AN INTERVIEW WITH MUSIC COLLECTOR SASHA GRISHIN IN MOSCOW
Last February I travelled in Moscow to dj at the iconic Strelka Bar for the 3rd time in recent years. It was my 8th visit to the city which holds a significant place in my heart, mostly because of it’s non so obvious charms and my Russian friends that have withstand the test of time as companions. The person who first welcomed me to this unknown city back in 2012 was Sasha Grishin, otherwise known as Shiny Boots. Sasha a prominent figure in the city’s strong music scene is a collector music lover that chooses to move more in the background, making him a personal unsung hero. Back in June 2012 me and my friend David walked for miles and miles together most of the time in silence, digged for records in shops with literally hundred’s of thousands of records, and communicated in a rather charming way with his few English. Still to this day even though Sasha’s English is much more fluent, our conversations are always serene and laconic leaving a feeling of mutual appreciation that doesn’t need a lot of words to be expressed. Sasha’s unique coffee brewing method, his purple tiled bathroom, the view from his window, the cassete player jamming some Bulgarian Jazz while having a shower. A few images from a trip that left me with strong memories of sounds and images. Sasha was kind to share a few of his favorite places in Moscow, his prized records, and some information about his audiophile system. Hope you find some things to inspire you and make you get to know Sasha better.
LIFE IN MOSCOW
I was born in Moscow and live here during all my life. The capital of Russia is kind of supercity marrying an incredible number of different cultures, nationalities, religions and social classes. What I like most about the city is its diversity and eclecticism, and I love the same things in music. Like any other metropolis, Moscow has its pros and cons: crazy traffic, stress, pollution and overpopulation vs. incredible dynamic, beautiful architecture and people who create wonderful oasis of tranquility and safety in all this endless rush. My own path through the city often includes the following places (the list actually can be way longer, but tried to include just the best of the best).
Liudi Kak Liudi
For more than 10 years this small cafe serves amazing pies and sandwiches and makes signature fruit cocktails for super cheap.
Friendly moto-cafe with nice atmosphere and good music, always crowded with people you know.
These cool guys are famous for roasting beans, and they will make you a perfect coffee. Besides that they have a great selection of organic and natural wines.
Denis Simachev Bar
For 12 years it was a place to gather, have a nice meal or drink and, for sure, listen to lots of amazing djs from all over the world, part of them are my music icons. Unfortunately the bar is closed.
Good food and well-crafted cocktails for reasonable prices with beautiful view in relaxed atmosphere. This place became my second home in some terms, as for around 8 years I take care of sound there at the best bar parties in the city.
Self-service cafe with the tastiest pinsa in one of my fav city areas.
Previously it was called «Cafe previously known as Krizis Zhanra», and «Krizis Zhanra» before that. Still locals call it just «Krizis» and love for the fact you can have some nice food for cheap 24/7.
There’re lots of museums and galleries in Moscow, in addition to the largest and most known ones I’d like to mention Garage Museum of Contemporary Art which brings excellent exhibitions of modern artists to Moscow and hosts music events with the rare performances of modern forms of academic music.
Couple of times a month I try visit this record store, where in 200 000 records you can almost always find a diamond.
Cultural Centre Dom
One of the most important music places for me, where for 16 years now I’ve been attending concerts. This venue has a powerful influence on my addiction to experimental and avant-garde music. Throughout its entire existence Dom always was the place for listening to live shows of heroes and legends of free jazz, avant-garde, minimalism, experimental electronics, electroacoustics, improve, ambient, noise, ethnics, folk and other coolness in a very chamber atmosphere.
Parks and botanic gardens
City parks and gardens are perfect for escaping from rush, traffic jams and boiling hot summer with no need to leave the center.
I feel happy enough here in Moscow, the only thing I’d love to have is more sun in winter and more fresh air in summer in this city, but obviously we can’t change the weather. That is why each time choosing a place for the next vacation I’m torn between cities where you can have a good digging experience, and nature where you can enjoy solitude, fresh air and sun.
TRIP TO GREECE
Going to Greece in early January this year was just great. Excellent record digging in Athens and Thessaloniki, stunning nature all over the country. Can’t name all the amazing places we’ve visited during two-week road trip, and I won’t even say a word about great food and wine because the words simply aren’t worth it.
There’re two hidden gems I definitely should mention and highly recommend to visit if you’re going to Greece. The first one is Methana peninsula, where we spent the last several days of our trip in total tranquility admiring the beauty of formerly up-beat tourist destination for Athenians which looks kind of abandoned now, and that creates the magic of this place. The second one is Disco Romeiko — nice cafe and late-night Greek tapas place in the small town of Litochoro located at the base of Mount Olympus, it’s also significant for pretty diverse music program and hard-selected playlist. The word Romeiko comes from the name of grapes variety growing on Crete, and Disco Romeiko serves wine made of these grapes, pretty strong (more like sherry) but super nice. Owners of the place are a beautiful couple Nikos Evgenis and Maritina Daskalaki, who’s known for her sophisticated music blog https://higher-love.net
Probably there’s no point in recommending already well-known (though obligatory to visit) record stores like Mr. Vinylios and Zaharias in Athens to sophisticated diggers, but there you can definitely find a lot of cool music. You can always try your luck at the flea markets in the city center, though for me they were kind of meaningless but still fun.
In terms of digging I really liked Thessaloniki. Special thanks to Ilias Pitsios for introducing me to Sakis aka Skdisco, who quickly understood where I should definitely go for records. As a result, we ended up in the apartment of Pavlos, who owns one of the most interesting vinyl stocks in the whole Greece, and spent wonderful evening there: digging, chatting, drinking local grape whiskey and smoking aromatic joints. Also I’d recommend visiting Lotus record store for good selection of new wave, alternative music, free jazz and experimental stuff. Vinylmania was kind of a challenge: I tried to go there three times and just from the third finally managed to get in to the store, which is of that type when at least one person comes in the space becomes pretty crowded, and you’re immediately asked about «what exactly you are looking for». Usually after hearing such words I want to run out, but I saw the shelves bursting of records and decided to take a chance and start a dialogue. In result I bought probably the most interesting record of this year so far.
5 FAV RECORDS
Μιχάλης Σιγανίδης — Μικρός Αδερφός
A fantastic mix of free jazz, ambient and folk, plus even disco track sounding like early Pino D'Angiò. That is actually that «most interesting record of this year so far» I bought at Vinylmania in Thessaloniki.
Sandy Bull — Demolition Derby
I remember well the first time I heard Sandy Bull's album Demolition Derby about 15 years ago, by the way it happened in the same room where you stayed during your last visit to Moscow. I lost my father early enough, but around the same time I met my best friend and cultural mentor for many years Valera Posternak. In those days Valera rented this apartment, and later when he moved out eventually I rented it. Valera has always had an impressive collection of records, CDs and a great selection of films and books. That time was the dawn for my ears and eyes, each meeting with him caused a revolution in my mind and it was then when I started listening to music which shaped my taste in guitar and folk genres. Sandy Bull is a unique musician who mixed influences from Bach and Ives to Coleman and Hamza El Dean. I’m listening to Demolition Derby quite often, and each time I feel the same strong emotions as the first time. This record has become so important to me that I buy it every time I see it in stores.
Wolfgang Gnida — Mellemlandet Tonmalereien
Gnida is a genius, and I knew almost nothing about this magnificent german private press I keep admiring of for many years until the time Wolfgang wrote this to me: «Mellemlandet means the land between, and was created after three solo trips in my little car (Renault R4) to France and Spain (1984), Iceland (1985) and Turkey (1986). I wrote down my impressions of these journeys first with my guitar, and back at home I'd arranged the pieces for small ensembles. In those days the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer and the Roland Drumcomputer were new to me, but I liked them. So I use these instruments for my LP. With my friend Norbert we recorded all pieces at home with a little budget. A record company pressed 200 copies. It was my second LP. The first one was recorded in 1984 and was called Gedankensprünge (jumps of thoughts). I'd formed a group, called Mariposa. We played analog with guitars, flutes, violin, double bass and percussions. Later I wrote music for a puppet theatre for nearly 25 years. This works were recorded, too, in 1999, then every year with an additional CD-R with the newest production 'til 2012. Since 2013 I worked for the Moondog-Archive in Münster. I transcribe the Braille originals to normal sheet Music and digitize the Archive. I produced two CDs with new Music of Moondog: in 2015 (Beyond Horizons) and just now, published in February 2019: Erk».
Arturo Annecchino, Sergio Rendine, The Spirit of St. Music — Fiat Peace (Intermission)
Endless fussing with turntables has always been one of my hobbies. Long battles with setting up, matching, upgrading and repairing my own players have led me to starting professionally doing it for others. I’ve known Basso for quite a long time and I love him not only for his great taste in music and his endless enthusiasm for spreading this taste, but also for his great sharp sense of humour and unearthly cooking skills. Once I told him about the possibility of improving the sound of his Technics by simply replacing the internal and external wiring of the tonearm, and that I can do it during my next visit to Germany. So we decided to try. Several months later, I was sitting on the floor in his office, surrounded by thousands of great records, finishing the work with the first of two of his Technics, when he offered to arrange a test between two players: the one I just changed the wiring for and the second with the standard wiring. I must say that Basso is kind of skeptic about the effects of any wiring on the sound system, and I was even surprised when he agreed to do the replacement. Nevertheless, I was nervous as hell. We connected this pair of Technics to his rather simple mixer, put the same needles and simultaneously played two copies of the same record. The idea was to simply move the crossfader from one channel to another and thus fix the difference. I remember well how I was confused and worried if any of us could hear the difference in sound. I was all wet and hardly understood where the floor is and where the ceiling is. Then I felt much better when I saw delight in Basso’s eyes. He was so amazed by the difference he heard, that he started giving me crazy records, among which this strange Italian masterpiece turned out to be. It's hard for me to somehow characterize the sound of such records. It’s kind of concept album, something like acoustic ambient in the Italian library style, sometimes parody, but very deep all in all. I often listen to this record and every time I remember Basso with gratitude.
Everything Play — Posh
There’re lots of interesting music blogs, communities, groups, selector stores and other sources of rare music on the Internet. One of the most important web-sites for me was http://www.sheyeye.com/. I’ve always been completely delighted by selection of Ryota who runs She Ye,Ye. Literally each record he has ever sold deserves the most careful attention. Seems like I’ve never bought something in his online store (cause everything I wanted was already sold out), but we exchanged quite successfully several times. During one of these exchanges he sent me several copies of the absolutely unknown for me record by Everything Play. It took several months for me to unconditionally love this album, but it definitely became a diamond in my record collection. This music always heals my mind and corrects any mood clashes.
I love and collect tapes for many reasons. Actually I started listening to music in my childhood using cassette player. There were no vinyl records at our home, and CDs in Russia of early 90s were pretty expensive, but my grandfather had an impressive collection of cassettes, so my very first musical impressions were provided by my grandpa’s library. I listened a lot to Andriano Celentano, Space and even some cosmic disco compilations on tapes. My grandpa was telling me stories about Afghanistan, where he served in hot spots: soldiers exchanged cassettes with Afghans, as they liked Soviet pop music, and it was easy to exchange Alla Pugacheva’s tapes (she’s kind of our Soviet Madonna) on Afghan variety and ethnic records. He also told how during the battles they first fired at each other, and then during the stand-down Mujahideen asked Russians to play some Alla’s records loudly — they played, and then again everyone started to fire at each other.
In addition to my childhood reminiscences I was impressed by the fact that cassettes gave a technical opportunity to many independent musicians to record, publish and distribute their music on a budget. Tapes became an instrument and way of recording for musicians, but besides that they also gave a powerful impetus to self-publishing movement, which spiralled into releasing of endless amount of beautiful recordings. Music on tapes has become easier and cheaper to send anywhere in the world.
When Walkman entered the market in the late 70s, it radically changed artists-listener relations. You could listen to your fav music on the go — wherever you want, wherever you are, be closer to music. Probably in modern society it sounds stupid a bit, as you can’t feel those emotions, but personally for me memory of this phenomenon gives me goosebumps.
Tapes also gave a possibility of distributing longer forms in music, which was very important for many genres such as new age, ambient, electronic and other music, where only one track could be longer than the entire length of one LP side.
All this became a new era in the world music process and presented new musical cultures and phenomena, where independent and DIY musicians and publishers played a considerable role, and where the tape often remains a unique document of a musical work which hasn’t been published any other way. How can you then not love and appreciate cassettes, when they open up the whole unique world of music, the journey through which is one of the main interests in your life?
MY SOUND SYSTEMS
I use four different sound systems by now.
The first and oldest one is installed in my room in the parents’ apartment. Being a teenager I built this system by saving money from my very first earnings:
Nottingham Analogue Studio Horizon turntable with Rega RB700 tonearm (re-wired with Audio Note pure silver tonearm wires) + Ortofon 2M Bronze cartridge;
VTL TP-2.5 phono stage with old Telefunken tubes;
Musical Fidelity DigiLog DAC;
Harman Kardon HD 710 CD player;
Audio Innovations 500 Harmonie tube integrated amplifier;
Tannoy Profile 638 speakers.
The second and main system is located in the apartment where I live now. As I’m renting the flat, mobility was the main idea for this system originally, but besides that I built it for more professional use, so the sound is studio like. Using this system I listen to my collection, make rips of records and tapes, do simple mastering and restoration, record mixes and make edits:
Main turntable is Technics SL-1200 MK3D with Jelco SA-750d tonearm + EMT TSD 15 SFL cartridge + external PSU made by myself + DC1200 Internal Voltage Regulator + Isonoe Isolation Feet + Funk Firm Achromat + Master Sounds clamp;
Second turntable is Technics SL-1200 MK2 with stock tonearm, re-wired with Van Den Hul MSS-7 tonearm wires and Van Den Hul D-502 phono cable + TD-1200 Tonearm Damping System + DC1200 Internal Voltage Regulator + Audio Technica AT150MLX cartridge + Master Sounds clamp;
EMT Step-Up Transformer EST 10;
Graham Slee Reflex M Phono Stage;
Sony TC-K666ES Stereo Cassette Deck;
Apple Airport Express;
Audio Alchemy DDE v. 3.0 DAC;
Thule Audio Space DVD250 CD and DVD player;
Bryston BP20 preamplifier;
Focal Solo6 Be active monitors;
Furman P-6900 AR E voltage regulator.
Sound system in my kitchen:
Apple Airport Express;
Audio Alchemy DDE v. 3.0 DAC;
Fisher CR-4170 Stereo Cassette Deck;
Myryad MI240 Integrated Amplifier;
Pair of cheap Technics speakers from 90s.
The fourth system is proudy installed in my small working room, where I do all the equipment repairments. It consists of two small Creative T12 Wireless bluetooth speakers for listening to music from my laptop or iPhone and Sony WM-DD30 for cassettes.
And some more details about what I use besides things listed above.
Rotary mixers E&S DJR400 and Formula Sound FF-4000 with faders + Boss RE-20 Space Echo for effects;
Two pairs of dj cartridges: Ortofon Concorde Gold and Shure White Label;
Two dj headphones: Sennheiser HD 25-C II with mass louding and damping upgrade and AIAIAI TMA-1 Dj.
For analog to digital conversion:
Mytek Digital AD2021 and Universal Audio Apollo Twin.
Cables and connectors brands which I use in my systems:
Transparent Audio, Tara Labs, Furutech, Van Den Hul, Oyaide, NeoTech, FISCH Audiotechnik, ETI, Cardas, WireWorld, Neutrik, Mogami, Canare.
For taking care of my records:
VPI HW-17 Record Cleaning Machine with special cleaning liquid produced by myself.
Many thanks to Tanya Andrianova for text translation and editing.