James Pole chats to Swedish DJ, music obsessive and all round great guy, Albion Venables about growing up, families, record labels, collecting vinyl, travelling the world and more.
We’ll have a mix from the charming and talented Mr Venables up on Racket Racket later this week so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, read all about the man here. One of a handful of truly exciting DJs out there at the moment, for us, in terms of attitude and tune selection. He’s having big fun.
Let’s start at the beginning, were you born in Sweden?
Yes, I was born in Smaland, which is a bit further down south on the east cost of Sweden. Its around the area where Astrid Lindgren was born. My grandparents lived in a village nearby, very small, maybe 800 inhabitants. When I was couple of months old my parents took me to London where we stayed for about two years, then they broke up and my mother brought me back to Sweden. I’ve lived around Sweden since then and for a year or so in Copenhagen.
I heard somewhere that your dad used to hang out and play with the guys from Soft Machine – is that true?
Yeah, my parents were friendly with those guys and the group of people they used to hang out with. My father used to jam with Soft Machine when they first started not long before their first album. I was talking about this recently because it turns out that Danny Mclewin from Psychemagik’s mother used to hang around with the same group of people as my parents did. We are strangely connected.
That’s funny, I’ve just done an interview with him for this website. I had to ask him the Soft Machine question as well because of the song, Soft Space. I was imagining your dad maybe had some involvement because it’s so close to the Albion sound.
Haha, yes! No, that was after my dad was hanging out with them but you’re right about that track, I love that record very much. I re-adjusted the pitch on my turntables so I could play it at a speed I liked. 33.3rd at +12… That gets it around 120bpm.
Jesus, did you modify your turntables just for that track?
No, there was other things too but I definitely had the Soft Machine track in mind when I had it done.
My father used to jam with Soft Machine when they first started not long before their first album.
Wow! That’s dedication right there. Do you remember any music your parents played when you were a youngster that stuck with you?
There was always music around but I can’t think of any artists right now. I remember the melodies. I discovered some of the artists later, a lot of post-hippie stuff and folk and prog. Actually Katie and Anna McGarrigle – Complainte pour Ste Catherine, that one was played a lot. Around the time my mother met my stepfather they were hanging out at these happenings, lots og music and movies… haha… I remember men with big beards playing instruments. Sort of like Swedish jazz funk music.
Were you into comics and science fiction as a kid as well?
Yeah, I was into whatever was lying around, some of the underground comics at the time, Fritz the Cat and stuff like that. Later on when I stayed with my grandparents for a few years in around 1979 we went to America where they took me to Disneyland. I think that affected me a lot. The space theme parks and Tomorrow Land especially. I came back really obsessed with space. I’ve been very inspired by that.
Have there been any movies that were quite influential on you growing up too?
Not really, I don’t remember watching too many films around that time. I’ve been spending more time watching old science fiction movies recently to be honest.
When did you start getting into music more seriously?
My mother met my stepfather when I was around 5 and I suppose he brought a lot of music into my life. I started going through his records. All the things that he seemed to be a bit embarrassed by I enjoyed. He would try to steer me more towards Sergeant Pepper and things like that. He would play a lot of Traffic and Steve Winwood as well. When I was around 9 or 10 when I was getting into more indie music he would always tell me all good music has been made already. Even when I was playing in bands (later in my teens) he would say this and I was always trying to prove him wrong.
So were you playing in a band at this time?
Yeah, I played in a band for many years, I’ve been in many bands to be honest but I was always searching for music, checking out what’s gone before to use as a reference. I think, in the end, that my stepdad was right.
Haha! I know what you mean. I think I’m starting to turn into one of those people myself. So what instruments were you playing in the bands you were in?
I started playing guitar and then the keyboards, which lead me to start collecting synthesizers…old analogue synths and keyboards. I was heavily into 80s music around this time, in fact most of the 90′s I was heavily into that sound.
What kind of stuff?
Allot of synth stuff, minimal, Neue Deutsche Welle and even some Goth. This was probably the later part of the 1990s. I was quite into techno in the early part of the 90s as well.
At what stage did you start getting into disco?
By the end of the 90s I was getting more into clubs and DJing and I was starting to feel like I couldn’t go much further with 80s music. I started to trace the music back a bit further into the 70s. First of all, the American disco that everyone knows. I then started to suspect that there might be more of this stuff that might have been made in Europe. That curiosity led me to where I am now.
Would you say that was the start of you becoming a bit more obsessive about looking for records?
Before that I collected music but records weren’t that important – it was more important to have the song. I would record things to tape and so on. We’d swap mix tapes around amongst our friends and try and impress each other that way but I definitely started hunting for records more around this time. There’s always been a lot of diggers in Stockholm and hundreds of DJs, especially at that time. I remember thinking at the time it was going to be hard to stand out. I didn’t really set out to be different from everyone else but I was prepared to go quite far to make the audiences in the clubs happy. Though the more I looked for records, the more I realised I was doing this for myself rather than for an audience.
I heard about CBS in 2004 or maybe before that. Everything was coming together for me musically at that point and it was great to discover a whole community of people with such great taste and knowledge.
Did you start to travel around to look for records as well?
Yes, I was in Spain for a bit and America but I started off really well in Sweden. There’s a really good record shop here with really knowledgeable staff called Snickars Records. That’s where I got my first ideas of what to play. When I was playing out a bit more I was starting to realise I didn’t want to be too much of a crowd pleaser. I wanted them to enjoy what I played but I wanted to enjoy it myself too and that’s when I realised I couldn’t play the stuff I really wanted to play out. That’s when I started making mixes, putting music together the way I really wanted, with my integrity intact, that’s where the Albion sound started, by being difficult – Haha!
Is that around the time you got in touch with CBS?
Yes, I heard about CBS in 2004 or maybe some time before that. Everything was coming together for me musically at that point and it was great to discover a whole community of people with such great taste and knowledge. I made about 27 mixes for another Dutch internet radio station, Hurricane FM, before I even had the courage present my first mixes to CBS.
Wow, so even before the Astronomix series..there’s another 27 mixes before that?
Yeah, that was the Vendetta series and Vendetta 27 was the first mix I made for CBS.
Was it around this time you got in touch with people like Loud-E?
Yes, I met him in 2006 at a CBS Microparty in Rotterdam.
Was he an influence or more of a kindred spirit?
We were both going in the same direction but I wouldn’t say he was an influence on where I was going.
Has anyone been an influence on your sound at all?
It sounds ridiculous but I’ve always tried to form my own sound. I’ve always had a belief in myself in doing things my own way. I don’t really listen to other people’s mixes to be honest. Actually I played in New York in 2005 (around the time of CBS playing my first mixes) and I’d heard about this DJ who made mix tapes called Smylonylon, he worked in a trendy clothing store there and he gave away his mixtapes from the shop. They weren’t beat mixed but he put on the most far out stuff he could find, he was a good digger, like he had found the Black Devil LP way before it was reissued. His name is Alex Gloor he’s an active musician, he lives in Switzerland now. Those tapes inspired me to make a mix series and also to go as far out as I wanted.
What sort of music was on those tapes?
Loads of good stuff and pretty out there too, one track I remember from one of the tapes was Jah Wobble’s Blueberry Hill. I think some of tapes appeared on the internet, worth checking out for sure.
Definitely, I will have a look later. Lets move on to the music you put out on Ambassadors Reception. How did you get in touch with them initially?
Loud-E told me to send some music to Steve Kotey, who runs the label. It turned out he had already heard of me and had been listening to my mixes and he was really keen on releasing some of my edits.
Loud-E told me to send some music to Steve Kotey. It turned out he had already heard of me and had been listening to my mixes and he was really keen on releasing some of my edits.
That evolved into the Space Time Continuum 12″ on Ambassadors, alongside some other edit 12″s by Tako and Loud-E. Ambassadors released your Mixtura LP last year as well. What was the story behind that?
Well I never included any edits in any of my Mixtura mix series so I chose a few tracks that I wanted to do something with them. Plus just a bunch of tracks I liked that had never included on any of my mixes. I suppose they all had the Albion sound! Haha!
Were all the tracks fully licensed for the LP?
As for as I know, yes. Steve went very far to track down all the publishers and get it all fully licenced. I’m not sure how well he succeeded in tracking everyone down though!
I suppose a lot of these records came out on very small labels – probably not the easiest task.
Most of the composers are either dead or they don’t want anything to do with it because they don’t like disco anymore. Maybe it was just a trend to do that style of music at that time. A lot of artists would have moved onto something else pretty quickly. I’m sure most of these people are probably ashamed of those years. I’ve heard of a few famous artists and producers who don’t want to talk about their early disco productions.
Do you think that these records you excavated and gave a second life were popular in discos at the time?
On the whole most of these records were unsuccessful, even on a local level. Many artists, especially in Italy, tried to sound American. They would try and disguise their records to make them look more American even. There are a lot of tracks about California, Miami and artist names like Manhattan Express instead of Brooklyn Express.
I suppose you’re right. In most of the recordings of Baldelli and those DJs during the Baia (pre-Cosmic) period, it’s mostly American disco records being played… Salsoul, Patrick Adams, Rinder & Lewis etc…
Yeah, definitely, It’s funny you mention Rinder & Lewis. Strangely, they wanted to sound more European even with group names, like El Coco.
Can you think of major producers or artists who made any cool little disco projects back in the day?
One guy off the top of my head whom everyone is very familiar with is Trevor Horn. He made a great disco record with a lady called Nola Fontaine, it’s called Can’t Explain.
I know that one, it’s a killer! So we talked a bit there about the LP you put out on Ambassadors. Shall we talk about your label Frisbee?
Yes, though it’s a co-operative label. We’re taking turns on who gets the full A side so one of us will get two tracks on one side and the other guys get a track each on the flip.
Who are the other guys you do Frisbee with?
Dea Barandana, who’s from Indonesia but he used to live in London (that’s where I met him) and also Spacelex/Alexander Arpeggio from Berlin.
What’s your plans for the label?
We’re going to release a few more 12″s and then an album or maybe a double LP. We’ll see.
I noticed you have a 12″ coming out on Lovefinger’s Black Disco label too. What’s on there?
Well Frisbee records are making a guest appearance. I’ve got an uptempo, percussive disco number that sounds a bit like Michael Jackson goes Vangelis; and Alexander makes a California-esque, em, actually I don’t know how to describe it!
Sounds good, I look forward to hearing that. Do you have any plans to go into a studio and make your own productions any time soon?
Yes, I have plans but I’m a perfectionist so it’s taking a bit longer to be realised. I think the project will start when I feel I’m finished with the Mixtura mix series. I’m going to form a band project. Hopefully with Dea and my friend Magoria, who is the daughter of Hans Edler, who did the LP Space Vision. She’s going to sing although she’s a really talented keyboard player as well.
Wow, that sounds great. Have you kept all your old synths from your band days?
No, they’ve all been given away or sold so I’m going to be starting from scratch. I’m needing some bad ass equipment too, like an ARP 2600.
Good luck getting one of those! Are there any studios near where you live that have all the vintage consoles and recording gear you can use?
A friend of mine who works at my children’s day-care centre has a vintage studio with lots of old analogue synths and equipment.
So there’s a good chance you can play around in there and get your sound together?
Yes definitely. I haven’t been making music for many years but this whole time I’ve been gathering information and recording ideas.
So when do you think you’re start this project?
Probably around next year.
So will you be quietening down on the mix front around then?
I’m not sure really. I haven’t decided yet but I’m going to have to finish the Mixtura series somehow. It can’t go on forever!
Would you say it’s harder to find those unique records you’re look for at the moment? This sound wasn’t as popular when you fist started out as it is now.
I’m still finding things but it takes a bit longer to find those good ones. These records don’t show up as much as they used. I suppose, these days, I mostly look online because it’s easier. I did a lot more travelling for records before. It’s a lot harder when you have a direction or a specific sound you are looking for when you’re out looking for stuff.
But you still pick up some nice things when you’re away playing gigs in other countries right?
Yes, some of my best finds have been found during trips. You always find random records that no-one would ever consider selling online that turn out to be amazing.
Where have been some of the best places you’ve found records?
I’ve found some incredible things in Stockholm which is so weird as there’s so many other guys digging in the same spots. One of the records I’m always amazed I got was The Warlord – Alpha and Omega in the basement of one of the best record shops in Stockholm.
Was there a mistake made with the pricing on that one?
Not really a mistake but the owner of the shop wasn’t in that day so I got pretty lucky.
Have you got a lot of musically likeminded friends that help you out?
Yeah, I hear things here and there. I’m in that position where people think of me when they hear certain things “it’s got this sound maybe Albion will like it” then they’ll tell me about it. It’s great!
Have you been anywhere exciting to look for records recently?
I was in Rome with a friend not that long ago, they have a flea market there every weekend. I picked up some great 12″s there pretty easily. Actually I found great records during my whole stay there to be honest, there seemed to be amazing stuff just lying around in all the records shops, it was incredible. My friend also took me to a record store just outside of Rome, it was a Jazz shop and they had a few disco records in there but nothing special. The owner of the shop mentioned that he had a storage room that was full of disco! We ended up going to the guy’s house, down in the basement… It was like a dream come true! A storage room full of records. Nobody but the owner had seen them for 30 years. So we started looking through them all. Do you know the Crazy Colours LP?
It rings a bell but not really.
I picked it out and the store owner said, “if you’re looking for any records like this, let me know” and my friend looked over to see what I had found. He wasn’t happy. He ended up calling me ‘Bastardo’ for the rest of the time I was there! Haha!
Did you find more good stuff in the lock-up?
Probably around 30 records each! All really good stuff.
Was he good with the prices as well?
Yeah, he gave us a total price for everything. In his opinion it was a tourist price but it was a good price. I think we payed 50-60 euros for everything.
Do you sell records yourself?
Well when I first started there were always other copies of the records I already had popping up, so I started buying doubles of things. I ended up with loads – more so because I think I was a bit scared in case I would lose records when I was DJing or they would get stolen. Pretty soon I noticed that nobody cares about those records though. Most of them have been sold or traded with friends.
Do you throw your own parties in Sweden at all?
Well I’m going to be having a festival this summer, well I call it a festival but it’s more like a party in the woods. We’re going to gather some disco freaks from around the world and friends together and play some incredible music. It’s not a big event and we’re trying not to draw too much attention to it but anyone who’s interested is welcome to come along.
Where is it taking place?
In the forests outside of Stockholm. It’s the second weekend of August from Thursday to Sunday. It’s called Camp Cosmic. There’s going to be a mini-kitchen, camping, a nice sound-system and great music. It’s going to be great. Camping in Sweden is fine as long as you respect the nature around you.
Besides that do have you got any other DJ gigs lined up that we can look out for?
I’ve got a lot of adjusted gigs but nothing confirmed yet. There should be something happening soon in Berlin, Greece, Finland and maybe London. Nothing solid yet though.
What have been some of your favourite parties over the years?
I had a really great night in Pescara in Italy. Playing in quite a big club, full dance floor, great sound. Everything was right that night. It was incredible. I enjoy playing smaller clubs too.
Was it nice to be playing some obscure Italian 7″s to an Italian crowd?
It’s funny actually. It’s so dangerous to play records to people in their native language. Trying to impress and expecting that they won’t know it – sometime it might not turn out so well! I played one Italian record that night, Ruba Ruba by Don Lurio and the Sex Computers and they all knew it because it was a theme for a TV show in the 1970s. They were all singing along to it, really great scenes.
I suppose that playing foreign records, you don’t understand the lyrics to, for people that can understand could backfire. Especially if the lyrics are dreadful. Have you ever had this problem?
Not really. I try to stick to English, French and some Spanish lyrics. More because I think it sounds good. I’m not so romantic with the Italian language but there are always some songs from there that you can’t help but play.
Is music and DJing your full time occupation at the moment?
No, I have a boring day job, well it’s not so boring, I’m a web editor during the week.
So music is more like the serious hobby?
Yeah, I realised a while ago this couldn’t be all I would do with my life. For a while I was making all these obscure mixes thinking, that at some point, I would be able to make a living out of this. I thought I would really make it as a DJ but around Astronomix 12 I realised I had to get a serious job. Haha! Reality check!
I know what you mean. You mentioned you had kids earlier as well.
Yes, I have two sons. One’s 2 and the other is 4 years old.
Are you encouraging them to get into music?
Yeah, they know how to play records already!
So you can lie on the couch and get them to put records on for you?
Haha, yeah, almost. I have to get the old needles out and then they can play. They are slowly starting to form their own musical identity and they’ve got favourite records already apart from the Smurf party album they like Mission Impossible by Lizzy Mercier Descloux and some of my records too. Every so often I come home from work, put on a record and we dance in the living room, I’ll do a little impromptu DJ set for them.