Head to the back counter at Human Head Records in Brooklyn, where the shop’s excellent electronic music section resides, and Stephen Silvestri will likely greet you, pile of records & seltzer in tow. On an E-ZPass tip, I checked out the store for the first time, saw they were carrying some of my favorite labels (shoutout Is / Was & Vanity Press), got to chatting with Stephen, and had him do this mix 🙂
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What’s in this mix?
I collect a lot of house/techno records from the NYC area from the late 80s to the early 90s so there’s a good smattering of that. A couple of UK records, some Detroit. I opened the mix with a track from Don Carlos the famous Italian house music producer. But the era is most definitely around 1989-1996. Always all vinyl! I’m not sure why I chose to focus this mix on this era but I guess it’s what I’m feeling currently.
What’s something you’ve learned (that you didn’t expect to) from working at record shops?
A deeper appreciation for visual art and typography. I am inundated with visual imagery working with records and you start to get really good at being able to determine eras of design preference. Some record art is totally pop art, some conceptual, some campy, some commercial, some political, etc. The spectrum of artistic design reflects the breadth of music which is obviously wide. But sometimes the visual is better than the music, or vice versa, or sometimes it doesn’t seem to quite match with the music or the content of the record. I could go on about layers of human behavior that I have learned about but that’s a whole other topic.
What was your favorite record shop growing up?
I would have to say Soundtracks, which was located in my birthplace of Huntington, Long Island. But I was mainly buying used/new CDs as the time and the few records that I did purchase came from another spot in my town called Just Kids Nostalgia which was mainly a pop-culture collectible store (which is still in business). At that shop I picked up a record from a group called Africa, the title “Music From Big Brown.” I grabbed it because the art and design of the jacket is nearly identical to The Band’s album “Music From Big Pink,” which I had inherited from my dad and which I really loved listening to. Africa cleverly recreated the jacket design but replaced the family photos with their own, a black family. They even repainted the painting that Bob Dylan did for the record and painted the characters with brown skin rather than white. The record is basically funky, psychedelic covers of popular songs at the time, ironically none penned by The Band. It’s extremely good and their version of “Paint It Black” is amazing. Unfortunately I sold this record a long time ago. Other than that, I used to frequent thrift stores in my town (I remember finding “Einstein On The Beach” by Phillip Glass). Other than that, my dad had some cool records that supplemented my already healthy appetite for music in general.
Any crazy digging stories to share?
I have many memories of coming across a record that I had thought about a week prior, or weird serendipitous moments like that. And there are records that I have come across working in record shops that I have wanted for a long time, but there’s nothing really crazy about that, since that’s what we do, buy tons of record collections. I have also come across records from the 70’s and 80’s with DJ stamps or writing from people I personally know. But off the top of my head, I remember one record that I found which was from a fairly obscure Jamaican singer, probably from the mid-70’s. I used to have a YouTube channel and I posted it on there. A man who was clearly still in love with this woman contacted me asking if I knew where she was, and he wrote a long, eloquent and beautiful memory of her on one of the videos I uploaded. That touched me and was one of the reasons why I loved having that channel, because you never know who would find the video and add their two cents. I still enjoy reading comments on YouTube videos for music (my account got removed for copyright strikes) because I love how people share their memories and the connections they had to the music. A lot of what I enjoy looking at records are the things prior owners wrote, the notes, the drawings, the personalization. I recently found a big ol pair of white – and evidently not 100% fresh – panties in a Luther Vandross record.
What’s your mindset behind the electronic music at Human Head?
90% of our 12” single/dance/electronic music department is acquired second hand. We run a very large Discogs marketplace and the only thing I process is 12”. So what you see on the floor vs. what I determine to sell online is determined by many factors. But basically I try to stock the store with cool shit. I give precedence to newish electronic records that we acquire and put them in the store. My coworker Shawn and I buy from local labels, local distributors, and more or less pepper the sections with good new stuff that we like and support.
What’s your favorite record store customer pet peeve?
Favorite pet peeve? That’s a bit of an oxymoron don’t you think? Haha. My biggest pet peeve are people who visit the store primarily for personal attention and to hear themselves talk. People who spend more time talking about music rather than discovering and learning about it, even when there’s literally thousands and thousands of objects to look at and listen to right under their nose.
Where can people find you when you’re not in the record store?
Oh good luck with that, I’m a hermit! You could occasionally find me at a party once in awhile and on the occasion that I DJ, which I hope will become more frequent in the future.
What’s your favorite / least favorite thing about electronic music right now?
I’m fairly optimistic about electronic music right now, I think there’s a ton of producers out there making really cool shit. So I would say my favorite aspect is that there are great artists and festivals and labels popping up all over, supporting and highlighting good music. Maybe the least favorite thing of mine is a general over glorification of the DJ. I think electronic/dance music audiences should demand more of the DJs they go to see perform, and certainly not invent a positive experience in their head or on social media even if the performance was bullshit.
Any recent awesome DJ sets / live shows worth mentioning?
Last Summer I saw Kuniyuki Takahashi perform at Joe Claussell’s store Sacred Rhythm And Cosmic Arts. That was an incredible show. Also I would like to plug my friend Bobby Renz’s show “Let’s Go Swimming,” on Wednesday nights from 10pm-12am, on Newtown Radio in Brooklyn. He’s been at it for years now and his selection and mixing is superb.