On The Record With Justin Strauss
Introducing On The Record, a series of conversations with New York’s most lauded vinyl spinners, interviewed by musician, DJ, and music director Alix Brown.
Calling Justin Strauss just a DJ is a huge understatement.
Growing up in Long Island with a bad case of Beatlemania, Justin knew he wanted to do something in music. In the ’70s, at the ripe age of 17, he and some high school friends formed (now cult followed) power pop band Milk ʼnʼ Cookies, which was quickly signed to Island Records. They shared the stage with other bands you may have heard of like Talking Heads and The Ramones. When the band’s destiny for greatness never gained as much traction as they rightfully deserved, Justin took to the streets of New York, DJing at hot spots like the Mudd Club, Limelight, The Ritz, and began utilizing his musician skills in remixes for Depeche Mode, The B-52’s, and Tina Turner.
You can still hear Justin DJing around town, guest spinning at Richard Bochʼs revamped Mudd Club party at The Soho Grand. He will also be touring Europe this Spring, hitting renowned clubs and parties like Horse Meat Disco, Panorama Bar in Berlin, and Zukunft in Switzerland.
Justin has also been keeping himself busy working on new music with Joe Goddard from Hot Chip and Marcus Marr called Extra Credit; an EP with Max Pask and Soulwax for their Deewee label; a project with Moscoman and Max for Disco Halal label; a remix for Amy Douglas on DFA; as well as a Whatever/ Whatever remix of Codekʼs “Tam Tam” on Dark Entries.
A more appropriate title we at GrandLife would like to give Justin is “New York Legend.”
Alix Brown: Do you remember the first record you ever bought or were given?
Justin Strauss: When I was very young, like seven years old, I saw the Beatles on TV and that changed my life. The next day, my dad took me to the record store and bought me the 45 of “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” That lead me on a lifelong journey of buying records and a life in music.
AB: What is the rarest record you own?
JS: Well, that’s hard to say. I’m not so much into rare records for rare record’s sake, but I did have a really nice copy of the Beatles infamous Butcher Cover still in the shrinkwrap. It was pretty much the only record I’ve ever sold because someone offered me a crazy amount of money for it. I think the internet has changed the way I think about rare records… Actually, not much is really rare these days because of the access. Records you have been looking for your whole life can be found by just typing it into your search bar, and sometimes for cheap or sometimes crazy prices. I have an original copy of “Beat Bop” by Rammellzee and K-Rob, which was produced by Jean-Michel Basquiat, who also did the cover art. There were only 500 copies of the original pressed. He gave me my copy when it came out, which of course makes it extra special.
AB: What is your most coveted record?
JS: For me, records are kind of like children, you love them all but for different reasons. So it would be hard or impossible for me to narrow that down. But if I had to pick one that means the most, it would probably be my band Milk ’n’ Cookies first single, “Little, Lost and Innocent” which came out on Island Records in the UK. Ever since buying my first record, all I ever dreamed about was actually recording and releasing a record. So the day it actually happened I couldn’t stop staring at it and playing it. It just has a very special meaning to me and the feeling that came over me when I first put it on my turntable. I recently got a copy of an Island Records test pressing of what was supposed to be our second single, “Tinkertoy Tomorrow” with “Wok n Woll” on the B-side that I never knew existed as the record never came out. It was pretty exciting for me as well.
AB: Which record is your most guilty pleasure?
JS: If I like a record, I have no guilt about it. A great record is a great record. But that being said, I’m currently a little obsessed with this Charli XCX song “Focus,” which I think is fantastic.
AB: Any record in particular with a good backstory on how or where you found it?
JS: Not a particular record, per se, but when Milk ’n’ Cookies went to England to record our album, I made a list of records that I had heard at our newish bass player Sal Maida’s house. Sal had played with Roxy Music before Milk ’n’ Cookies and had been to England already many times. He took me to this record store called Vintage Record Centre and it was like a dream come true; spent the whole day in there on my hands and knees. I found all the records on my list, plus tons of others I had never heard before. And most were no more than 50p at the time.
AB: Which record pulls on your heartstrings every time you hear it?
JS: So many. I’m always crying when I hear certain songs, depending on the day and mood: Massive Attack’s Protection with Tracey Thorn, Dionne Warwick Walk On By, Nina Simone Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Dusty Springfield I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore, Beach Boys God Only Knows, Arthur Russell This Is How We Walk on the Moon, Mr. Fingers What About This Love and Can U Feel It, Smokey Robinson The Tracks of My Tears, Blind Faith Can’t Find My Way Home. Again, so many.
AB: What is your favorite New York City record store, past or present?
JS: Record stores have been a second home to me and have taught me so much. Some special ones: 99 Records, Bleecker Bob’s, Rebel Rebel, Vinyl Mania, A1, Academy, Downtown Records, St. Mark’s Sounds.
WORDS Alix Brown
PHOTOGRAPHY James Hartley