“Dust + Dignity” could be amazing. Right now, it’s just another bright idea on Kickstarter with an impressive pedigree. The proposed exhibition/audio tour, scheduled to debut in March at the Painted Bride, brings together five of the most important names in Philly DJ and club culture over the past couple decades: Cosmo Baker, King Britt, Rich Medina, Skeme Richards and DJ Junior. Be it in the clubs, on CD or over the airwaves, these five have helped define DJ culture in this town. “Dust + Dignity” aims to tap their expertise — and their considerable vinyl collections — for a socially conscious “educational experience” that considers 100 classic album covers as works of art in and of themselves. I fired off a few questions to Britt and Junior for more info.
When the idea for “Dust + Dignity” first came up, what were the records that sprung to mind and why?
Junior: There are so many powerful images for album releases over the years. When me and Angie “Cuurlzzz” Asombrosa — one of the three curators from this project — first started talking about the project, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Gil Scott Heron’s Moving Target and several Fela Anikulapo Kuti albums came to mind. They all represent more of what is or was going on in the communities and countries of these artists. Even more important, the music for the particular releases reflects the various issues around social injustice. I think of this as the artist’s contribution to the conversation. Sadly, the conversation and topic continues to happen decade after decade.
King Britt: I can speak for mine, they all aren’t obvious in that there is a story behind them. Like I did a promo video for the site and used Fishbone’s debut as an example. The cover was the first time I saw black youth who look like me having fun and smiling while making music. Very strong impact on young minds.
Was there a record that everybody agreed just had to make it into the exhibit?
Junior: Actually no. We didn’t want to force our ideas on anyone. We have a great deal of respect for the DJs selected for this exhibition. They are great at their craft but also are just good people. We wanted them to reflect on what is presently happening in our society concerning politics, education, race relations and social justice and see what records they were drawn to from their collections.
Was it hard to narrow it down to 100 albums?
Junior: Rich, King, Cosmo, Skeme and I were given the task to select 20 releases from any genre and time period from our own collections. Cosmo Baker had a great idea for each of us to not know what the others had selected.
I just finished collecting all the releases from everyone and right now I’m the only one who knows what the 100 releases are for the exhibition. There’s some great diversity in the selections, but what is even more interesting to me is why certain releases were selected. I can’t speak to everyone process but for me it was and wasn’t hard to narrow my selections down.
I’d say there were several that I knew I wanted to showcase straight away so that is what I pulled out first. Then I just pulled records that I was drawn to. That was the difficult part. I thought I only pulled a few. Little did I know I actually pulled a little over 50 before I decided to stop and count them.
What will the audio tour be like?
Junior: Our third curator and partner for this project, Sarah Mueller (from CineSpeak) is behind this idea. The audio will be interviews we have with the DJs where they discuss their selections and some of the reasoning behind them. We recognize that all the DJs can’t be at the Painted Bride for the month-long (March 2016) exhibition to share their stories. However, we see this as a way that the audience can connect and hear directly from the DJs about their selections. Funds from the Kickstarter will help make this important piece of the exhibition a reality.
How big is your record collection? How do you organize it?
Junior: It’s weird because I don’t think I have a lot compared to my friends that collect and DJ. Then I realize to the average individual, I probably do. I’d say I have about 15,000 albums and 12”s and then about 4,000 45s. For the most part they are organized by genre. Then depending on the genre they are alphabetized. Then of course there are many records in piles all over the place. Oddly, the ones not on shelves I know exactly where everything is and can place my hands on records I need for my radio show Eavesdrop Radio on WKDU or for gigs.
King Britt: I have about 16K now, most at the studio, some at mom’s. Organized by “jazz” or “not jazz.” Hahahaha.
The “Dust + Dignity” Kickstarter campaign ends February 14. Once it’s funded, the exhibition will appear in March. Keep up with the progress on Twitter: @DustNDignity and Facebook: facebook.com/DustNDignity.