
Yeah, I was always coming back with suitcases, but it got to the stage where it was too much and you couldn't take it, and you had to ship it. So then I had to find a shipper, and then the customs would think you're selling drugs. There was a time when Colombian drug dealers were putting cocaine in between records, and I was bringing in all the Colombian records in. In the end I was shipping a lot of stuff from America, from Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.
I heard you were being accosted by record collectors at the airport?
There were a couple of trips where I got to Heathrow and there were guys waiting there, and they would just jump on you and find out what you got.
How did you feel about that after a long-haul flight?
I felt mauled. It was a horrible feeling. It was very competitive. People would draw knives on you in shops.
Yeah there was a guy who drew a knife on someone, in I think Honest Jon's. So these records, Som Três or whatever, people were just paying huge money. And they didn't know how rare it was. There was no eBay or anything like Discogs to find how many there actually were out there, you were just desperate to get them. At any cost.
What year did you pick this up? Many people would have probably discovered it through Floating Points and Four Tet.
You're talking about early 2000s probably.
What's so special about this album?
It was an album that wasn't that hard to get hold of a while ago. But no one really rated it, and I used to always play the track on there "Que Bandeira." It's a really nice track. Then people started playing "Esperar Prá Ver" and it just took off. I picked this record because I thought, well, it's been such an important record to break the Brazilian scene out to the disco and to the house guys and the younger kids. Same with Marcos Valle's "Estrelar." You know, these records are really important to us, because they helped open a lot of doors.
Dancing In Outer Space
Andy Sojka from Atmosfear was responsible for a lot of great music. He did Powerline and also he signed Level 42 before they got going. Let's face it, there isn't a lot of amazing English disco.
This was an anthem at The Loft in New York. It was also a crossover hit in the UK.
Andy remembers he sold about 50,000 in one week and he still could barely get into the top 40. That's how things were.
What's your relationship with this record?
I started digging all the more disco stuff and we used to have a Japanese shop and a Japanese label, Disorient. We knew that Masters At Work wanted to remix it. So I spent about two weeks over in New York mixing it with them, and that was a great privilege, they were real fun guys. In fact, just as they were mixing it they got sent the 4hero remix of "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun," which for me is one of the greatest remixes of all time. And we were listening to that, drinking some champagne, having just done the remix for Atmosfear, so those were good days.
Sadly, on one of the trips, Andy found out he had some kind of leukemia, where his bones started breaking on the plane. But we managed to do some healing with him. And I got him involved because I do some alternative medicine stuff, and we probably got him another five years of life, really. So he kept going, we did some albums together. He's a really inspiring character. Andy was a very gutsy guy.
Did you trade MAW some records for some remixes?
Yeah that's right. I was out living in Ghana with my wife and kids for a while, and they wanted some Fela Kuti records. Fela used to have a record shop beside the Kalakuta, the republic he made. It did have some Fela records, although most of them were pretty fucked. But at that time you couldn't get them at all. So I just bought some in the best condition I could find. Then when I got back to England I gave them to the guys and that kinda paid... at that time, they were so expensive. They were like 25,000 bucks each. You know, you just couldn't afford it. It was just a way of getting it all to work.
When you reissued this record you said in the PR, "Music from Mali is arguably deeper, more sophisticated and lyrical than any other form of African music."
I think it's deeper in a sense because Mali is more isolated. Mali seems to have created its own kind of hub. And I think that's why, over the years, people have been drawn to it in a different way to other places. A lot of other dance music is dance music. It doesn't have to work on any other level.
The Griot thing, the tradition. So it's embedded in this tradition, it's come with all this musical depth. I don't know, there's just this hidden quality about it. You've got the big Muslim influence, you've got all the different tribes. It's just something about the isolation of the place. You're middle of the Sahara, really. The guitar playing. Just the intensity in which they play in, the levels they've got to as musicians. And the way it's recorded as well, I think it lends a lot. It's got a lot of space in it.
You're putting out a compilation of Malian music. Is that a challenge?
The licensing's probably the most difficult part, trying to find these guys out in Mali, clear it with their family or whatever. And even Malick Sidibé, the photographer [involved with the project], he passed away while we were putting it together, so we had to get hold of his family. And that was the inspiration, really. Just because we wanted to capture that period. That was key.
Do you feel a weight of responsibility to make sure that those dealings are happening in the most positive way possible?
Yeah definitely. I mean, I think you try and act honorably. You make sure everyone gets paid. You have to because these things are for life. When we release a record, we want to be able to release it 20 years from now and have good relations with everyone. So if, for instance, someone did want to bring some of these artists over to back up the record then it could be something you do.
Everyone has experiences with artists because they're tortured souls to a certain extent, and they've been done over by a lot of people. They can be paranoid, they can be poor, they can be wealthy—all sorts of different head spaces. So you just have to see how you get a reaction, at what time, and hope if you give an honest contract with some money that they'll be OK with that.
And I guess with compilations like this, it may be an introduction to a new culture for many listeners.
That's right. And in that sense you've got a responsibility. You've got to explain it to them and convey it in the right way, and hope that they can get it. It's gotta be something they can get into.
What Color Is Love
I used to supply Soul II Soul's shop in Camden. I was buying stuff like Roy Ayers, you know, your standard stuff. Terry wasn't on everyone's radar, that was more a Northern soul thing, but I liked the sound of it. Even now I listen to it and you hear the quality, it just sounds like it was made yesterday. It's just so fresh.
We ended up working with Terry for like ten, 12 years. And the gigs he would perform at were just mind-blowing. It's a nice circular thing to have done, to have been into him at a young age and then to actually have worked with him as well. It's an amazing privilege.
Was this one of the records that inspired you to go deeper?
Yeah it inspires me to see that it's not just a soul record. That record is just orchestral, it's got depth lyrically, and it just shows you that records can work on many different levels. They don't have to just be a fun beat. They can actually have soul—real soul—and they can have strings, and they can have different layers and nuances. It's same like the Arthur Verocai records. It's a record you can dip into, but actually it's got lots of deeper layers if you've got the time.
Mudei De Idéia
I think that album is their first album. Every track's got a different style on it, and they are not all just necessarily funk tracks or whatever. It just really flows.
It's got such beautiful artwork.
I think with reissuing records, a good cover is gonna really help it. There's no doubt. The Pedro Santos record's got an amazing cover, so it really helps. A bland cover is really gonna hinder a record's success.
What can you tell me about those artists? I guess they're associated with the psychedelic movement within Brazilian music.
Well Jocafi, I suppose yeah they came on the tail-end of the Tropicália scene,
so they weren't seen as important. And I think they weren't actually that successful. I think the later albums were more successful for them, but this album bombed a bit, and I think that's why it got forgotten.
Also what we like in a Brazilian album is very different from what Brazilians like. Brazilians like guitars, they like lyrics, they like pop songs, and we normally pick up on a whole different thing. So it's quite interesting when bringing it back to Brazil as well, some of the reissues that we've done. They say, "Why did you do that?" and then they go, "Oh yeah we see why you did that now." So there's overlooked stuff both ways.
Do you think audiences who can't speak Portuguese lose out on some of the best bits of Brazilian music?
I can understand most Brazilian songs, but obviously some are very poetic as well, so it's quite hard even for Brazilians to really understand the meaning of what they're saying. But yeah, you are losing a lot. But I think for us, we still get that feeling of that lovely wave of music that they have. That beautiful lilting flavour that they have in their music. There's so many different rhythms, so you can't miss those. So we're still getting a lot of it, we're just not getting the full picture, that's all. Emotion is in there as well, so you can feel that. If you're a human being, you can feel that emotion.
Populario No. 1
So I don't know anything about this band. Well, they're from Salvador, you can see from the beach. It came out on this weird label, Hana, which is really a film company. A guy called Jonathan Kim, who's a big collector, he put me onto it a couple of years ago and I just loved it. There was a track on it, "Clarao Da Lua." That's just such an amazing track. There's a few tracks on it, but it's the uplifting choir vocals—just beautiful. And ever since he played it to me, I had to get it. So I manage to get it on this trip. This is the one that means so much to me now, but it's the one that took me so long to get.
It seems like it's very rare. It's never been listed for sale on Discogs.
It's just mad. I paid 150 quid for it, and I reckon it's worth more than that. I mean Gilles, I doubt if he's got a copy. People just don't know.
It probably feels to some people like everything's been found, but you're still finding records now.
John, who put me on to this, he reckons he's found everything but I just don't believe him. There's a guy called DJ Nuts who's also been digging for a long time. And I reckon with these guys that there's not that much more for them to find. But you know, they've been digging all over Brazil. But there's just so much stuff. For the mere mortals like us, there's plenty to find. These guys are full time digging, you know. A friend of mine, he spent two months in a warehouse going through 45s. That to me is a nightmare.
África Brasil has got all the right people on there. The songs like "Ponta De Lança Africano," it's got all the big tracks. It's just such a great record.
Would you say Jorge Ben is your favourite Brazilian artist?
Oh yeah. He always has been. I think he has been most people's. I was into Tim Maia very early on, cause Tim's very funky. But he ain't no Jorge Ben. And of course, when I was younger I didn't understand lyrics, so Jorge Ben's easier. He's definitely the one artist who should have crossed over. He never got a manager who could focus his career. He's definitely a person that could have been a real big star outside Brazil. And he isn't, really.
You were there when DJ Marky played "LK" for the first time in Europe, is that right? That samples Jorge Ben.
So we were DJing in Paris, he played the night before and left us a copy. We closed the club and for three hours we just played that track. It's still one of the top ten tracks for me.
You brought him over in the early days for some Jazz Cafe gigs, right?
I remember we picked him up from the airport. We drove him straight to Jazz Cafe and it was raining. Marcos was going, "What the hell am I doing here?" Luckily quite a few people turned up, it was pretty full. But you gotta bear in mind the guy is a big, big songwriter over in Brazil. He's written so many big tracks.
"Rockin' You Eternally" for one.
I mean, his stuff he's written for other artists has done really well. And then all the bossa stuff he did back in the day. Him and his brother have composed so many pop hits. So you know, he doesn't need to work. The guy is legendary.
The guy is still playing tennis. I don't think he's still surfing, but whenever I go there I try and play tennis with him and he's never there, he's normally touring. He's a great guy and an actual enthusiast. Definitely a guy you can say is successful because he gives out the good vibes, you know. The other guy I met recently who's like that is Ivan from Azymuth. Always wanting to work. No airs and graces. Just a real proper musician for me. Legends.
So obviously he's a bossa legend, but with this track it's kind of a boogie record. Do you know how he ended up making that kind of music?
I really don't. Honestly all artists at that time in Brazil were cashing in on the disco craze. I'm not sure how much of it actually came from Marcos... But Marcos could turn his hand to anything, so it's not really a problem for him.
There's the disco thread, but there's also a body-building thread in this record with the lyrics.
Yeah it's extraordinary. The body-building stuff. All that Jane Fonda workout stuff was really in. Obviously Rio being so into body-building, so into plastic surgery. I think it's still the number one place. And everyone looking at themselves. So I guess it caught that cusp, people thinking that they're stars.
So it's almost a bit of a parody record?
Yeah I think so. Cause you know, Marcos was never one to necessarily sit in front of the mirror, I don't think. He was more of a go-out-there-and-get-it kind of guy. Seeing all these people parading themselves along Prainha Beach, I think that's definitely part of it. And the posing that goes on there is crazy. I guess in that period it was a very posey period, wasn't it?
I mean, it was the '80s.
Brazil had just come into a new load of money so I think that's all tucked into it.
Boogie from Africa and Brazil seems to be on trend. You must have seen these trends come and go, over and over again. Do they ever surprise you?
I think you can definitely see it with the boogie stuff, it was just a question of "We're running out of boogie here, so we need to get some boogie from over there." Ultimately it all links back into house being rejuvenated and that whole scene being rejuvenated. For me, whatever it takes to get people into this kind of music, that's fine. And the beauty is now, people are happy to jump across musical genres quite quickly, and get into new genres in a couple of heartbeats. Whereas in the old days, you just couldn't do it. But I think hopefully it's opened people's minds a bit more.