For The Love Of Vinyl: Jane Fitz
For The Love Of Vinyl is a blog interview series with record collectors from across the Globe. Up next: Jane Fitz. Jane Fitz is a DJ, record collector, promoter, magazine editor and music journalist from East London. A DJ for over 20 years, Jane has been making a name for herself since the early 90s, from spinning a wonderful and weird hard-to-categorise selection that blends ambient with early UK acid house, deep and psychedelic house and techno. A super respected DJ, Jane has become one of London's favourite underground DJs. She is also a resident at the legendary boutique UK festival Freerotation, and frequently travels to spin records in parties all over the world, from Helsinki to Bulgaria, Chicago, Detroit, Tokyo, and beyond, as well as hosting and DJing with Jade Seatle at her latest club venture Night Moves.
1. Where did you grow up? And who or what sparked your love for music and vinyl?
I grew up in Barking, which is a town on the border of East London and Essex. It's not quite suburbia and not quite the city proper, and it's cut off by a bunch of motorways and the working bit of the River Thames, so it has a really industrial landscape, and swathes of wasteland. It's ugly, but growing up I really liked the look of it - chimneys pumping steam, cars and concrete, empty warehouses. I can't remember 'getting into' music, because it was always around - either my mum playing Stevie Wonder or my older brother playing anything from Styx to Chic. I used to love flicking through their records and reading all the info on the covers and inner sleeves. And I was obsessed with radio - Greg Edwards, Jeff Young and all the soul pirate stations - JFM, Horizon and Solar.
2. You got your first DJ residency at 23 when you were music journalist and moved to Hong Kong, correct? How did your experience in Hong Kong influence you as a DJ, and as a record collector?
I had been playing records at house parties and back rooms of pubs since I was a teenager, so DJing was something I'd always done because at school, I probably had more records than anyone else. Enough to play for a few hours anyway. By the time I got to Hong Kong I had quite a lot of records, but I had never beat-matched. But I'd worked it out in my head, so when I moved into a flat that had a set of decks, I just started mixing straight away. That's when I made the transition to playing house music from always playing freestyle - rare groove, boogie, hip hop, beats etc. It really was like that. I practised like mad, I really loved it, so I got gigs quickly there. It's strange because as soon as I could mix I was playing there regularly, firstly at these wicked little underground parties at a place called CE Top, which was a gay karaoke bar with a rooftop in the middle of Central district - a really mental little place. My friends started this party called Robot and that was my first residency. Because HK is so small I quickly progressed to playing these huge gigs, warming up for visiting DJs or playing the second room at 1500-capacity gigs - I didn't really think anything of it as that was just the way it was there. I was going out a lot too, listening to a lot of DJs, locals and visitors, lots of my friends there were DJs too and I was just lapping up everything I heard. There weren't really record shops there, just a few people selling stuff, so I was buying mostly from HMV or Tower, both of which had fairly decent house sections at the time, the mid 90s. Also my flat mate was a drum and bass DJ and he was ordering records from the UK from the Dance Music Resource Pages, which later became Juno Records; and Vinyl Underground too. This was the biggest influence on my record buying because I was ordering from there from their inception, so when I went back to the UK, I continued buying that way, online - which was a good three or four years before internet buying really started to become common in the UK. It meant I had access to a lot of records that stores just didn't have then.
3. When did you start collecting records? Do you remember the first record you ever bought? Would you still buy it today?
I bought my first record when I was probably 11 years old - it was Level 42 The Sun Goes Down on 7inch and yes, I would definitely buy it today. I loved that record. In fact I still play the album it comes from too- Standing In The Light, which has this vague Egyptian concept running through it. It's produced by Wally Badarou and I think that album really got me into that Prophet sound before I even knew what a Prophet 5 was. I kind of started collecting records by 'appropriating' records from my brother and mum – I think I was more into them than they were at the time. I remember getting really obsessed by records they had - like Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, or Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygen, Herb Alpert's Rise and a best of Earth, Wind and Fire I used to play to death. I assumed they were family records for all of us - I must have been a right little pain!! After I bought that first seven-inch I'd go down to this discount store with a small record concession in it, Simon's, in Barking, every Saturday with my pocket money and buy a seven-inch. After a couple of years a proper dance record store opened up in town called Record Parlour. I was probably only about 12 or 13 at the time but by then I was heavily into pirate radio so I'd show up there on a Saturday and ask for these soul and boogie 12s I'd heard played on the radio. (The first 12-inch I bought was Pennye Ford's Dangerous, from a shop in Elm Park). They must have wondered where on Earth this little kid was hearing about Rene & Angela or Maze from, but it was fairly easy to hear at the time on the radio. I just had to pick judiciously because I only had enough money for one record a week. As soon as I could get a Saturday job, at 14, I would buy records.
4. How big is your record collection and how do you organise your records?
It's probably not as big as you think because I am selling constantly. I looked the other day and I think I've sold over 4000 records in ten years… At a guess I'd say around 7000 records now - although I'm trying to get rid of at least 1500 at the moment. I really hate having records that I don't play. I think it's completely pointless to hold onto things for sentimental reasons, because it takes up so much space and obscures the records you really love. I'm a constant pruner!
I organise my records quite anally really - firstly geographically (because it's a fact about a record, not an opinion). Then I have sub genres (so in Europe by country, or in the US by city or region), and within that i'll then group together certain producers if I have a lot of records by them, and then the rest i'll divide by label, alphabetically. It sounds complicated but it means I can pretty much put my hand to a record immediately. I also have some sub-sections - so for instance, UK acid house 1987-1990, within the UK section, before the labels or producers begin. This helps when I play specialist sets. But then I have about 800 just on the floor, of stuff I need to file, stuff that's new, stuff I need to listen to, stuff i'll probably sell and stuff I'm playing out with a lot.
5. What is your personal “holy grail”? Any rarity you’ve been looking for forever?
I think i can lay my hand on pretty much anything I want over time, I'm always happy to wait. There are a couple of things that I would love to find on vinyl purely for their rarity.. one was test pressing that Paul Oakenfold put on a Global Underground mix, called So Much by Shades Of Blue….. it's a pretty standard vocal prog house thing but it never came out and I used to really like it on that mix when it came out 20 years ago. Also there's a Norma Jean Bell record, You're Beautiful, that never got a full release. My friend Deano has one, but I don't know anyone else. And then there are things that do turn up, but for silly prices… such as The Sojourner by Ensemble Al-Salaam, which is this spiritual soul album that goes for at least £200 now and probably a lot more. Discogs and Ebay have opened the world of collecting up and there are definitely some records in the £200 and up bracket that I'd like, but i'm not ready to pay for just yet… they're rare but available, I just look at that and think, I could buy 400 50p records with that!
6. Do you collect other stuff?
Books. I also have a big collection of music magazines from the mid-90s to early 00s, which I look at quite regularly. I wrote for a lot of them at the time too so there are lots of memories in these. What else? Blankets! I'm obsessed with buying blankets.
7. You play a lot of incredible ambient records. If you'd had to pick one ambient LP to recommend to a friend, which one would you pick?
JD Emmanuel's Trance-Formations 1 and 2. Or anything by Steve Roach. Or pretty much anything on the Further Records catalogue that isn't techno! I'd say a lot of the stuff I play like this isn't 'strictly' ambient, i'm sure the ambient purists would be quite cross with me, but it's beatless or atmospheric or slow or weird. I really don't like genres - and I feel very adrift when people ask me to describe what I play because I really can't do it. I spent years reviewing music in magazines and I would invent my own genres, based on strange descriptions, so I find trying to explain genres very limiting.
8. What’s your current setup at home?
Two Vestax PDX-A1 turntables and a really old third-hand six-channel Formula Sounds FSM-600. ANd a 1210 in the living room to listen to things while I sit on the sofa. When I write it down it's actually a bit embarrassing that I've never upgraded that set-up, but I think I'd rather spend the money on records than devices. I don't really mix at home, other than to record occasional podcasts, so I don't really care much that it's not fancy. It works.
9. Which artist makes you want to have their whole discography? Why?
Actually, so many. Steve Roach, Steve Moore, Boo Williams, David Alvarado, Jorg Burger, Calm, EBE, Donald Byrd - I tend to get obsessed by people really easily and then bulk buy. A period of pruning follows after about a year!
10. As a DJ you get to travel a lot around the World. Tell us about some of your favourite countries to go crate digging.
Unsurprisingly, Japan. Just for sheer variety. Detroit is amazing too. There are some cool places in the Balkans too - Serbia and Bulgaria for instance. I rarely get a lot of time to dig properly though, and because I travel with records, I'm quite limited with what I can buy, because of the weight restrictions on luggage. Tomorrow, though, i'm having a bit of a dig in Helsinki!
11. Favourite record shop Worldwide?
Round And Round in Melbourne, Meditations in Kyoto, EAD, Lighthouse, Technique and Los Apson? in Tokyo, and Detroit Threads in Hamtramck.
12. When you go crate digging, how do you usually choose a record? And what do you look for in a record?
All sorts - I think I have a good eye for a label - info or label art - I've rarely picked a dud when I've just gone on these. Then maybe info - label or city or year. I actually dig more on the internet recently, purely because of time!
13. If you weren’t in the music business, what would you do?
I'm actually a magazine editor. I've worked in magazines since I was 21, which is half my life. it's only really the last two or three years I have been DJing enough to sustain my existence, until now it's always been a hobby that was steadily growing. It's only now that I've really stopped the day job - although I still think I'll probably do the odd editing shift here and there, to keep my skills up. But my first journalism jobs were all in the music industry anyway. The business side as well as the creative side, so I've never really known anything else. I was also a part-time lecturer at university for about 8 years, and I've worked in record shops off and on for about 15 years as well. And all of it is connected.
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P.S.To find out more about Jane Fitz, upcoming gigs, mixes and releases, check her Facebook page.
Photo credits: Jane Fitz
Posted by: Miguel Ferreira
Founder & Selector at That Special Record. Miguel writes interesting stories about outsider electronic music & vinyl culture.