The Collector Series: Erik Stein’s vinyl records collection

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Name: Erik Stein

Location: London

Size of collection: About 4500 across all formats.

Tell us a bit more about yourself and your band.
I was born in Germany to a German family, but grew up in London and have stayed here ever since, despite dreams of escaping. I don’t really come from a musical family but after years of indulgent bedroom recording, I finally formed Cult With No Name in 2004 with Jon Boux. We’ve managed to release 7 albums in 10 years, with album 8, ‘Heir of the Dog’, due out in the Summer of 2017. The last album was particularly thrilling, as we were commissioned to create the soundtrack for the film ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, a collage of previously unreleased footage captured on the set of David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ by filmmaker Peter Braatz (who is also a big musical influence as part of the avant-garde punk band S.Y.P.H.). We invited Tuxedomoon and John Foxx, who we were friends with anyway, to join us and the resulting film and soundtrack has exceeded expectations. It actually ended up being one of only two films chosen by Lynch himself to be screened at his Festival of Disruption last year in L.A., the other being ‘The Elephant Man’. For the next album, we return to being ‘post-punk electronic balladeers’. Your guess is as good as mine.

What started your interest in music?
It’s hard to say, although there are few specific moments that always spring to mind. Firstly, my Dad has great taste. As well as regularly spinning classics like ‘Orgy in Rhythm’ by Art Blakey and ‘Memphis Underground’ by Herbie Mann at home, he made his own motorway mix tapes from his vinyl. I’ve got lots of memories of being in the back of cars that stink of cigarettes for hours on end, streaming down the motorways of continental Europe with the likes of La Duesseldorf ticking through the speakers. My Dad always said it’s good driving music. It was good passenger music too.

A second incident I recall is at Primary/ Elementary School where we were asked to listen to pieces of music and write down images that they evoked. I remember being totally transfixed by this electronic piece of music, not that I even knew it was electronic as such at that stage. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. It turned out to be ‘On the Run’ from Dark Side of the Moon. My teacher leant me the vinyl, although really I was disappointed that the rest of the album sounded nothing like it. Around the same time I’d also discovered another classic of electronic music, when I borrowed ‘Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise?’ (by The Art of Noise, obviously) from my brother. It completely thrilled me in places and scared the living daylights out of me in others. I was only 9, after all. Again, it was nothing like I’d ever heard before. A few years later I began a lifelong obsession with The Residents, so all that foundation work in moderate weirdness finally paid off.

How long have you been collecting?
I suppose it depends on when you consider yourself no longer just buying records, but collecting them. A key moment was a trip I took to the States when I was 16 (1992), to stay with some relatives. Whilst I was there I bought ‘The Trouser Press Record Guide to Alternative Music’ (1991 edition). It changed my record buying life forever, as I slowly started hunting down specific records that I read about. I would open and read random passages from it every night for years.
When GEMM.com came along I finally had a realistic way of getting hold of some of them. Before that, I was reliant on being sent things like Tom Timony’s TEC Tones catalogues from New York, which in the days before the internet seemed so incredibly underground and exciting to an angst-ridden teen growing up in dull, suburban London. My fascination has gradually developed into a particular love and taste for late seventies and early eighties synthpunk, largely from California and Australia. Australian post-punk music is massively underrated in my view, and goes far beyond The Birthday Party. They have incredible heritage that is much more interesting than Nick Cave.

What does your collection mean to you?
More and more as time goes on, as I gradually start to appreciate the worth of individual items and rediscover things I’ve forgotten. I’m always astonished to find how much certain things are worth, which I bought for a relative pittance 15-20 years ago. It’s genuinely not the value that excites me, more that I feel quite privileged to be one of relatively few people to have certain records. I always listen to my collection, it’s there to be enjoyed. I cannot ever see myself selling any part of it. The older I get and more I accumulate of course, the more I totally forget what I have and what some of it even is. It’s fun to rediscover. I’ve bought several records that I already own in recent years by accident, including one band where I have done this twice…for both of their only two albums. Really not good.

What’s your philosophy behind collecting records and how has that evolved since you started collecting up until the present day?
It sounds ridiculous, but I’m in it for the music. I’m not really interested in getting specific or alternate editions or formats of releases. I want to track down sounds that I’ve never heard, and I don’t care how they get there (up to a point). I naively want their influence to seep into me and somehow push me to make better and better music myself. The exception to the rule, you’ll be pleased to hear, is download. The only track I’ve ever downloaded in my life was a version of John Cage’s 4’33”, which has certain beautiful irony to it. I do see collecting as a journey. Once I find a link from one record or artist I like to another then off I go until the trail ends.

I also have an evolving belief that solo albums and side projects from band members are often more interesting than the ones for their respective bands. They certainly give you a glimpse into their unique contribution to a band. So, I’m always keen to track down solo albums or side projects, sometimes even first. For me personally, I also try and avoid collecting too many 7 inch singles these days and stick to E.P.s and albums, but that’s purely because I think it would drive me slowly insane. It’s like trying to climb a mountain that just gets taller and taller, particularly when dealing with the post-punk era, which exploded with 7 inches. Tracking down a 7 inch single that turns out to be brilliant, as they so often do, just frustrates me as I’m desperate to hear an album that just doesn’t exist. Maybe I’ll change my mind in the future.

Any interesting story about your record collecting adventure? Please share.
When I first started Cult With No Name, I got a friend of mine to design a very basic website, now long defunct. He said to me that I should also put up music reviews of obscure and forgotten vinyl as it would be the only way to drive traffic to the site. This was before the advent of obscure music blogs. So, I did. Every week I put up a review of something and it turned into a way of systematically getting to know and enjoy what I had bought each week. I used to get quite a lot of the artists I reviewed contact me to say thanks, as it was often the first time anyone had written about them in years, their first internet mentions. One such person was Philip Drucker (aka Jackson Del Rey) from 17 Pygmies and Savage Republic, whose ‘Jeddha By the Sea’ album I’d reviewed. Anyway, I built up a friendship, swapped music and Cult With No Name ended up releasing 5 albums on his label! You never know where buying an obscure post-punk classic might lead you.
Though not a collecting story, an item I have which I particularly love is a Stranglers interview picture disc which is 12 inch-sized but plays in the centre like a 7 inch. One day I dropped the needle on the outer edge and clearly made out the sounds of some country album underneath for the first few seconds! It is literally pressed over another record. I love showing that to friends. What an insufferable geek.

Share with us your top 3  favourite records and explain why?

That’s so hard. These are my top 3 today.

1. Negativland – Escape from Noise
Quite simply my favourite album of all time. The funniest, lightest, darkest, cleverest and coolest record I’ve ever heard. I love Negativland’s whole philosophy. They subvert everything around them, including me. I love a bit of subversion, at least some versions.

2. Renaldo and the Loaf – The Elbow is Taboo
Another album that has stayed up there for 25 years. I love weird pop music. Some of the greatest albums ever for me, or at least most fascinating, are when people who are evidently not cut out to be pop musicians at all try and make pop music. This album isn’t anywhere near mainstream (an understatement), but it’s like Westlife compared to their earlier albums and infectiously melodic. They’ve just released their first album in 30 years, and it’s just as good.

3. Drywall – Work the Dumb Oracle
This backs up my side project argument. It’s a side project from Stan Ridgway that feels to me like a long lost Wall of Voodoo album. I often wonder which album is the one I’ve listened to the most in my collection over the years. I reckon this is probably it, so for that reason it’s made it in.

Any tips for other record collectors out there? 
Patience, I guess. Some records have been on my list for over 20 years now. I even wonder if I’ve made some of these records up as some I can’t find anything about on the web. Also, and I know this is fairly obvious, but be wary of something incredibly obscure that suddenly pops up for sale. It often means it’s soon to be reissued. If it’s the music you’re after, rather than the ‘edition’ then I would wait for the vinyl reissue and save yourself some serious money.

Check out Eric Stein’s band via:

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