By Nate LeBlanc
Maybe I’m just extra-susceptible to the power of suggestion, but from the first spin, I’ve been obsessed with Obsession, an incredible compilation of funky international psych. The project was put together by Mike Davis (no relation to design genius/DJ/2600 Kid Mike Davis) owner of successful NYC record shop Academy Records and released by the ever-reliable Bully Records. The sounds contained within its grooves are nothing less than bugged-out, fuzzed out, surprisingly DJ-friendly goodness. I had never heard of a single tune or artist featured on the comp, so I decided to contact Mike and get us all a little bit more information on his collection and the origins of the project.
How long have you been collecting records?
Mike Davis: I’ve been collecting since I was about 8, which was 1970 for me.
What was the first record you ever bought?
It was a 45 of “Venus” by Shocking Blue. Still have it. That was when I learned the B-side is sometimes better.
The most recent?
The “Space Traveling” 45 by Robert Starks and the Geniuses.
What genres and/or time periods are you particularly interested in?
That’s a tough one. I have a tendency to go for raw, primitive examples of all kinds of things, but I can also appreciate some slick stuff as well. Any thing that catches my ears, really. I go from the early 1900’s till now.
Owning a record store, you must be exposed to a massive volume of titles. Do you find yourself sacrificing your personal collection in order to keep the store stocked, or the other way around?
When I first opened my own store I put about 300 records from my collection out for opening day to spice things up a bit. I still occasionally thin out things from my collection but I’ve never had to get rid of anything I wasn’t willing to part with for the store’s sake. Both stores have been profitable since opening so I never had that pressure.
I’ve gotten some nice records as a result of owning the stores, but a lot of things I’ve been getting recently, weird psychy stuff from far off lands, isn’t ever going to come in to the store too often, so I’ve had to make an effort to track them down.
Was there a particular track that Obsession was built around? In other words, what was the initial impetus for compiling the collection?
I guess the main tracks would be the Atomic Forest and the Flavio Kurt songs. They are just so great and so obscure that I really wanted other people to know them. I had been thinking about making a collection when some one from Finder’s Keepers approached me with the idea. I didn’t end up doing it with them, but that really got me thinking about exactly what cuts I thought were the best and would really blow people’s minds.
What would you say are the characteristics that link the tracks?
That’s another tough one. They make perfect sense as a group to me but that’s no guarantee somebody else is going to hear it that way. It’s a little different in that it’s not thematic, i.e. it’s not “60’s Peruvian Garage” or “Nigerian Afro Psych”. Basically, the songs on Obsession are psychy tunes from around the world (non-European countries in particular), with strong rhythms and unique approaches to their genre. For example, there are very few genuinely psychedelic descarga boogaloos like the Sonora Casino cut, and the Atomic Forest is probably the only hard psych disco funk cut from anywhere, much less India. That said, I wanted them all to be accessible to people that just wanted to hear great tunes.
How did you acquire these amazing records? Your store? Other stores? Ebay? Travel? A little of each?
Years ago a guy from Argentina came into the store with a stack of old Argentinian rock albums, Almendra, the 1st Pappo’s Blues, La Pesada and others. I had no idea what they were at the time, but they looked really cool. He wanted a lot of money for them, and I wasn’t sure, but they looked too promising to let them walk out the door, so I bought them.
Well, they turned out to be awesome and I started to learn more about them. I got some more records from that guy and I was able to get in touch with a seller from Argentina that apparently had access to old stock. I got lots of Argentinian and Brazilian records, unplayed originals. I took chances on some stuff and that set me off with the idea that there were really great music scenes in countries all over the world back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The records on Obsession come from all over, but not too many came in the door at the store. I wish I had more stories about travelling and meeting people but it’s hard for me with the two stores to get away. Mostly I work email and personal contacts trying to track stuff down. Some things I got on eBay as well.
How did you link up with Bully, and how did they end up releasing the mix?
I’m friends with DJ Signify, who is an artist on Bully. We would hang out and listen to crazy records and we had pretty similar taste. Marco at Bully had already done the record of unreleased Silver Apples and wanted to do some more things along the lines of reissues, so Signify suggested the idea of having me do a comp. Marco came over to my place and I played him a lot of stuff and he gave me free reign to put Obsession together exactly how I wanted it. He was patient while I spent a lot of time getting the mastering and the cover together. I thought it was important to get the sound as good as possible, even though some of the originals aren’t exactly high fidelity.
What has the response been like?
The response has been really great, as good as I could have hoped for. It’s not the kind of thing that is going to go mainstream, but considering what it is, it has done really well and I haven’t read a bad review. I like that all kinds of people are into it. We get asked a lot in the store for it, and I don’t think a lot of the people asking have any idea I was involved. I think that’s a good review.
Obsession is available now on CD and Double LP from www.bullyrecords.com
Please enjoy this sample track, “Gonese Don Cicegim” by Turkish rocker Ersen. In the extensive liner notes, Mike describes the track thusly:
“Ersen’s place in Turkish Rock was established by his 1972 single “Kozan Dagi,” a pioneering fusion of Turkish Folk and Western Rock… “Gonese Don Cicegim is one of Ersen’s numerous collaborations with Kardaslar, a prolific group led by the heavy bass of Seyhan Karabay.”
Nate LeBlanc is a contributor to NERDTORIOUS.