Andrew Ryce hears some thrift-store bangers in the company of the rising Brooklyn-based artist.
Stuffco, a Canadian who lives in Brooklyn, patiently scours every nook and cranny of a city. Sometimes that means going to the same Goodwill every week to see what turns up, or waiting outside a store for hours for an owner to return. He showed me Brooklyn disco and funk records that you probably wouldn't find outside the borough, and killer soul from a local Detroit hero. Each artist opened up a universe of music, which Stuffco tries to connect to contemporary dance music in his DJ sets. He jumps through decades and across genres, all united by a laid-back groove. This style might owe something to his roots. Before living in New York, Stuffco was in Toronto, and before that he lived in Edmonton, an unlikely dance music hotspot. Once home to artists like Khotin and Dane, Edmonton is part of a larger Western Canadian scene, with DJs who are into everything funky, soulful and strange. Stuffco comes from a line of diggers from the region, a tradition that includes veterans like Koosh and younger guns like Jack J and DJ D.DEE.
As Jex Opolis, Stuffco has been turning heads with his productions, which feature lively instrumentation that's impressively programmed and played. He likes records that feel the same way, songs that could have been made with a full band. As we rifled through his collection, he pointed to specific riffs or melodies as highlights. He vividly recalled how he found almost every record, as if each one were a prized possession.
I found this at Superior Elevation [in Brooklyn] maybe two years ago. I just saw the cover and it reminded me of everything that I liked, graphic-wise, in the '90s. I'm old enough that I remember the '90s. I remember thinking it was that Future Sound Of London, British Euro-rave vibe.
Yeah, the name alone. Trancesetters.
Yeah. Trancesetters. So I was like, 'OK I'll check this out.' The other side's not that great, but both tracks on the A-side are amazing. Since then I've found a few other records, but they're like 135 BPM.
There are a few tracks on this record where I was thinking, "This doesn't sound like something he would play."
The thing is that since I've been living in New York, I've been forced to play a bit clubbier. You're playing at 3 AM and you can't really play slower stuff. This kind of fits into the middle of it, being the heavier, more melodic, spacier style. Later, I found out that it was a staple in the Future Sound Of London ISDN broadcasts that they used to do. The other thing that amazes me is the production quality of all these records. They all sound so good.
A lot of the tracks you picked are pretty old. Were you DJing in the '90s?
I didn't start DJing until 2007, but I've been making electronic music since, like, '99 or 2000. I played in bands and I got more into synthesizers, and I got a piece of gear, a Yamaha SU700. I started making beats on that and my band became half electronic and half live. And then the live aspect fell out because everyone quit on me. So it was just me and my sampler making tracks. I had another band after that, which started as an electroclash thing and gradually became more pop. That ended in 2008, and that's when I started doing Jex Opolis. I just got sick of relying on other people—the classic story.
I have another one of his here. I went crazy collecting all of the records on this label [Presents Records]. When I lived in Toronto, I used to go to Detroit a lot because you can drive there in four hours. The place I used to go to was called Street Corner Records, it's in the suburbs. I just found this in the bin. I thought the design looked good, and I listened to it and it was dope. I heard of this other band called One Way, they were a big soul band from Detroit, but I didn't know that this guy recorded under his own name and that he had this label called Presents.
It looks almost like a contemporary house label with that logo.
Yeah, it does. Anyway, I listened to this and just thought it was really nice. It's jazzy but it's got a LinnDrum in it.
I keep expecting a full vocal to come in but it never really happens.
I like that. It's just enough to keep the track interesting but it doesn't go into full song mode. I find sometimes when you're DJing that "songs" can distract people, so it's good to keep it tracky and then try being funky. I don't play this that often because it's a rare one. Whenever I play it people come and ask for it. He had another one that was sampled by somebody, and then it was like a top-10 UK chart hit. And I don't know if he ever got credit for it.
Is he from Detroit?
Yeah. I was trying to find him because I used to do journalism and I was into finding producers and tracking down information on old music, writing articles about it. I would go to Detroit and ask around the shops, and they'd be like, "He was in here on Record Store Day. He brought a box of his 12-inches in." So I'd just end up buying all his records.
I think he's still out there. I don't know if he's still producing music. I heard that he was making hip-hop beats, but I dunno. This one is the best track because it's all Kevin. He's not being overshadowed by another vocal.
What Am I Doin' Here?
It says Italo on the sleeve. It's not Italo.
Do you know who Brown Smoke is?
I have no idea. I've been googling it for like three years, and all it brings up is Chris Brown articles. So if you're into disguising records, that would be a good smokescreen for the record.
Was that a pun?
A bad pun. So, there's two mixes of this. It's American, from around here somewhere. It's almost like Ariel Pink or something. It's from '84, and it bumps pretty well in the club.
Was this another random record store find?
Yeah, when we moved here to Bed-Stuy there used to be a Goodwill on Fulton, and then next to the Goodwill there was this shop called Israel's. It was in a basement. So one day I went there—this was when I still lived in Toronto and I came to visit—I walked by like, "I have to go there," and there was a little bike shop in front of the record shop. I was waiting for him to come back because the repairman said, "Oh he just went to get food at his house, he'll be back." I waited for three hours. He didn't come.
I had to fly back to Toronto. But then when we moved here I would walk over there on an afternoon like this. I would hit Salvation Army, Goodwill, a furniture shop that had a lot of crazy stuff. Long story short, I was at Israel's and I saw this record, and he had a kind of crappy listening station, an old antique record player. So I was just like, "I think it's cool." Now I play it once in a while. I used to play it more, but with the sets getting later and the tempos rising it doesn't always get a rinse.
DJ Mike The 33 & 1/3 King
Money (Money Mix)
So this is a house version of the O'Jays track "For The Love Of Money." This is the "Money Mix." It's DJ Mike The 33 & 1/3 King.
He's a former WBLS DJ. I guess he did a radio show on there. I'm exposing my ignorance with early '90s radio—some people know all the history. Anyhow, this record, as soon as I listened to it, it had that really nice string intro and the bongos.
Would this be more of an early evening thing, or would you work it into a peak-time setting?
I've tried to do both. I think it works a bit better earlier, or really late. Because it has the long intro, and if people have been getting hit for a long time it allows them to cool down a little bit. But then sometimes you run the risk of clearing the floor if people are really down to party. I played it last week, with Roberto from Toronto. He smashed it for like two hours so I put this on.
Like a palate cleanser.
Yeah, let it cool down a little bit.
This one has really good drum programming.
It's amazing. You don't really realize it's the O'Jays-inspired thing until the bassline comes in. He did it so well. It's the same notes but the groove is different. Whenever I play it people ask me—especially other DJs—what it is. Sometimes I have to put the record weight on the label. I had an experience where I played and a guy messaged me after on Instagram and was like, "Can you send me a list of everything you played?" And I'm like, "I can't even remember, dude." I had a guy in San Francisco that I'm pretty sure had his girlfriend passing me his phone. It was funny.
Also, if you tell somebody... if they really wanna remember it they'll commit it to memory. The next morning when they get up—"Oh yeah I gotta get the DJ Mike The 33 & 1/3 King track." The track ID thing, it's just... I get it, I used to be more like that, but I find it better just to let the records come into your life and enjoy them.
Are there tracks that you try to hide from people, or you don't want anyone to know about?
Probably that Brown Smoke one. But now... whatever. People should hear it, it's a cool track! I used to be more vigilant about keeping some records to myself. Lately I'm also getting lots of cool music from my friends. It will all come back to you if you're open-minded. And if you're open with people, and they really like it and everyone starts playing your track, that's a testament to your ear. And it keeps you focused on finding new stuff.
I just love the whole package. The whole arrangement is really good. This guy has another track, "Do I Do," which is an Italo classic. I played that one a lot and it's one of my favorite tunes. This one is just solid—I bought it in Australia, that's why it says $22 on the side. It's not actually worth that much money. It's a cheapy! It checks all the boxes, and when I was putting together the list I was thinking how this one has been a go-to for a while now. I always play it, I never get sick of it. It always works.
Do you ever play the vocal version?
Almost never. The vocal version's good, but this just works—people respond to it and it's almost like the get-out-of-jail-free card, DJ-wise, whenever you're in trouble.
Are you a big Italo fan?
I really like Italo. I like the melodies, and it's an easy sell for people who might not be really into house music or techno. Even disco can get screamy and screechy; it's really high-pitched. This is all modern—drum machines, there's sub-bass and a kick, it's EQ'd really well.
Maurice McGee must be a made up person, right?
It's that dude [points to the cover]. I don't know if that's his real name. Maurice McGee doesn't sound like an Italian. I don't know. With some of these records you can really dig into them, or you can just enjoy them. There's another one on the list, Terry Crawford, that was one that I really looked into because it's Canadian.
I used to go to Play De Record on Yonge Street [in Toronto], and they used to have dollar records underneath a CD rack. I would go after work, and I found this one in the dollar bin. I was looking into the people that made it, and I found an email address. I googled the name and found out that the guitarist in the group ended up marrying the singer. So his name's Rick and Terry is the artist. They formed a children's group and were performing music for kids. Their company was called Richter Scale Music, which I thought was really cool. And then Rick became an MPP [Member of Provincial Parliament] for Ontario.
I read that Terry Crawford was once voted Canada's sexiest female rocker.
Wow. See, it's funny because it's a major label release, it's on RCA. But then it's so weird.
It is. And so Canadian. It probably never made any impact outside Canada.
Put Your Body To The Groove (Vinnie's Piano-Love Mix)
Yeah this is L.A.—Larry Anderson. I actually thought for years that he was from Los Angeles. Because if he's gonna call himself L.A... But no, he's from New Rochelle, New York, or around that area. This is the dub. I've since ripped it, and with the CDJ you can loop the piano. I'll let it play until people are like—
Or just completely sick of it. Then I'll bring in the rest of the track. This was also a New York dig from back when I lived in Toronto. I've played this one probably every set for the past five years. It's always good to play. There's another L.A. track, it's a cover of "Love To Love You Baby," which is also sick. But the sex noises in it... I'm finding it's hard to get away with playing sex-noise house. It's just a little bit of its time.
I find with sets... there's a general arc to a night. And if you can find slots or different tracks that fit into that vibe, then you don't get bored as much. I once read this DJ self-help article, and this guy was like, "How do I pack my record bag? I do three tracks. I just do it in threes." He's like, "I pack three tracks, if the first track is slower I'll do three that are similar, and then three more, and three more. When I'm doing my set, I'll pick one of the three. Or I'll just play all three."
Do you do that?
I do, or I try to. Sometimes I'm too disorganized and I just end up playing whatever I can see. Or if I've had too many drinks. But the sets that go really well are generally organized. They're not pre-programmed, but you have these groups of records.
Some tracks on this album sound like a cruise ship soundtrack, or a TV commercial.
This is a soca thing. Did you find the whole record? Did you listen to this mix? This is "Savage (Instrumental)." Big distinction. Soca records don't always translate to newer audiences all the time, but with drum-heavier, trackier soca like this... This is Carl & Carol, from Trinidad, they have a bunch of amazing music.
Are they well known in the soca world?
Yeah. And they're known in the digging world. Their stuff has been reissued recently. There's another one called "Robot Jam" and a Toronto version called "Yonge Street Jam" that I used to play all the time that's getting a bit... well, I played it too much. But this one is flying under the radar a little bit.
Did you find this when you were in Toronto?
Toronto has a huge Caribbean community. Does that affect the music you can find there?
Well, this one was from Henry's in Scarborough, way out in the industrial area, and this dude Henry runs it. It's a giant warehouse. My wife and I went out and we took the bus one day in February, and it was snowing. So we needed to get a ride back or we would freeze to death, and I met this guy Graeme Wallace there, he was digging as well, and he gave us a ride home. Once we had a car we would go out together, and on one of our trips out there we found this.
This is a lot more minimal than the other stuff you've picked. It's mostly just drums. Is this what your later-night sets sound like?
Yeah. Or I find that if I'm traveling to play and you see the DJ before is really good, and they'll play disco and they'll play house, they'll play Italo and I'm thinking, "OK, so I can't play that, I can't play that, I can't play that... Well, I still have this track to open with." Hopefully the night will flow on its own if the first track is good. This has that long intro, it has good tension before the kick drum comes in. Because everybody knows that the kick is gonna come in.
I really like this track "Divórcio." There's three pressings of it. This one is in Spanish, but there's also a Portuguese one and a Brazilian one. I have all three. But the Spanish one is the best.
Is this an important album to you? You have three versions of it.
I just really love this track. And the vocal is amazing. Since I'm married I have a song about divorce, of course. When you get married you become aware of all these marital things. I don't speak Spanish, so a friend of mine translated it for me, and he's basically describing the perfect woman. She knows how to cook all the national dishes, and she's beautiful and everything. It's satirical—he has the perfect woman so he's gonna get a divorce. I like that aspect of it, because it's married-guy humour.
I bought this years ago when it came out. I wasn't really DJing seriously then. I had a few records and I made a mix, because my friend had turntables, and this track was on there. The A-side was a pretty big blog house-era hit, but the B-side, "Discomachine," that's the one that I'll still play. It's a nice mix between—nu-Italo, I wanna call it—and French house. There's the French house production, a really heavy compressed kick drum, but also the arpeggiators of Italo. It's eight or nine or ten minutes long, and it just keeps going.
Is this something you were playing since you started DJing? Or did it disappear and come back into your sets?
It disappeared and came back. I was just going through my collection, like, "What can I get away with playing now? Has it been long enough that younger people may not know what it is, and older people will be ready to hear it again?" It's a funny thing with DJing now. Like, I heard "Headhunter" by Front 242 in a set recently. I never thought I would hear that.
People are playing old stuff. It's really funny when you get older, you see things come around again. I thought that including a Lifelike track would give a nod to what I used to listen to in 2006 or something. Because I wasn't digging heavily then. I was making music and just hearing what I would hear in clubs, I would check blogs and download stuff.
Do you remember on Facebook people would put their top-10 high school records? And it's like Joy Division and The Replacements and all this cool music. And I'm like, "Yeah right man, you were listening to Creed and Pearl Jam!" So with this interview I could've just included cool, sought-after records, or I could include some stuff that's a bit more... keeping it real.