This weekend, I kicked off the first of what will probably be innumerable rounds of research on place-as-motivator for vinyl collecting at the 5th Annual Beat Swap Meet up in Los Angeles. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the organizers and the participation of a prodigious amount of vendors, collectors, rappers, deejays, artists, producers, and a bevy of the type of characters that only LA can generate, it was an unbelievable (and almost overwhelming) celebration of vinyl culture that took over the core block of Chinatown over the course of the weekend. I met a generous assortment of cool people, and I also dug up a few new gems for my own collection, including the single weirdest unauthorized issue LP I’ve ever seen. More on that later.
On Saturday, I visited the Swap Meet as a consumer and observer, going from post to post around the Grand Star Jazz Club, speaking with vendors and crate diggers about their love of vinyl. Two particular conversations stood out. The first of which was with a journalist who confided that he wasn’t a huge vinyl collector, but he had just bought the Grandmaster Flash “White Lines” 12″ “because that was his high school’s unofficial anthem,” and he didn’t have the money to blow (no pun intended) on records back in 1984. I asked him where he went to high (no pun intended) school; he is from the Bronx. A coked-up (no pun necessary) Jerry Bruckheimer couldn’t have produced a more formulaic script.
Another person I met, a young woman who grew up in Bakersfield with a musician and collector for a father, admitted to me that she loved crate digging because it reminds her of spending time at thrift shops with her dad back in the day. We spoke initially when she saw me holding an ESG record, exasperated that I had beaten her to it. She raved about ESG (who were another Bronx institution…not as formulaic of a conversational turn as if they had been from Bako, but I digress). I ran into her later and we had a long conversation about how certain songs, especially “Moody” remind her of very specific moments of her youth in The Central Valley. If only Dwight Yoakam or Korn (stupid lack of backwards letters on WordPress!) were this funky.
On Sunday, I attended as a vendor. As far as my research was concerned, being tethered to a table certainly put me at a disadvantage. I wound up taking fewer notes than I did just wandering around on Day One, and my conversations were not as involved, since most of the people who came up and looked through my records were loathe to get too deep into conversation. There were plenty of exceptions, of course, but as one of the owners of a Highland Park record shop told me, that time the vinyl junkie spends flipping through a crate of records is “sacred, and you don’t want to interrupt that.” In retrospect, I wish I had tabled on Saturday, because Sunday was the immeasurably bigger day for the swap meet. Also, more dealers specializing in punk and hardcore were around, so perhaps I would have done better than simply break even on the day. Thanks to my friend who watched my table, though, I was able to drift for a little while, do some observation, and take a few photos.
The Beat Swap Meet is remarkable for a number of reasons. Where most record conventions and vinyl-centric events attract a stereotypically male, white, older demographic, most of the music and vinyl-lovers in attendance this weekend were markedly more diverse in terms of gender, race, and age. Considering the BSM’s attention to underrepresented demographics in vinyl collecting culture, they also did an excellent job ensuring that kids were welcome and (very importantly) occupied. Signs posted around implored people to keep the Beat Swap Meet safe and friendly for children. All over the grounds, kids of all ages and races danced, played, and in my single favorite photo I took all weekend (see below), did arts and crafts.
Needless to say, I’m still recovering from the two days. On my way out the other day, I wound up getting into an argument with an older collector about my thesis topic. (More accurately, he started the argument with me when he saw my research flyers, but let’s not split hairs). He told me I’m “on shaky ground” with my argument and that one would need about 10,000 LPs in his/her collection to be taken seriously, at least from where he stands. I told him I would love for him to take my survey and he said he did not own a computer. Attracting passionate criticism from this individual (who once told me I’d “grow into” Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks; I’m almost 30 and still don’t get it) can only mean one thing: I’m probably doing something right. If the Beat Swap Meet proves anything, it’s that the subcultures that preserved vinyl through its near-death in the late 80’s and early 90’s (dance and hip-hop) have grown back up and aren’t afraid to spread the ownership.
So, Upwards and on-wards. If any of you were at the BSM this weekend, I’d love to hear what you got your hands on and what you thought of the event. sonicgeography [at] gmail.
- Few things will make you happier (if you’re an aging punk fan) than to see a group of teenagers ask you for Ramones records, and then being able to recommend Masked Intruder to them.
- I really wish I’d written down the names of more of the emcees and deejays I saw perform this weekend, but most of them are listed on the BSM site. I met too many outstanding personalities to really go into detail about here, but my personal favorite quote came from one dealer on Saturday who specialized in punk records from the 90’s: “I’ve avoided moving for 12 years because I didn’t want to [go through the trouble of] moving my records. You can just sell and replace furniture, but not a record collection.”
- I’m not going to bore you all (or entertain you, depending on where you stand on vinyl) with a full list of what I dug up while in the course of my research, but I have no choice but to share this Johnny Cash bootleg with you all. If you don’t notice what’s wrong with this in under two seconds (and realize why its hilarious in under five), then you lose the internet.