Vinyl-only music night showcases Hamilton DJs talent

Discography, a new vinyl-only DJ night, made its by-invitation-only debut on Sunday.

'Discography' made its by-invitation-only debut on Sunday at Baltimore House

Mark Furukawa, left, and Andy Inglis sit among crates of records inside Dr. Disc, Furukawa's downtown music store. Both men are involved in organizing Discography, a vinyl-only DJ night that debuted on Sunday. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

A mix CD, in a custom-printed cardboard sleeve designed to look like a long-play vinyl album, isn't your average party invitation.

Mark Furukawa is sending a message. The owner of Dr. Disc music store wants Discography, the new music night he's curating with other prominent local music makers, to stand out from the pack.

Here's what you need to know about Discography: No laptops, no iPods, not even CDs players, allowed. Just vinyl.

"We want it to be a night where the music and the artistry of the DJ is featured," Furukawa said of the inspiration for the bi-weekly event, which made its by-invitation-only debut at the Baltimore House on Sunday night.

Skills and knowledge

Creating a flowing party soundtrack without the use of digital tools of the trade requires considerable skill and attention, he said, and demands much more from the DJ than a typical dance club gig.

"People don't really understand now what a DJ does. They think it's like, 'You put a laptop on and that's it.' But this is actually using records and manipulating them."

The process, according to Andy Inglis, a co-organizer and one of the DJs who headlined Sunday's show, is multifaceted. DJs spinning vinyl have to plan their set lists in advance, and must often use their hands to change how fast the record plays, in order to create a smooth transition from one song to the next.

The team behind Discography ordered custom-made invitations for the inaugural show. Each included a mix CD designed to look like a vinyl record. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

"You can finely tune the mix of a record by literally just caressing that record and making it go a little bit faster, a little bit slower," he said.

"I like to blend seamlessly things that you'd think wouldn't naturally go together," Furukawa chimed in. "The DJ has to have not only a understanding of the music — where the breaks occurs, where the vocals come in, where things get louder or softer — but they also have to be physically able to do that."

Discography, he said, will serve as a venue for local DJs to put their professorial knowledge about music on display, and to take the audience on a ride through a variety of genres.

"It's all about them playing these concentrated hour-long-to-90-minute sets of the music that they really feel has some validity. Rather than taking requests and playing to a crowd, they're sort of playing to themselves, but understanding the crowd has a little bit more knowledge than the average club crowd."

Vinyl resurgence

Viewed not long ago as an obsolete format, vinyl is in the midst of near-decade-long resurgence. Many active artists and bands are making their new material available on records. And vintage albums, as well as reissued classics, have become sought-after items for avid collectors. 

According to Nielson Soundscan, 4.6 million vinyl records were sold in the United States in 2012, up 17.7 per cent from 2011 and 537 per cent from 2005. In Canada, vinyl sales hit 130,000 units in 2012, up 47 per cent over the previous year.

'People like to have things to show, to have, to handle. And with MP3s, you can't do that.'—Mark Furukawa, Dr. Disc

"I'm in the business and I never though vinyl would come back in the way it has," said Furukawa, sitting in a record-packed storage area above his Wilson Street store.

Vinyl is becoming popular again, he said, because consumers more easily develop an "emotional attachment" to records than they do to digital music files.

"People like to have things to show, to have, to handle. And with MP3s, you can't do that. It's lost that intrinsic value."

For DJs, Inglis said, there's a certain "clout" associated with having a expansive vinyl collection, especially one replete with rare cuts of wax.

"You have to seek out records. There's not an open online forum to get that record or that particular song, so if you had that record, that's a big deal."

Record store roots

The inaugural Discography show featured sets from three handpicked Hamilton spinmasters — including Furukawa and Inglis.

Though the first round was by-invitation-only, the following editions will be open to all.

Many of the DJs Furukawa has tapped to perform have connections to his store, which he opened in 1991, when he was in the midst of his self-described "DJ phase."

Discography's roster of DJs includes several people who have worked at Dr. Disc, the downtown record store Furukawa has run since 1991. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

The store, from its inception, carried vinyl records and eventually moved into selling and renting turntables and other DJ equipment. As a result, Furukawa said, "the staff had to know about, had to be fluent in" the pastime.

"About a year or six month ago, I said, 'It'd kind of be neat to have a night with a backbone of local DJs who have come up through the ranks or have been affiliated with the store.' "

Former employees he's enlisted include Inglis, who normally DJs at Diavolo in Hess Village, and Shannon Ramnarain, who spins at Ivy Bar in Burlington.

Each DJ, Furukawa said, has a distinct set style and set of influences, and each edition of Discography will have a loose theme.

"We're sort of on the fence on whether we'll say, 'This is our hip hop night," Inglis noted, adding he hopes the format will be open enough to encourage participants to make creative choices.

"We kind of want to see where people's head are at, and what inspired them to get to hip hop, whether it be soul or jazz or whatever the case is.

"We say, 'Show us your roots. And make it fun.' "