The marimba from Señor Coconut’s cover of “Trans Europe Express” reverberates down Elmyra Street, about half a block away from Homage Brewing. I recognize the song instantly because there’s a copy of the 12” single that’s been in my collection for more than 20 years. It was something that I loved on a conceptual level— German producer moves to Chile and releases Kraftwerk covers in various Latin American music styles— but also turned out to be a useful record to own if you like people asking “What is this?” when playing all-vinyl bar DJ gigs.
I’ve never tired of that record. Even now, as I walk to the In Sheep’s Clothing x Japonesia x Homage Record Fair with my husband and crate-digging partner, Carlos, hearing the that cumbia rhythm mimic the klick-klick-kl-klick of “Trans Europe Express” changes the pace with which I walk. I start to feel like a train catching the groove on the tracks after departing the station.
“Trans Europe Express” is a long song. It’s still going strong after Carlos and I have entered Homage and split up to search different booths set up outside the brewery. I flip through a couple bins of city pop records to the beat of the song in search of covers that catch my eye. I’m digging here out of curiosity, not because I plan on buying anything. I know enough about city pop to understand that any release I recognize is highly coveted and will be far beyond my budget. Even the ones I don’t know will be more than what I plan to spend today. That’s okay. Most of the time, I’d rather learn than splurge.
I’m a city pop novice. All of what I know comes from friends who actually DJ in that genre. It’s not like turn-of-the-millennium indie music, where I can amuse or annoy you with fun facts. Yet, even when it comes to music released in the late 1990s and early 2000s— an era I did experience as a college radio and then club DJ— I’m still learning. Like, when I first heard Señor Coconut’s Kraftwerk covers— he released a whole album of them— it didn’t resonate with me that Jorge Gonzalez, of Los Prisioneros, sang lead on versions of “The Robots” and “The Man-Machine.” Now, I love that bit of trivia because I’ve spent the past few months listening the Chilean band’s second album, Pateando Piedras, and I can hear the Kraftwerk influence in it. Man, if I found that album on vinyl at a record fair, I might forget all about the record shopping budgets that I set for myself. It would likely still be cheaper than paying for shipping from South America.
Crate digging will prompt you to run off on more tangents that you can recall, few of which will be of interest to anyone who isn’t also a music obsessive. That’s probably why I’ve always had a hard time DJing events for normal people or, like, just making friends with normal people.
Anyhow, I moved on from the city pop crates to the Japanese synth crate when I heard my name. I turned around and saw two DJs I know, both of whom play city pop. I pulled out a record from the synth bin that intrigued me because the girl on the cover looked like a goth going on a job interview. She had ‘80s mall bangs and wore a black top with a white collar, maybe part of a Wednesday Addams dress, I assume, and lipstick in a shade of lavender strikingly similar to one Urban Decay released in the 1990s under the apt name Asphyxia. I asked the DJs if they knew the record. One responded that it wasn’t really in the style of what I play in my DJ sets. (Pro tip: If you see DJs you know when you’re digging, always ask for advice.)
Then I picked up a Sandii and the Sunsetz record with a cover that definitely looked like something I would play. I asked them and neither knew much about it. I noticed the price, not awful, but more than I would spend on something I don’t know. I did fall into a Sandii and the Sunsetz Spotify hole the following morning and I don’t regret passing up the record. It’s good, but I don’t know if I’d get that much club play out of it.
At another booth, I found what would be my score for the day, a Yello 12” with four different extended mixes on it. I snap it up mainly because I would prefer to play an extended mix of “Bostich” than the album version in vinyl sets and $12 is within my price range for the day.
Carlos and I reconvene after I buy the Yello record. We take turns hanging on the purchases, lamenting that we forgot to bring a shopping bag, while continuing the vinyl hunt. He comes out of the record fair with three records. I leave with a single purchase, which is fine with me. We go inside to get a beer and talk about what we got. He tells me about the Peter Godwin “Images of Heave” 12” that he finally found and picked up for one of the B-sides, turning over the record to point out that it was produced by Midge Ure, who I love.
We go home and listen to our new-old vinyl. When that Yello 12” plays, I realize that, even though I got it for “Bostich,” I should be playing the extended dance mix of “Lost Again,” which is has such an eerie, late night vibe that it would probably work in my Halloween sets, even if it’s not a “spooky song.” That’s the best outcome for any adventure in the used record bins. It’s not so much about finding the song you want, but stumbling upon the one that you didn’t realize you needed until after you dropped the needle on it.