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Grandlife interviews

On the Record with Johan Kugelberg

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On The Record is a series of conversations with New York’s most lauded vinyl spinners, interviewed by musician, DJ, and music director Alix Brown.  

Since 1988, Swedish-born music historian and collector of punk, hip hop, and counter-culture artifacts, Johan Kugelberg has called New York City his home.

His vast knowledge of music has led him to curate more than 100 exhibitions, and write and publish 42 books, including Vintage Rock T-shirts, True Norwegian Black Metal, Born in the Bronx, The Velvet Underground: New York Art, Beauty Is in the Street: A Visual Record of the May 68 Uprising, and Punk: An Aesthetic.

When he’s not out discovering new fascinating ephemera, you can find him at his archival company and rare-book shop, Boo-Hooray, in lower Manhattan, or at his “Summer Rental” gallery in Montauk.

We caught up with Kugelberg to talk about everything from his most coveted record to his all-time favorite New York record store. 

Do you remember the first record you ever bought or were given? 

Johan Kugelberg: On a trip to New York with my parents, I remember purchasing the Sparks album Propaganda at a Times Square record shop. It was talismanic. 

What is the rarest record you think you own?

JK: There is a hip hop 12-inch on A&M [Records] by Rahim that was used as a placemat at a birthday dinner for their legendary radio promo guy Charlie Minor. One-hundred copies were pressed and people were flinging them around like frisbees at the party. Has to be a rare one. 

What is your most coveted record?

JK: That I’d still like to own? A signed Coltrane album would be such a thrill.

Which is your most guilty pleasure record?

JK: There is no such thing! There is only the enjoyment of music. I love Erasure and the Stooges and the Waterboys and the Velvet Underground and James Brown and Farley Jackmaster Funk. Guilty pleasure means that you need some sort of spectator and cool police. None of that. This is the Sea coming on the jukebox of an Irish bar can tick the same emotional boxes as Nico singing Frozen Warnings. 

Any record in particular with a good backstory of how or where you found it? 

JK: In the pre-internet days you really had to dig hard to even find out about the existence of records you might like. The underground railroad of music fandom—zines, hip indie record shops, friends in other bands, people you met at shows, etc.—was all you had ’cause you could not sit and slap your smartphone for sounds. The biggest a-ha experience for me was always plowing through thrift stores looking for homemade private press records and discovering something with an amazing sound outside of space and time. 

Which record pulls on your heartstrings every time you hear it?

JK: Neu! 75. A masterpiece. Ticks every box. 

What is your favorite New York City record store, past or present? 

JK: Mooncurser Records on City Island was always a shocking, overwhelming, ecstatic journey of discovery: private-press Moondog records, odd exotica, wild gospel records… My goodness. 

The Scorpio [Music] warehouse in Trenton, NJ, was always a blast, too. You started at 9am, climbing pallets four-stories high and left 12 hours later with hip hop and disco records that neither you or any of your OCD friends had ever heard. 

Those moments are more or less lost in time due to the furshlugginer internet. It is all there. The map is on the territory. But in saying that, there is still gold in them thar hills, you’ve got to dig deeper, in thrift stores, Salvation Army [stores], and believe it or not, I swear that there are amazing undiscovered records in the dollar bin of every hipster record shop in Brooklyn. 

WORDS Alix Brown

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