There aren't many better ways to spend a rainy Thursday afternoon in London than ducking into the cluster of record shops that populate the enclaves of Soho. Huddling round warm-toned Balearic 12"s for warmth, THUMP is joined in Phonica by Hector for a rifle through the racks.
The Mexican DJ and producer has previous with this particular shop. Our meeting marks the first time he's returned to the store he sold records at since leaving five years ago. Understandably, he's feeling awash with mixed emotions during what he describes as a 'homecoming'. "When I first started here, this was the shop where all the stars would come," he tells us. It wasn't unusual to see Richie Hawtin queuing up with a beefy stack of freshly pressed vinyl ready for that night's set. Though he's a sucker for the etiquette of customer service, Hector admits that those big names got a tiny bit more attention than you or I would have. "You know who they are and you try and give them a little bit more. You should treat everybody the same, but they were going to spend a tonne of money. You'd give them that bit extra, spend a bit more time with them."
That star-servicing was all part of a days work for Hector back when he manned the tills - and the turnatables - alongside Jonny Rock and Jackathon mastermind Heidi. This writer worked a half shift at MVE once and when he asked what record store employes did all day, the response was a brusque, brisk, "we buy records and sell records, what the fuck do you think we do at a record shop?" That was us told. Hector is a bit nicer about the realities of record retail existence. "You do that, of course. But you've got to put records into the system, then let people listen to them, all that stuff." Getting hands on with the stock was pivotal for any employee. If you don't know your shit, who can the customer trust?
For Hector, the customer always knew best and he was there to act as a portal of sorts. "The customer is right but I was able to suggest certain records. I can see when I'm serving them what they're into. Even if I don't like it, it was my job to help as best I could." For the aspiring DJ out there, it seemed to us that working somewhere like Phonica was pretty much the perfect vocational situation to find yourself in. The walls are lined with every hot 12" imaginable and the racks are stuffed to breaking point with everything from dusty disco edits to steely sharp minimal techno, everyone involved, both colleagues and customers, are super informed. "This is the dream job. I used to shop here before it became Phonica. I used to go to Blackmarket, Vinyl Junkie, everywhere. What could be better than playing music all day and serving those superstar DJs?"
That's all well and good, but how does one go about getting that job in the first place? For Hector it came about from being a devout record buyer. "I lost my entire collection that was back in Ibiza and I came here with a list of those records. Phonica helped me get that stuff back. We became friends. I came over to do my normal shopping and was offered a part-time job. After that I became full time." So, there you go: buy a load of records, misplace them, rebuy them et voila - you might get the gig of your life.
It isn't all fun and games though. The day to day hardships of the record shop clerk include having to give away the releases you've had your eye on ever since they arrived in-store. "If you get five copies in, those five copies are for customers." There's also the matter of hot new releases, an event in no way assisted by a role behind the till. "You knew records were coming out and you couldn't wait for Wednesday when it came in. There'd be queues! Those were the good old days."
There is also such a thing as over-saturation. You can have too much of anything, even the thing you love the most. So did Hector ever tire of a constant stream of music over the shop's PA? "Yeah! But on a Monday morning you could put on some folk, downtempo stuff. I'd listen to music all day and then go home and make music or go out and play it." But this complete immersion also had its plus points: "It was very helpful as a producer and DJ, being surrounded by all this taught me so much."
So what is the legacy of career spent selling wax, well judging by Hector's anecdotes it has given him an intuitive ability for seeking out the hottest spots for record-rifling around the world. "I remember going to this shop in Detroit that had Halloween costumes out the front, and then regular clothes, then vintage clothes, and then at the back they had an amazing back catalogue." He must have found a hidden gem, because his company seemed equally esteemed, "Theo Parrish was just in there looking at records, and then Scott Grooves walked in!"
Buying a record is a singular experience. One you remember every time you slip the disc out of its paper wallet and slide it under the needle. Technology might have outrun vinyl, but it will never be able to keep up with the rush every nerdy dance-head, or budding selector, gets when they seek and find that killer 12". "If you ask someone what their first download was, they won't know. But ask them about their first vinyl and they'll remember!" For Hector, buying records is an experience woven well into the fabric of his worldview, more than a pursuit, it is a habit, a lifestyle, professing that he has been known to "buy twenty records a week." In his eyes it can weather the storm of any other format. "Vinyl," he tells us assuredly, "is still there."
Hector is bringing his famed Vatos Locos party to Barcelona on the 20th June.
He is also appearing at Amnesia's Music On parties on the 5th June, 3rd July, 14th August & 25th September.