omewhere in the southern part of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, there’s a man. He’s a man with quirky black glasses and a few records- quite a few actually and they are quite bizarre.
Please welcome Matt Mikas, the master of lounge music. By lounge, I don’t mean any of those tired, boring electronic slow tempo house beats that go on forever. Matt is the master of lounge music from the 1950’s, when people used to party in actual lounges and play quirky, offbeat and sometimes out of this world music on vinyl. Yes, the real deal.
Matt divides his house into 2 floors. The first floor encompasses his living space and the lounge, of course. There are some random records here and there but nothing extraordinary. The real gems of his first hand collection lay in the second floor, which he uses as a hidden archive for his extremely diverse vinyl collection.
When I first stepped in, it looked like a usual open space loft with gritty walls and some strange looking wallboards. Then Matt started peeling off these boards and one by one, they revealed endless rows of tightly stacked records.
We took our time in that room, picking and digging for Matt’s favorite music. After an hour or so, we went back to his living room to talk some more and listen to all those records.
Visiting Matt and his collection turned into one of those days when I felt lucky to do what I do. Most of the music I was unfamiliar with and his eclectic taste gave me a sense of what city life was all about back in the day when vinyl was your only option and people would sit and lounge and listen to music and recreate themselves.
Enjoy… and chill
The entrance to the first floor looks innocent…..
the magic happens….
Q: What do you do for a living?
A: I do a lot of work as a scenic artist. I have more than 10 years in the trade scattered across various freelance and full time gigs for a number of companies around the country. I build and paint ridiculous artiface for the commercial distraction of the many.
In the past I’ve held several residencies as a specialty DJ down in Florida. Back then, during the 90’s, I was a burgeoning record collector who ran a vintage clothing store in Ybor City. The neighborhood was an abandoned historic district, Tampa’s original downtown, that had been ghetto-ized by urban renewal projects in the late 1960’s. By the mid 1980’s it had become a sort of gen-X, hipster-slum of underground culture specialty businesses, gritty D.I.Y. music venues and punk-rock crash pads, scattered amongst the older, baby-boomer artist community’s live/work spaces, all of which extended along seven blocks of mostly unoccupied turn-of-the-century brick storefronts and decrepit loft spaces. The area had the haunting and beautiful feeling of an abandoned movie set. It was an inner city ghost town, a quiet echo left over from the Tampa cigar industry’s boom times in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, the “success” of all of these artsy and alternative establishments ultimately resulted in their immanent demise as local media attention raised Ybor City’s profile to the notice of an investor class who quickly saw to it that the area became rapidly gentrified.
Things changed quite dramatically from 1989 to 1995, but it was through a gentrification devoid of the typical residential type of development. Instead this wave of “urban pioneers” simply invested their surplus cash in what they perceived to be the quickest turn-around, the bar and nightclub business. The city helped out by granting the whole neighborhood a “blanket wet-zoning” and a forgotten community of working-class and unemployed minorities, along with us scattered bohemian types, rather suddenly saw the few grocery stores, mom-and pop diners, and immigrant-owned small businesses close up to become theme-bars as the whole area transmogrified into a sort of “drinking mall” of night clubs. It still remained mostly a ghost-town by day, but after dark, things went totally nuts.
A playground for drunk drivers who left their suburban enclaves to party down in someone else’s front yard, leaving them with the mess and wreckage on Monday morning…
But, what does all this have to do with record collecting, you ask?
Well, the point is, for myself, I had always been buying records that I liked to play in my store, mostly focusing on 70’s funk and soul because that was the era of vintage clothes I liked to specialize in. And, in the early 1990’s as the cd player became the ubiquitous audio standard, a lot of people were dumping their entire record collections right along with their bell-bottomed Levi’s. So, the pickings were good, and I developed an ear for a hot tune, an eye for good record labels, and a sense for how music affected people while I played my favorite tracks as my customers shopped. It also became rather obvious at the same time that as the number of drinking establishments grew so too did their need to distinguish themselves from one another. To that end, my friend, Erik Donaldson, suggested that he and I jump in on the DJ game, doing so by opening up for a local Acid Jazz night hosted by DJ Muggles. Well, at this time it was still rather novel for a club DJ to be spinning old dusty records. Tampa had a crew of working DJ’s who mostly spun new records, or at their most retro, – sets from the same 500 or so “Alternative” hits of the 1980’s. So, it seemed like a good challenge as well as a chance to meet girls and get some free drinks. We formed what we called “The Deep Lounge Experience”, and as a tag-team duo, warmed the early night crowds up with old Blue Note jazz-funk, Stax and Motown burners, first-wave old school hip hop, Disco-Reggae, and whatever else we could find diggin’ in the thrift and fleas. Thus began an elemental shift in my relationship with vinyl music: The thrill of the hunt that culminates with a celebration of the catch. And, of course, those thrills would soon require a greater diversity of celebrations and larger more exotic catches to maintain their intensity.
I Want To Be Evil – Eartha Kitt – A nice double gatefold 45. I Want To Be Evil is both campy and vampy. A dollar well spent.
Mood Tattooed – Les Baxter – Hard to believe that this record kicks as much ass as it does. A slamming percussion orgy that really makes you wonder what was going on in the 1950’s household that played this album on the regular. A highly recommended introduction to the king of orchestral exotica showcased here at his minimal and propulsive best.
There’s something about how the visual elements of these wonderful 1950’s minimalist record covers so perfectly complement the music inside that I can almost hear them inside the sleeves.
Jackie Gleason – Lonesome Echo – This album however is quite the opposite. Best leave it inside the sleeve. Jackie Gleason’s syrupy orchestral schmaltz is about as surreal as a the breakfast bagel I eat everyday. Very normal with cream cheese. But you got to give it to the old dude for being a pot-smoking, UFO chasing, comedian/band leader who was able to say, “Hey, Salvador, how about knocking out and album cover for me in your spare time?”
My ability to seek out cool junk for my business had exposed me to vast amounts of vinyl so it only stood to reason that I would become more interested in genres other than the dance floor focused tracks that I had been looking for both to keep things interesting at the Acid jazz nights and to rock an upbeat funky vibe for my shoppers. To that end, my education towards finding and appreciating a variety of “good records” began. Now, I’m identifying these so-called “good records” as the ones which used record stores know sell to both the serious and casual collectors, so in other words these records are both the popular and the underground classics which span across a great variety of genres. And I feel that most large record collections reflect some basic similarities at their core and then become augmented by a greater focus that is specific to the individual tastes or needs of each collector. So, one of the ways I began expanding my collection was through hanging out with the owners of the local indie record store which was a few storefronts down from me. Our friendship became cemented when I revealed some of my favorite digging spots to them and teamed up on buying excursions. Before that, they had relied on people coming in to sell their vinyl. When I showed them some of my thrift and flea market routes they were amazed at both the quality and quantity of material available. And I like to think that by showing them how to find lower-priced stock, I was able to help them stay alive a little longer as their rent soared along with our neighborhood’s transformation.
The Ritual – Les Baxter – One of my all-time favorite album covers is Les Baxter’s “Ritual of the Savage”. Here is the frantic ritual itself in all it’s stereophonic glory. From a rare boxed 3 – 45 record set of the 1952 Capitol Records LP.
As my collection began to grow a couple of things happened. But first, I’d like to emphasize an issue that amazed me. I had accumulated well over five hundred records in the few months I had been focusing on building my DJ arsenal. That was a mammoth amount by my standards at the time, because only a few short years prior, in the mid-80’s, such a collection would have been way beyond my meager income level to afford. It would have reflected a four to five thousand dollar investment, but suddenly the CD culture with its media generated propaganda campaign of “better sound” had allowed me to amass such a treasure trove for probably much less than three hundred dollars. It was quite common to find thrift stores and flea markets throughout Florida selling records for well under a buck apiece, often times for as low as ten cents! ( I picked up a pristine copy of one of my all time favorite records, Nina Simone’s debut album “Little Girl Blue”, on Bethlehem, for one such thin dime). I rarely spent more than two dollars on a record in those days, and to a degree that philosophy still reflects itself in well over half of my yearly purchases.
Now, returning to the subject of my transition from casual record buyer to obsessive collector working DJ, I’ll draw attention to a couple of occurrences which broadened the scope of my collection and helped me formulate new set lists in my turntable work. The first one being something that listening to old school hip-hop had informed me about: Having your style bitten.
In retrospect it seems logical to have happened, but not too long after The Deep Lounge Experience began reintroducing old funk and soul jams, another DJ emerged out of the woodwork and pitched a full night utilizing the same general genre to a nearby rival venue. My partner Erik and I were a little taken aback by this at first, but rather than dwell on the fact that maybe we slept on things a little too long in not branching out from our opening slot sooner we decided to do something a little crazy-seeming. Sure, it became obvious that we needed to get our own night somewhere, but we knew the scene couldn’t support two nights aimed at the same niche market. So, we decided to blaze a new trail by taking a cue from our name and deciding to go for broke in an attempt to create a night dedicated to resurrecting Lounge Music.
Q: So, what’s going on today? Now that your house is overwhelmed by tons of records, do you still go and look for records?
A: Yeah, of course. scoring some wax is one of my favorite highs. Plus I’m somewhat obsessive/compulsive about collecting stuff. I started with comic books as a kid, then went on to building a large library of books. Records fit in quite naturally after that. There’s always something you don’t have or didn’t realize you wanted. I don’t watch television and listening to new records is my favorite semi-mindless pastime. Plus I’ve got a lot of room here, a New York luxury that it would be a shame not to exploit.
Q: Love, hate, obsession, passion, pride, joy, anything else… What would best describe the relation to your collection?
A: When I’m feeling self-important I’d say its a responsibility to the future. Other times I just feel kind of crazy, but also very blessed.
Q: What is an album that scared you in your childhood?
A: I never was that easily frightened, but I did get awfully sick of my mom playing her John Denver records. Does dread and loathing count as fright?
Q: What is an album that played when you thought you were about to get some?
A: I had put on Joao Gilberto’s “Amoroso” for this girl once and halfway into the first song I heard,”What’s up with the make-out music?” Not much apparently…
Q: What is an album that played when you got some?
A: Well, when I lost my virginity Obsession by Animotion was playing (the girlfriend’s choice NOT mineI SWEAR! – Yikes!) A doomed relationship with Gothic witch-type was initiated by Billie Hoilday’s “Lady In Satin” – go figure.
But all in all, the live “Girl From Ipanema” -era Getz/Gilberto album “Getz Au Go Go” isa proven winner many times over.
Q: Your house looks like a perfect venue to revive the lounge scene. Any plans?
A: Well I do throw some great cocktail parties from time to time. You can get on my list by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ochun – The Johnny Richards Orchestra – Lush exotica, though far jazzier than the “primitive” styled cover art would imply. The straight forward arrangements are not as edgy as the Les Baxter work which follows, but this is a fine example of cocktail era curiosity regarding afro-cuban culture.
Pressure and Slide Medley – Byron Lee and the Dragonnaires – The venerable ska come reggae orchestra was still kicking out the serious irie vibes well into the disco-reggae era. This is one of my favorite medleys of all time.
Quite a lovely recording of authentic Haitian Voodoo chants. The hymn to the Goddess Erzulie is truly amazing and beautiful. I am always somewhat leery to play the call to Papa Legba though.
A 1966 album of out-of tune junkies croaking out “inspirational” songs of faith. Not sure if this one would sound any better or worse than me and my friends singing about our “BlackCrack” habit.
Folkways always put out the highest quality in recorded sound. True audio documentaries. This 1967 release showcases the ground breaking work of the University of Toronto’s electronic music lab, very bizarre sounding stuff coming from some really straight looking dudes.
Agent Double-O-Soul – Dick Hyman – His moogy version of “Give It Up and Turn It Loose” is a reissue comp standard these days, but this more obscure swinging sixties groover shows that the organ king of Command Records could throw out a pop-soul-jazz burner wrapped in spy movie mystique like so much vintage popcorn at a 50 cent matinee.
Recently all of these reproduction vintage toy metal robots started showing up in various novelty shops. I felt that they made a nice counter-point to my Tiki mug collection. Retro-Primitivism meets Retro-Futurism pretty much sums up my interior design ethic.
Freaks of the Industry – Digital Underground – And lastly I just plain L-O-V-E this record. A hip hop sci-fi concept album that’s all about getting some booty. Love to love ya baby!
Bet you didn’t know Wonder Woman was really Celia Cruz!
George Harrison – Electric Sound – Well, its tempting to say that George Harrison was just very rich and very high in 1969. He bought one of the very early Moog synths and along with Bernie Krause put together a rather interesting ambient excursion. Later the Beatles used the synth in their Abbey Road sessions.
Mind on the Run – Basil Kirchin and John Coleman – Another DeWolfe 10 inch from one of my most epic scores. Breathtaking and strange, this is psychedelic crime jazz cut out for short attention spans.
Rock Candy Mountain (yodeling version) – Unknown Yodeling Cowbo– This was an exciting thrift store purchase. A 10 inch record on the ”Pontiac LP” imprint of the 1950’s budget Remington Records label. I was sold on the beautiful minimalist modern artwork. When I got home, I was blown away by the sublime western yodeling.
Here’s a few more facts about myself in closing:
My Punk Rock Claim to Fame: I pierced G.G. Allin’s nipple at my old vintage store in Ybor City.
My Hip Hop Claim to Fame: Eve and Sean Paul filmed a video in my apartment here in Brooklyn. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcJz5bg7qlA
You can see some of my scenic sculpture which I produced for the American Museum of Natural History here: http://mythicreatures.blogspot.com/
I am interviewed discussing my sound-art vinyl LP composition and micro-radio work on this blog for the syndicated radio show Some Assembly Required here:
And you will be able to get select mp3’s ripped from my obscure collections here at my newly constructed vinyl rarities blog: http://www.recordkrypt.blogspot.com/