Introducing the UO Music Newsletter, For The Record. Our first issue is dedicated to the art of collecting and the collectors who put in the work. Read more below. For a full look at everything the newsletter has to offer, click here.
Launched in 2005, Los Angeles-based indie music blog Aquarium Drunkard remains a truly imaginative collection of sonic discoveries. Alongside a small team of contributors, founder Justin Gage has carved out a choice retreat for the digital music landscape, one that values eclecticism and merges contemporary sounds with handpicked vintage garage, psych, soul, jazz, R&B and more. Sifting through the site’s content is synonymous with crate-digging, which is not surprising considering Gage’s extensive record collection.
Between managing Aquarium Drunkard and frequent DJ sets in Los Angeles and beyond, Gage has also recently taken on music supervision duties for a handful of upcoming television programs and films. Having just arrived home from seeing Herbie Hancock perform Headhunters material at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Gage took some time to speak to us about his shelves and shelves of records, changes in the music industry, and the power of the unexpected find.
Aquarium Drunkard has always valued quality over quantity. Does this apply to your own record collection?
Absolutely. It’s funny you mention that. It goes beyond physical records: I don’t even like having a bogus MP3 on my machine. I’m kind of obsessive in that way. I just want to surround myself with stuff that I genuinely want to listen to and am curious to dig into further.
Was the vinyl resurgence happening when you launched the site?
No. Aquarium Drunkard launched in 2005. While you could definitely by some newer titles on vinyl, it was nothing like it is today. Back then you could pick up records on the super cheap. Not quite like it was in the ‘90s or early 2000s, but you could still go in and pick up inexpensive records. Even your classic rock stuff, those are $10 records now when they were a couple of bucks a decade or so ago.
Do you have a routine when you go record shopping?
I definitely keep a list on my iPhone of stuff that I’m looking for. So I have a ritual when I go into shops where I’ll go through that list and see if I can knock out some of the things on there. Aside from that, it’s the same as a bookstore. I could spend hours in a shop. Or at Pasadena City College, where they do the big record fair every month, I’ll just go in there and dig through things. I’ll read the back of the albums to see who the players are, and if I recognize them. Sometimes I’ll pick up things blind that look interesting — that’s always been my favorite way to discover music. It can be really hit or miss, but when you hit it can be so interesting and rewarding.
How often do those finds make their way onto the blog?
I found a record last week that’s new to me. It’s this 1976 South African record by these two guys that record under the name Malombo. It came out on Atlantic Records in the mid-’70s. I had only heard of it in passing, but it’s something that I picked up sight unseen and have been listening to, outside of a recent trip to Europe, pretty much nonstop. That’s something you’ll be seeing on Aquarium Drunkard in the near future, [although] a lot of those finds make their way more frequently onto my SiriusXM show or a mixtape.
What was the first record you bought with your own money?
The first record I ever owned was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. My parents bought it for me when I was a little kid. But the first record I bought with my own money on vinyl, which I still own, was Licensed to Ill by the Beastie Boys. And then getting Paul’s Boutique which, god, we could talk for hours about how that single record then led me down that vinyl goldmine. Just in terms of what they were sampling and what they were turning me on to, all the funk stuff, Lee Dorsey to Meters. Those Beastie Boys records were early seminal platters that I picked up.
When did you start collecting records?
College, in the mid-late ’90s, [is] when I started getting back into vinyl, in part because it was so incredibly inexpensive. I was going to garage sales and estate sales and the Goodwill, just everywhere you turned around people were dumping their collection. It was a great way to very inexpensively dive into all kinds of genres and artists. That, and my dad’s vinyl collection. A lot of what I got turned on to was through his collection. He was a music freak, from jazz and R&B to funk to Celtic music and African music or rock and roll. Going through his collection was huge in terms of the width and breadth of all the different stuff that was available for me to listen to.
What are your favorite record shops in L.A. right now?
There is Record Jungle and Wombleton. Gimme Gimme Records moved from New York to L.A. several years ago. Just in Highland Park alone there are four or five shops. There is Permanent Records and Mount Analog. Obviously, Amoeba Records is here — a store that’s as big as a warehouse. In the ’90s where everyone unloaded their vinyl, now they are unloading their CDs, so conversely it can be fascinating just going through the CDs now. Again, that is a medium that is going to be extinct soon and all those compact discs with the liner notes are going to be gone. People are getting rid of their entire collection, [they’re] really great albums. Those aren’t going to be made again. They’re out of print now. It’s like if I was 18 today and I wanted to get really invested in checking out a lot of different kinds of music, beyond Spotify and with liner notes, CDs are fantastic right now for people on a budget who are really curious. It's kind of what vinyl was in the ’90s.
Do you care about special pressings or first editions?
I don’t care anything about that. I don’t like colored vinyl, it actually makes it harder for when I DJ. It’s harder to cue the tracks up. I try to get black vinyl. I use my records, it’s not like they are just collectibles sitting on a wall. They are very much in use. In terms of limited edition, rainbow vinyl or whatever, it’s just not for me. As long as it’s not warped and sounds good. I will try to track down a certain pressing of a record that sounds a lot better, but beyond that I have no interest in trying to pick up something just for the novelty of having three different versions of something on vinyl.