“It goes ‘wicky wacky fnuurgh ra-ta-ta-ta-ta,’ and the breakdown's got filtered bagpipes going off like fuck,” says the mysterious voice on the line. “The GroinMashers at Work remix of ‘Amazing Grace’?” responds Joanna Massive. “Rare as rocking-horse poop. I'll overnight it. Sorted.” (Probably Sasha calling.)
Welcome to Joanna Massive of Oxford's inner court. Her name appears in more album credits than “Mum and Dad,” “God” and “Ibiza” combined. The store she founded and still runs, Massive Records, is a DJ mecca purely because progressive dance music is Massive's passion and she's created a unique niche. Joanna Massive is a legend.
To define precisely what Massive means to dance music is hard, but here's an attempt: She regularly breaks new tunes, so producers, A&R people and distributors constantly seek her advice and support; her flagship shop is one of the best-stocked in the world, claiming more than 25,000 titles; the Massive Buzz Charts (vinyl) are definitive barometers of what's happening and what's moving; and leading DJs rely on her insight to find new material, and Massive never lets them down.
Massive has always worked with up-front music, having been in PR, A&R and promotions for various indie labels and bands. “I began working in a record shop in 1987, specializing in alternative and indie music,” says Massive. “But as the house/rave scene developed, my interest turned to dance.” Massive Records opened in 1992 and was a success — right place, right time, right connections. During the rise of progressive house and trance in the '90s, Massive's influence was enormous. It still is.
Just as Massive Records' influence has grown, so has its physicality. Having relocated in 1997, the store is moving again; the retail space next door recently became available, and the result will soon be a 500-percent increase in Massive's workspace. Massive also revealed that more Massive Records outlets could open in the future, and she's considered franchising. Massive's gettin' massive.
While gracefully reveling in her position, Massive hasn't lost sight of reality: “This is a business. I adore my work, but it's still a business.” She also stresses that the customer comes first. Massive refers to Nick Hornby's book High Fidelity, which so accurately parodied aloof, unhelpful record-store assistants. Not so at Massive. Messages to Massive cover the Massive Records Wall of Fame, where numerous fine DJs have left warm dedications and signatures: “The best record store in the world!” (Tiësto); “The most important woman in dance music …” (Nick Warren); “You're miles ahead of everybody!” (BT).
Also appearing all over the store are photos of Massive with just about everybody who's anybody in dance music. Her office is cluttered but cozy and a constant hive of activity. A pile of vinyl has well-known-name separators; those sacred tunes are reserved for her much-favored “Gold Service” clients.
About those special clients? “Diggers … bless 'im,” Massive says. “Danny Howells … bless 'im. Nick and Jody … bless 'em. Sander … bless 'im.” Massive can bang out more blessings per hour than the Pope on his birthday. There is definitely a mutual respect thang, though. Massive now services more than 400 A-list DJs worldwide, including Pete Tong, Sasha, Danny Rampling, D:Fuse, Jimmy Van M, Jerry Bonham and Chris Fortier. Bless 'em!
Massive's view of the future of dance music is simple: It's getting better and better. Recording technology is advancing and easy to use, and house music keeps reinventing itself. (She cites X-Press 2 as an example.) On the business side, Massive acknowledges that the biggest growth area is definitely North America, and Massive Records exports large amounts of fresh vinyl there every day.
The Internet is Massive Records' next target. Why has it taken so long to exploit this lucrative arena, given that cybersales — especially exports — are so vital to dance music? Massive insists that her shop has grown and will continue to grow organically, step-by-step. The Massive Records Website (www.massiverecords.com) is under construction and should be fully functional before the end of 2002.