Letter #41

Bom dia! 🌞

I hope you’ve had a great week. We’ve had approximately ten minutes of sunshine this week in London, but that’s ten more than last week, so I’ve officially declared summer as here. As well as the sunshine, the Portuguese welcome is also due in part because this week I’ve been listening to a lot of bossa nova and latin music (however looking at the final mixtape, very little has actually made it on). Although, this week’s mixtape is definitely dominated by sunshine songs, so let’s bask ❤️.

Also, there are TWO Edwin’s this week. Big news.

🌪 TL;DR section 🌪

Stuff to do: listen to David Byrne’s Desert Island Discs; read this Young Fathers interview (I’m obsessed with the new album); learn about anti-skate; listen to Four Tet’s excellent (new) Essential Mix; pre-order the Kamaal Williams album; read more about famous sampling of Sly Stone.

Weird bonus: listen to this haunting 👻 edit of Toto’s Africa – trust me…

PLAY
📚 The notes 📚
This week has been undoubtedly influenced by Peel, Gilles, and introspection. I try hardest for this not to become a cheap form of therapy, but sometimes it’s impossible to avoid. This week feels a bit like I’m thinking out loud. Or typing out loud. Gahh, you know what I mean…

I would say that I am, by nature, someone who switches between being extroverted and introverted. The percentages change, usually depending on the circumstances, and usually I struggle to control whatever causes the switch between the two. I’m the sort of person who used to throw a big house party, and then spend the evening choosing music, rather than talking to people. I love being around people, I love showing them things I think they’ll love, but sometimes I find social situations terrifying. Ironically, a massive part of my job involves social situations (but maybe that’s where my ‘social energy’ gets spent). This week at work I had to stand up in front of a group of people I know really well, and talk about something that I feel truly passionate about (culture) – it was exhilarating. Yet for some reason I cannot seem to shake the nerves of recording a podcast for you lot…

Potentially, this has been triggered (this week) by finishing the last half of the John Peel book I mentioned last week (here), and continuing to think about WTF it is that I record as a podcast. I’ve also maybe over-indulged myself in trying to understand what makes a good podcast. Over his tenure, Peel varied his format, style, and output massively – and trying to understand his ‘core’ is really difficult. I’ve spend time trying to understand how Gilles Peterson’s shows work too, listening to loads from his early days, his Radio One days, and his Worldwide.fm shows. Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy (Mancuso’s protege) also started out on radio, then became a DJ, and now DJs as well as running a Worldwide.fm show. Same with Tim Sweeney and Beats in Space. There’s little to thread them all together, but the only thing I can find is their passion for sharing music. This must sound so obvious, but maybe I’m a bit dense. The thread that makes what they do so brilliant is an uncompromising passion for sharing brilliant music. They are all cultural gatekeepers (as mentioned last week), and they do it because they give a shit.

So, I suppose that’s my answer.

This is fine, but then I stumble into the tension of how what I include each week. Feedback is a good way to understand, and maybe the scary aspect of a podcast is the thought of more feedback. For this letter, I maybe get a 10-15 comments a week (which is ~1%, so not representative of everyone here). Those comments usually filter into two distinct categories; the first is variation on either ‘how do you find the time’ or ‘what’s your process’, and the second is usually 2) ‘why did you put *** on this week’s letter?’. These questions are inextricably linked, and, weirdly, linked to my extroversion / introversion. So I thought I’d answer them.

Where’s the time / what’s the process?
‘Where’s the time’ is easy, I’ve always had a pretty daft appetite for finding good new (new, not new new) music, so all this is, is my way of externalising that. Obviously I haven’t always written a rambling essay, or assembled the music I’ve found into a carefully structured mixtape, but that feels like a tiny price to pay for sharing music with you all, and explaining some of the thought process. The process is, boringly, really straight forwards. I read a bunch of music magazines, listen to a lot of radio shows, read books on culture and music, follow loads of Spotify playlists, and go record shopping every week (pretty much). I don’t struggle to find music, but I always struggle to cut it down to 30 tracks. By Wednesday morning, as I get on the train to head into work, I usually have around 250 songs that I’ve found since Friday that I think are ‘absolutely must includes’. Then I use my commute to turn them into 100 ‘absolutely cannot possibly not includes’. Then Thursday I structure them into a 100 song mixtape, and start the process of brutally cutting them to 30 songs. The remaining 70 songs get put into a separate playlist for another time. The letter itself is usually informed by whatever I’ve read that week (saved to Pocket), the work that I’m doing, and the thoughts that I’ve had. Sometimes it’s closely tied to work, sometimes it’s focused on something new I’ve found, and sometimes it’s a bit more introspective. I’m still figuring all this out though (especially letter length).

In the John Peel book, there’s a lot of references to the volume of tapes he received from bands. It started as a few, by the 80s it was 20 a day, then by the 90s 50+ every day (he used to constantly have a car boot full to the brim of tapes). I realised this week that I have about 18 years worth of music on record (if I played them twelve hours per day, every day), which was a bit terrifying. So I’m going to try and limit my buying bit, and dig into what I have a bit more. That said, I’d really like to resurrect the Love Will Save the Day record pool, so please share music that you love here.

Why did you put *** on this week’s letter?
This ones a bit more difficult. Usually, everything included has been included because I’ve thought it was excellent and it fit with the overall tone of the letter that week. Sometimes the letter has a certain lean (last week was hip-hop, this week is definitely guitars), but hopefully it’s always music that you find interesting (either in a good or bad way). The weird thing for me is the lack of feedback. I’m so used to playing music to a group of people live, that the lack of reaction when I send this letter out can be a little bit disconcerting. If I’m playing music to you in person, I can very literally see what you do and don’t like by your reaction. When I put this mixtape and letter together, I’m a bit blind to your response. All I ever ask (as per Letter #36) is that you trust me 😊.

Peel has also inspired the music I’ve included this week, and the way I’ve structured the tape. This week I’ve tried to draw a lot of lines between genres, making connections that I thought were interesting. This is why Orange Juice is next to Soul II Soul, and why the hard funk sound of James Blood Ulmer sounds weirdly at home next to Shabaka Hutchings’ The Comet Is Coming. When Peel interviewed Edwyn Collins back in the 80s he actually talked about wanting the debut album to be produced by Chic, so the lines felt very natural. Peel’s subsequent exploration of the lines reminded me of Misshapes and Erol Alkan’s Trash night at Plastic.

I also had an enormously nostalgic moment this week after listening to a lot of bossa nova, and remembering E Samba. When I bought my first (of three) copies of E Samba, I was maybe 14. It was during my US soulful house period, when I was buying up anything by Masters at Work, and starting to get into Armand van Helden too. In fact, Boogie Monster was a song that I first heard aged 13 in a clothes shop in Nottingham. It was amazing, but I was too anxious to ask the DJ (DJ’s in shops was a thing) what it was. It wasn’t until nearly ten years later I found it (turns out it was called Cookie Monster after all!).

Anyway, if you’ve read to here, you definitely deserve a little gift – so this Ricardo Villalobos interview is brilliant, as is this profile on legend Ahmet Ertegun, and the story of Max Martin and his 90s pop empire is worth a read too.

As always, if you’ve read to here, thanks for indulging me ♥️.
See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day

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