Ein Bayer in New York - New mix and interview
by Herb Essntls
A month ago
Today we're happy to introduce Tom Bolas as this week's Musical Host. Tom is currently based in Berlin and is known as a heavy record collector and DJ with deep interest accross many genres and eras. He runs the Facebook group AverageRecords.com and his other mixes can be found on his SoundCloud page and AR's YouTube channel. Well worth a visit.
Listen to his brilliant mix here or on the Herb Essntls SoundCloud page, and please enjoy his thoughtful answers and insights about music below.
Thank you for being this week’s Musical Host. We ask all our Musical Hosts to set the mood for New York City, what was your thoughts behind this curation?
Thanks for inviting me, first of all. I tried finding a connection between Germany and New York and hence used this record sleeve. The idea was to introduce concepts into this mix that have been on everyone’s mind in recent times due to lockdowns and the isolation we have all gone through. I chose a few songs with lyrics that would bring this to the forefront and went for a generally darker mood, while also featuring some songs that have a connection to New York, which is more obvious with some than with others. For example one track was recorded in New York despite being performed in German language, so the connection isn’t immediately obvious. I have kept the general feel of this one more like a podcast, partly because there is very little dancing going on at the moment, but also because a more dance-oriented mix of mine should come out in the next few weeks.
You’re based in Berlin. How does the (let’s call it) underground music culture in Berlin differ from New York City - how have the different styles influenced you, your DJing and music production?
There was a time when the history and music of New York discotheques were a big influence for me, especially when I lived in London for 8 years. The scene there is much closer to the American one than Berlin’s underground is. I would say that my taste in music has undergone the biggest change in my life since moving to Berlin 7 years ago. The focus has become much more European-centred, but I’ve also developed a huge appetite for music from all corners of the world that are perhaps a bit less explored than Europe and North America.
Aside from Youtube, Soundcloud and Facebook, that’s seen as a platform for sharing your mixes and events, your online presence - interviews and social media - are virtually private. Such has been the case for a few other of our Musical Hosts. Why do you find that is - many of you have so much knowledge, insights and stories to share?
For me it is about the music, not about me. I prefer to live a private life. Not even my personal social media are full of photos of myself. It’s how I like it. There are plenty of DJs and musicians out there with a huge portfolio of press shots. That just is not what I am about. I cannot speak for others as they may have their own reasons for this. If anyone wants to know more, they can always speak to me. I am approachable and like to meet new people.
In the few bios we’ve found online, they lead with how you mix a range of genres, from house to digital reggae and psychedelic rock. Please share more about this interest and talent of yours?
I have broad tastes in music and find that there is something good to be found in pretty much all genres. I like DJs and selectors with an eclectic approach, jumping between genres, eras, continents and styles. It’s a personal preference of mine, whether it’s a talent or whether it works well together is for others to decide. I like to combine music by moods and emotions rather than BPM or staying in any one genre for too long.
Another site stated your “focus on mainly world disco.” What does this mean to you?
I’ve always had a thing for disco music and the more time I invested exploring its many facets, the more I found myself moving away from the classics that we all know well. I would say that a lot of regions in the world, be it West Africa or South East Asia had a wave of disco come to them during the 70s and 80s. It made a big impression on the artists and musicians there. They often tried to imitate it and wanted to be like those stars they saw on record covers or in the music press of the time.
For instance, on many disco and boogie covers from Nigeria, you can sense that the artists wanted to have the success of Michael Jackson as well as other pop and disco stars of the time and adopted stylistic elements of his on their cover artwork. It is very obvious if you look at Mike Obi’s 1988 LP "Balasei” and the 3 others I have included a photo of in this feature. Many artists in these regions then, in trying to emulate their heroes from America, created their own version of this music and, at least in my own estimation, often created masterpieces, that were of course never as commercially successful. In many cases these forgotten treasures have still not been unearthed again and are largely unknown to most people outside of record collector and specialist DJ circles. Their financial means and range as well as quality of instruments at their disposal at the time was often rather limited and yet they created so much out of very little.
This music, which frequently includes cover versions of famous disco hits, has really found a big place in my heart. The productions may not be as glossy, the mastering, pressings, etc. not as clean and ideal, but that only adds to the charm of this music, I find. Then there are always new and exciting sub-genres to discover like Chutney Disco for example, where Hindustani immigrants to the Caribbean or Suriname created their own take on disco that I have found fascinating in the last year or two maybe.
Can you share more about your relation to Average Records? It’s Facebook titled as a cultural center, and linked to its YouTube page for sharing mixes.
I started Average Records as a Youtube channel as a way to share some of the music I found along the way that you could not listen to anywhere else on the internet so far. The "cultural centre” setting that I chose from Facebook’s list of options isn’t entirely serious and as a nod to the fact that music from many cultures is presented on the channel. For a short time there also was an Average Records website through which I sold a few of the records I had gathered at the time, but it quickly proved to be too time-consuming to continue updating the website and replying to the many queries from potential buyers, so I decided to pull the plug and do away with the website itself, a familiar story from friends and record dealers who have at one point run similar websites.
Tell our readers more about your Dancing for Mental Health events? Please share about the inception, the intention and the participating community.
I started the party in 2014 with two (still) very young DJs and wonderful people from Italy here in Berlin, Budino and Dama. We named the party after Will Powers’ album “Dancing For Mental Health" because the track made us chuckle and we loved the general concept of the album with its fun take on auto-suggestion and motivational tapes that were so popular in the 80s. For the first 3 years we would play the title track at every iteration of the party as the last track of the warm-up set before the guest DJs came on. We wanted to create a musically diverse, yet at least somewhat rooted in disco party and our roster of guests has been pretty versatile.
We brought on legends of early European club culture like TBC who was DJing at Cosmic with Daniele Baldelli in the 80s, Leo Mas who was a resident at Amnesia in the golden age of Ibiza as well as rising stars like Nu Guinea and stalwarts of the European underground like Mike Burns and Slobodan Brkic for example. It’s a small party at our favourite local venue Sameheads with a regular following and depending on who we invite as a guest, keeps drawing a fairly big crowd every time.
As a focus on health and wellness becomes more prominent topics of conversation, do you have plans to bring back these events in the near future, as we navigate this pandemic?
Well, as it is just a reference to the above-mentioned 80s concept album, it was never about health and wellness, but we hope to resume the series once restrictions are lifted. There have been some entertaining incidents where people thought it was a charity party because they didn’t know the album, despite it being a true classic of club culture. Even in New York, the main hit single from the album “Adventures in Success” apparently was a staple at parties back in the day. Another less successful single from the album “Smile” (especially the Dub Version) is also a fairly well known classic. Once a journalist from DJ Mag wrote me that he would like to interview us about how the dance music scene deals with issues relating to mental health and that wasn’t the only funny incident in this regard.
How do you feel people can be equally curious, and supported by connecting to music in this quarantine-time and thereafter?
A lot of people have had more free time during lockdowns in recent months, which I hope has given them an opportunity to look a bit further afield for music and artists than usual when everyday tasks limit us and the time we have to spare for finding new inspiring art and music. Certainly for me, I found that I have been hunting and buying even more music during lockdown as we were confined to our homes with more free time at our disposal. Some records I have been wanting to find for a long time have surfaced in this period and 2 tracks from one 7” single are even included in this podcast, a record that has only sold twice now in the 7 years since it was added to the world’s largest second hand music database and online marketplace (to avoid advertising). As for being supported by connecting to music, if you mean financially, then it is not looking great at this time of course with all clubs shut and festivals cancelled for the foreseeable future. It would be plain speculation to say how things could go on. I am curious to see how things will pan out and look forward to seeing how overjoyed people will be once parties are possible again.
With events at Berlin Night Club, Sameheads and your association with labels, Disco Segreta and Duca Bianco. Can you tell us your thoughts on both joining such vibrant creative communities, and staying connected.
Sameheads to me is Berlin’s finest music institution, an intimate and ingeniously designed venue run by 2 English brothers where the underground thrives and it’s a great pleasure and honor to have our party series running there for nearly 6 years at this point. I have met many great people and artists there and it has been an essential part of my Berlin experience since returning to Germany after living abroad for well over a decade without living back home again in between. Disco Segreta is run by my great friend Carlo Simula, one of the deepest researchers of European disco music and part of the brilliant disco blog “Overfitting Disco”, which I can only recommend to everyone reading this. Disco Segreta is a fantastic reissue label and it’s an honour to be featured with an edit and a remix on two separate releases. Duca Bianco is the side project of a label boss who would like to remain unnamed and features some very good edits on it and a couple of artists I highly respect have released their edits through it. I have a new 12” with four of my edits coming out via the label with a delayed release date for now due to everything that has been going on. A few of these are already up on my Soundcloud and Youtube channel for those keen to hear them.
Thanks again for the invitation and to those who read all the way to the end!