Mix and Interview with Brian Not Brian
by Herb Essntls
A year ago
We spoke with Brian Morrison, the man behind the spectacular name Brian Not Brian, this week about the therapeutic relationship to music, working in record shops, and his dream party and vision behind his curation: the soundtrack of an imaginary house party hosted in an imaginary NYC loft.
Interview by Tim Overill
Thank you for hosting this week, Brian! You told me you’d approached this mix as the beginning of an imaginary New York loft party - tell us about this inspiration.
My pleasure! It was a fun selection to put together, I enjoyed it. Yeah, in my head it’s the very beginning of a long, psychedelic night in my own personal imaginary NYC loft space. You know, all your close friends, super nice setup and system, sonically rich sounds. I guess, like everyone else, being trapped in my house for the last few months made the fantasy of being in an extra special and safe space experiencing amazing records with other people seem all the more alluring. This is a glimpse of that party in my head… the first hour, at least.
Are there any standout records from the mix you knew you just had to include?
I’ve been listening to Biggie’s ‘Ready To Die’ LP quite a lot recently (recommended lockdown listening for sure). The first cut ‘Things Done Changed’ has been a minor obsession the last few weeks, it’s actually musically scary. It samples The Main Ingredients cover version of Seals & Croft’s classic ‘Summer Breeze’, but producer Easy Mo Bee just takes the sample into another realm altogether, it’s so sinister and full of drama. I knew that the Main Ingredient version was gonna pop up somewhere in this mix as it’s been on heavy rotation alongside B.I.G. here at GGHQ lately.
You’re known as a consummate digger, what is it that fuels the desire to continue the search for records?
I guess I just have an endless thirst for knowledge and love for exploring things, or some sort of undiagnosed obsessive compulsion. Thing is, with me now, it’s not just records… it’s tapes, CD’s, books, zines, posters and all sorts of other ephemera. I guess I still get a serious buzz out of discovering things, which is cool. Like, I want to hear, see and read everything… saying that, I am not into collecting toys or old lunchboxes or things like that. Nothing worse than a 40 year old man with a toy collection (no offence to anyone!).
In previous interviews you’ve mentioned outsider culture, or belonging to marginalized groups as being key to your immersion in music. What do you think it is about music that brings people together, how important is its role as therapeutic outlet?
It’s extremely important. For me, music has always been therapeutic. It’s been a safe place away from the chaos and confusion of the world for as long as I can remember, total escapism. All of that stems from an adolescence spent in Northern Ireland on the fringes, faced with a lot of challenges and upheaval in my case. The connection with music and art, and other good people you run into among all the madness - who are like you - can be life-changing! You realise you’re not the only weirdo on the block, and that can be both empowering and a comfort. I made so many good friends through music over the years. I’m lucky.
Your mix covers a ton of genres and styles, and you have released a diverse selection of music on your label, Going Good. What are the common themes that can make a particular record resonate with you?
I think about this quite a bit. I run the label with one of my oldest friends - Sal - and we’ve always decided together what we should release. To us, even though all the releases are super different sonically or visually, they all share some quality or thread that binds them all together in our collective mind. It’s that thread we look for, and oftentimes you can’t quite place or verbalise what it is. That might sound super pretentious, but there’s certain sounds or vibes about some records that naturally fit together and make sense and that’s what we hope we tap into.
We’re always down to take a risk on something if we think it’s good, we listen and trust our gut feeling. We try to avoid trends at all costs, we release music that moves us somehow, music that elicits a feeling in us and isn’t caught up in any scene or window of time. We always ‘live’ with a record for a few months, cycle to it, eat to it, chill to it, bath to it - whatever - let it become a part of our everyday fabric. Only then does it reveal itself and really make some sort of sense and hopefully become a release proper. Sometimes things don't end up coming out. We practise quality control at all times and we take our time considering releases too - there’s no rush.
We are always interested in the collaboration dynamic - how does your partnership with Salik at the label work, in terms of choosing artists you want to work with, or direction you want the label to go in?
Well, I’ve known Sal for roughly about 20 years. We share the same birthday. We lived together for at least 8-9 years in the same flat. We even had the same day job at one point - twice! He’s a very low key kinda dude. He’s definitely the grounded logistical and business minded department, whereas I’m more into sourcing the music and coming up with aesthetic ideas and the like. He’s also a very talented DJ, he doesn’t do it very much, but when he does he always blows people away. We both always end up doing everything for the label though at some stage, in true DIY style - even down to the distribution. On some levels we’re the same, completely. On others, we couldn’t be more different, but it works, somehow!
I guess the people we tend to work with mainly are friends and associates, or people we have connected with or simply look up to, whose music or general outlook on life and art we really appreciate. Luckily, everything seems to have grown quite naturally and the music we get sent or get to hear taps into the unknown magic ‘thread’ I mentioned above. We’re very fortunate to have access to so much killer stuff and to so many great people, our network of friends and artists is amazing and we really value them.
You’ve also worked in many London record stores, including Phonica Records, and MVE & Kristina. What's the best thing about working at a record shop? How would you say it shaped your musical journey?
Yeah, I did almost a decade straight in record stores in London. Compared to some people I know that’s nothing, but still, before I worked in any of them I was a stone cold music freak already. I had already immersed myself in digging and records and so on for a good few years, fully. I did think I knew quite a bit already, and I had had 1000’s of records, but entering into the world of record stores only accelerated this for me. Especially at somewhere like MVE, where you had a bunch of well known local DJ’s, producers and all-round heads working there, showing you the ropes. I had been a long time customer before I worked there. Being in there turned me onto even more genres, even other formats and styles and was a true wealth of info. It’s deep.
Somewhere like Phonica for example, that was the same in a lot of ways, but there you had the added dimension of being exposed to worldwide DJs and artists, DJ culture, and the international club scene. You had everyone you could imagine who was someone passing through London coming in and listening to records, doing in-stores, charging their phones, doing interviews on our couches etc. You got exposed to all sorts of people face to face upfront. I loved it. Phonica is an institution.
This has been a strange year for enjoying music in the collective space - what would be your line up and setting, for the dream party to throw, when the pandemic is over?
It has been a mad year. I cannot wait until we’re out the other side. This one’s been a washout. I’d have to throw a jam in the nice airy big loft space in NYC that I have imagined - do they still exist there like in the movies? We’d start in the afternoon and we’d just need a nice setup that works, but nothing too overtly audiophile or bespoke. Just some powerful amps, proper speakers and maybe 3 turntables and 3 CDJ’s and a good solid mixer and EFX. Some chilled persons who ‘get it’ looking over everyone’s safety would be nice. Also, someone rocking some lights for us and tons of plants, space and a fully stocked bar. It would be good if there were no bright lights in the booth and if the focus wasn’t directed towards the DJs in any way. Oh yeah, no cameras, and no closing time.
If this fantasy celebration was somehow funded by a very wealthy benefactor or promoter - line up wise it would be friends and family, no sponsored online posts, DJ riders, first class airline tickets or egos. It’d be close crew from London, NYC, Detroit, Rio, Belfast, Melbourne, Berlin, Tokyo and Dusseldorf spinning music all the way live, for like 2-3 days… or something like that!