With big-time beat diggers, the record chase is what it's all about. And for a world-renowned turntablist like Cut Chemist, born Lucas Macfadden, the hunt never ends. As one of the two DJs in Jurassic 5, along with Nu-Mark, and a cut-and-scratch innovator in his own right, Macfadden is revered for his inspired use of long-lost funk and soul 45s and other obscure samples in seamless, classic turntable mixes that echo old-school, good-time hip-hop. His work with DJ Shadow on the revolutionary Brainfreeze (Sixty 7, 1999) and Product Placement (One29, 2001) releases helped establish turntablism as a true art and Cut Chemist as one of hip-hop's premier figures.
But that doesn't mean you won't find Macfadden elbow-deep in swap-meet bins or other dusty locations in hot pursuit of that next golden rarity. When he's in San Francisco, however, Macfadden takes his search to Groove Merchant, a tiny room filled with bins upon bins of vintage vinyl in the city's Lower Haight district. Owned by ardent collector and longtime Macfadden friend Chris Veltri, aka Cool Chris, Groove Merchant is the perfect place to lose hours just thumbing through forgotten recordings from eras past.
Because he and Veltri share a love of island and South American music, Macfadden generally has an idea of what's he looking for when he gets to Groove Merchant. “For some reason — I don't know what it is; maybe it was the fact that I was in Ozomatli for three years — I developed this kind of kinship to Latin-based soul music,” Macfadden says. “The first thing I said when I came in here was, ‘Do you have anything absurdly island?’ And he was like [gives a sly nod], ‘I got what you want.’”
But the exchange is not always so easy. As Macfadden details half-jokingly, it's more like a dance that involves a little loitering in the store, and perhaps a little alcohol, before Veltri lets the choice behind-the-counter items surface. The real gems, however, are in Veltri's private collection at home, where, after a little more alcohol, the clandestine late-night trading begins. “That happens around midnight — definite after-show antics,” he says.
Of course, Macfadden's record-collecting rivals are not limited to shop owners. “It's an ongoing competition between anybody who buys records; I don't care how friendly you are,” he says. “My best friend is a record collector, but when you find something they want, they kind of resent it a little bit. And vice versa — I do, too. I get a little jealous, and I lose a little sleep over it. Shadow called me — I hadn't heard from him in months — and he's like, ‘Yeah, I just found this record.’ And I'm just like, ‘I've been looking for that for 20 years.’ So that sucks.”
But those woes are a necessary evil, as the constant search for new material is not only an obsession but also, obviously, a job requirement. In addition to being part of Jurassic 5, Macfadden is working on a new Cut Chemist solo album, due out June 1 on Warner Bros. Tentatively titled Audiences' Listening, the record is a departure from what fans have come to expect from J5 in terms of a formulaic, verse-chorus-verse song structure. “Not to say that every song is that complicated, but the whole album, when you listen to it, it is challenging, but it's also inviting at the same time,” Macfadden says.
Speaking of inviting, here's some of what he found during his afternoon at Groove Merchant:
Mis Ojos Te Adoraban (Caliente)
This is a cool Mexican group. They do a cover version of “Pick Up the Pieces” by Average White Band, “Ya No Me Pises.” I remember Chris and I going to this one shop in L.A., and they had a whole bunch of these. Actually, they had a whole bunch of records and only had a few of these, and Chris bought them all. So now I have to buy it from him.
PAUL BEAVER AND BERNARD I. KRAUSE
The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music (Nonesuch)
This is a really cool record. Nonesuch is, like, a music-library label for anything from baroque music to whatever. This one's their electronic music; it's a two-record set.
Coke (Sound Triangle)
You know, I should have brought in my Pepsi 45; then, we could have done Coke versus Pepsi, and they could fight. Coke would have won — who drinks Pepsi, for real? Even Diet Pepsi can go to hell. This is a really cool record; it's actually well-known among trainspotters and beat diggers and stuff. It's from Florida, and it's kind of like Latin soul. I think it speaks for itself; I could just drop it [in a set].
Chocolate Star (Chocolate Star)
This is cool. One thing that I really like to collect is old-school hip-hop from the years '79 to '84. [Flips record over.] I thought this was from '79, man; this shit's from '82. It's a guy named Gary Davis, and he put out this EP called Chocolate Star — actually, we call it Chocolate Star; that's the label. It's really kind of like an East Village-New York-1980 downtown vibe. You can almost smell the cocaine. [Laughs.]
“Jason Pew Mosso (Parts I and II)” (Jubilee)
This is a record that Shadow and I used on Brainfreeze. And I have it already, but mine is made out of styrene because it's a stock retail copy. Styrene is a particular type of material that they used to make 45s out of when they were cheap, and it's not vinyl — you can't play them a lot of times if they're real brittle. The promotional version is made out of vinyl. Chris was down in L.A. a few weeks ago, and he traded this off my friend Egon, and Egon got it from this guy Chad in Memphis, and Chad bought it, you know, when he heard it on Brainfreeze. So when I saw it change hands from Egon to Chris, I was like, “I know I'm going to end up with that record.” And I really like the record because I remember finding it for 20 cents in a bin at a swap meet.
MULATU ASTATKE & HIS ETHIOPIAN QUINTET
Afro-Latin Soul (Worthy)
After you're done with Latin America, you find Africa and African music, which seems to be the last frontier. This is a reissue; it isn't an original. But it's Mulatu from Ethiopia, and I guess they just reissued his first three records from the Worthy catalog, which is actually out of New York. But they're really good, and I can't find them, so I might as well just get the reissue.
“Machine”/“More Ning” (Decca)
It's a German prog-rock record with a drum break on it, and it's kind of like all-right drum breaks and cowbells and sounds that are really obnoxious.
Hafa Adai, Todo Maulick (How Are You?) (Hafa Adai)
Even though the group's from Guam, a lot of the time, they'll have a distributor in the states or something that Johnny Sablan, you know, has done a licensing agreement with. I mean, what, did Johnny send in his demo to this record company in L.A.? I should go look them up — maybe they have other records. It's cool. It's really funky. I plan on doing a club edit of it, which means put heavier drums under it so I can play it out.
Spontaneous Sound (Vendo BMI)
This is like a Nu-Mark-type record; he likes stuff like this. It's, um, well, I guess it's a guy just beating on some rims is what it looks like. To tell you the truth, I didn't listen to it yet. Chris was like, “Yeah, it's cool.” It looks neat, though. I almost want to get it for the cover. I have my spending limits on stuff like that, but this has a cool cover, and it's reasonable.
Groove Merchant; 687 Haight St., San Francisco, CA 94117; (415) 252-5766