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Amir's dedication to musical genetics
words Sven Carlsson / images Press
A quick internet search will reveal that plenty of websites have taken their camera equipment to go digging with renowned crate-digging DJ-duo Kon & Amir on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The initial thought was to do the same with Amir for this feature, but I was hesitant. Should we join everyone else in portraying him as a romantic buried in crates at any time of day? As we will find out, Amir spends only a portion of his time making complentary purchases to a damn-near complete record collection.
One exchange into our phone conversation, and Amir has enforced the image himself: ”I’m actually out digging right now,” he explains, the slight amusement in his voice suggesting that he knows what I must be thinking. Maybe he really does live in a record shop!
It doesn’t take long before Amir has proven otherwise. 24 hours later, at the Wax Poetics office in Brooklyn, New York, he is knocking off lunch and an interview simultaneously, multitasking through what seems to be a typically busy day. In between preparing the release of his and Kon’s third compilation on BBE, Off Track Vol. 3: Brooklyn, talking to artists about upcoming releases on Wax Poetics (the magazine whose record label Amir bosses over), and preparing the set of 45’s that he will spin at the SXSW music festival along with a host of Stones Throw DJ’s, there is little time for lunch, let alone digging for record.
So how does someone with a passion for music end up spending the lion’s share of their time collecting, producing and playing records? In Amir’s case, it all began with a childhood spent ”in a house full of all kinds of music,” and things really took a spin when young Amir was in school in the late 70’s and hip-hop came knocking.
”I just remember hearing Sugar Hill Gang and them using a lot of disco records that we already knew, popular riffs and disco songs, you know?,” Amir recalls in the Wax Poetics conference room. ”And the way they were talking and rapping in those songs was exactly what we were already doing in our neighbourhood, except without calling it rapping.”
I then get a definite answer to a question that need not be asked; whether he was excited to hear the recycling of breaks he already knew with rap added to them. ”Oh, hell yeah!,” he exclaims, going on to explain the significance of sampling to his understanding of music.
”[Sampling] just opened my mind to so much more [music]. So I think it’s one of the greatest things that mankind has ever created,” Amir says without hestiation, “because it opened up the eyes of so many people from my generation and even before to music they had never encountered before.”
Dozens of thousands of records and three decades later, Amir is still feeding off an insatiable apetite for any kind of music. His dedication urges us all to map out the genetical makeup of today’s releases. Kon & Amir’s compilations, known to boast anything from mellow jazz to danceable boogie, funk and latin music, bring to light records that most listeners have never heard, but feel an instant connection to nonetheless.
The Off Track series has thus far taken us to two of New York City’s borrows: The Bronx and Queens. The next stop in the series is Brooklyn, and Amir’s mix on this compilation carries a focus on African records as a tribute to the large African diasporah residing in the borough.
”All of these records are form the early 80’s—late 70’s. That’s partly because that was when African engineers learned how to engineer music and the records sound a lot better, and partly because that was the time when African artists started getting into disco and boogie and that kind of music began to replace funk. From my side, I wanted this compilation to be more danceable,” says Amir, who has certainly delivered on his promise to bring us something for the dancefloor this time around.
Amir’s carefully selected 10-track mix weaves in and out of up-tempo African boogie records, proving beyond doubt that the continent has a history of appropriating musical styles to great effect. The mix is an instant hit on any dancefloor, yet it would verge on the absurd to imagine the in-crowd at the club kickin’ it to some of Amir’s more obscure finds. Far beyond the familiar worlds of disco and funk, sme of his finds include the musical by-product of half-hearted European nationalism.
”When we first started touring we always used to go to Germany. When digging over there I got really into what they call ’Deutsche schlager,’” Amir says, and I chuckle to the thought of a record connaisseur going apeshit over something like this. But Amir is indiscriminate in widening his musical horizon. ”Most Germans I talked to said they would describe it as trashy, shit music. But one man’s treasure is another man’s gold; I found a lot of breaks on those records.”
No stones has been left unturned in his search for record, and a result has been that Amir nowadays rarely buys records when out digging, even when he has ”the money and want[s] to spend it.”
And that may be good for a man with plenty on his plate. ouring or putting together compilations, running the Wax Poetics record label keeps Amir on his grind. As with his record collecting, selectivity remains key at Wax Poetics.
Originally a magazine founded to preserve the legacy of yesterday’s music by linking it to more modern trends, Wax Poetics also has a handful of new releases and re-issues to its name. ”We’re not the most prolific label,” says Amir of his workplace since 2007, “but we’re selective, and I think that’s a large reason why we’re still around.”
So, rather than spending all his time face down in a crate, Amir has widened his mission to show music fans today what contemporary music owes its origins to.
”I just wish more younger people, and when I say young I mean 16 to 20 or so, would have the desire to learn more about [the origins of contemporary music]. A lot of people just aren’t concerned with that, among a lot of other things.”
What may sund preachy in a thirteen-year-old’s ear only sounds funky on the dancefloor, because Amir is not bringing out the textbook; he’s just trying to bring rare and inspiring music into people’s lives.
”I hear people going ’I was cleaning my house to your compilation’ or ’I was driving to so-and-so listening to it’. To me, that’s got more longevity than just a club mix, you know? Something that people listen to going about their every day business is something that stays around on rotation. On heavy rotation in people’s lives, that’s what I’d like to be,” Amir says.
Fans of his and Kon’s will already attest to that being the case.