Last Collector Standing: Alexis Tucci Hansen on the Art of the Beat and Dance Music's Evolution

by

JON SCORFINA
  • Jon Scorfina

Out of the genres that would seem adaptable to the digital transition away from vinyl, electronic seems to be the most obvious choice. Yet the culture of trainspotting, or having the knowledge to pick out samples of electronic music playing at a club, was explicitly linked to record collecting. The collectors who lived through the birth of house music, like Hot House Sessions founder and DJ Alexis Tucci Hansen, know how important vinyl is to throwing a good party. You can catch DJ Alexis in action tomorrow night at the Definition of Dance at 2720 Cherokee. The 21-plus event starts at 9 p.m. and is $5.

We caught up with Tucci Hansen, who's also an event organizer for MAC, while she prepared for her next gig. Discussion turned to her recent birthday show, Frankie Knuckles and collecting dub records.

Last Collector Standing: I'm going to make you be the victim of the month. Since we're right in the middle of the holiday season, do you have a favorite holiday record? Alexis Tucci Hansen: My favorite holiday music is electronic music that remixes traditional holiday tunes. Om Records has a great compilation of jazz-inspired broken beat, acid jazz and some house music remixing the classics.

[Writers note: In a phone call prior to the interview, Tucci Hansen explain she had been working frantically to organize her records before our meeting.]

A lot of record collectors are very methodical in how they organize their collections. How would you say you organize your records? [Laughs] Don't laugh at me but I'm the most unorganized record collector there is. Everything is energy based. No matter how hard I try to formulate a set for a crowd, I basically pick what I'm feeling at that time period in my life and bring everything that I can carry. Then [I] hope that the one person tapping their foot tells me which direction to go with what I'm playing.

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I do have multiple collections, because I love music and I can't seem to just stick to one type. I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the Peaches record-store era when my father was turning me onto music. My dad liked mostly pop music at that time, which was the Motown era, Donna Summers and disco or Billy Joel. He would buy records or tapes at Peaches and collect the record crates. I was just lucky enough to be old enough to experience that. I fell in love with all kinds of music and then got into the '80s hip-hop and break-dance music, anything with funk and soul. I started collecting some ska records and some reggae.

I was fourteen going to ska shows. Then [I was] fifteen when I found house music and electronic music. It was an epiphany. It was a great experience and an amazing sub-culture to be a part of from the very beginning. All those different types of music, I just continued to love them simultaneously. The first group of friends I made in dance-music land was hippies who followed the Dead. We went around the country listening to dance music [and] went around the country listening to Dead shows and various other jam bands. The collection just continued to grow in so many different avenues. I'd have to say if I had my favorite it would be funk and soul and old R&B and disco.

I did prepare one record that is my all time favorite. Going to parties all the time and first experiencing dance music, like most people who hear it for the first time, it sounds like one long song. At the time you don't know when to anticipate a new record coming in. The very first time I realized the start and stop of a song was "The Whistle Song" by Frankie Knuckles. It's a beautiful song. It doesn't real drive a dance floor, but the experience behind it is definitely when disco turned into House. It's just a really gorgeous, five in the morning house track that I love.

What's the experience of live DJing like? It's all sort of experiences. My birthday party last week was one of the best shows in a really long time. Very full dance floor. Good energy. I didn't feel like I was trying to push the vibe in any direction. I was just playing what felt right, deep and heavy. Everyone was feeling it because I wasn't forcing the issue.

Other times its really stressful. I played a show just recently where I had to work very, very, very hard to move anyone in the room. They were just chillin'.

Speaking of your birthday show, since you had a number of DJ and live musicians performing with you, did anyone think to get you any records as a gift? [Laughs] No. No one bought me any music for my birthday this year. Buying music for me or throwing a party for me are two things people often don't do because that's my area, so they try not to go there.

The most records I've ever received is from the guy who is making all sorts of noises in the kitchen. [Laughs] He's given me all sorts of great house records. Corey Thomas is in the kitchen, one of the most beautiful house DJs in St. Louis, and my lifelong friend and wingman that helped me promote all my parties.

Since you didn't get any records for your birthday, if there was one record you could get for Christmas this year what would it be? The first thing that comes to mind is how badly I want the new Cee Lo record. How did you first get into collecting records? I'd been throwing parties for a couple of years. I'd been traveling a ton to listen to dance music all over the country. My favorite place to go was San Francisco. At 18 I threw my first party -- so [in] my early 20s, I went out to San Francisco and I had heard everything I could hear at the time as far as house music and all the different genres of techno and trance. I was hanging out at a friend's house and they were playing dub. It was music that I had never heard before, and it moved me deeper than anything to that point had ever moved me. I love reggae music but it was so different, very electronic.

So I came home and started bringing dub DJs in town to play sub-rooms of some of the warehouse parties I was throwing. That's the first type of music that I started collecting. I bought tons of dub. Dub Syndicate. King Tubby records. I thought if I was going to be a DJ, I was going to play dub, acid jazz and trip-hop. I thought I'd be this cool female DJ that would play all this cool down-tempo stuff. It was so difficult to learn on, because it had so many different BPMs, and it's set up so differently between all the different genres. It was a struggle to learn how to actually mix, but that was my passion and my start. I started collecting all that stuff and it slowly migrated into house music that's a little easier to finesse.

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Being involved in organizing the St. Louis rave scene, is there a certain aspect of rave culture that was specific to record collecting? Not these days. That's such a shame. It used to be trainspotters, but now it's over a laptop. [It used to be] "Hey, what record is that? How can I find that record?" People would huddle around and it was like a collection, like baseball cards. Who could get the next latest, greatest joint and play it at a club and be the first one to play it. There were songs that triggered an era or time period.

The way people use the digital era shows the integrity of the music. If you're going to buy a bunch of songs recorded in poor quality and then cheat and not DJ like a DJ... Serato is cool enough that you can actually still DJ with records, but there are program within Serato that allow you to beat match and do all the other tricks by letting the computer do the work. I think that's cheating. Just play it at home and have fun or make music to share with your friends, but when you're out and getting paid to work you should be working it. I think that's an art form.

What's a record or song that is your go-to song to get people out on a dance floor? Johnny Fiasco records. They basically have a Latin flair that almost anybody can relate to. I think standard Latin music in general, even if you don't know the words to the song or have ever heard it before, that typically I guarantee will pull people out of their seats.

Having previously worked at Vintage Vinyl buying for their electronic section around 2003, do you have a favorite experience working at a record store? The overall experience of working at Vintage Vinyl was amazing. I really liked the culture. Some of the original heads were still there when I was working, and they are just quirky, brilliant individuals that know so much about so many different genres of music. Then to be treated as a respected person in the field of music that I've been working in felt very honorable. I loved having that position. As much as I loved bringing in House records, I loved the fusion electronic music that was coming out during that era. Quantum. Vikter Duplaix. DJ Shadow. Cut Chemist.

There were two brothers that would come in and meander around the jazz section. It was awesome when they would come in because there was so much to talk about. They knew so much about music in different ways than me. They were younger but were listening to older music, which was bizarre but fantastic. They would just sit at the listening station, like being at a bar with a bartender, and just rap about music.

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Would you be sad if there were no more records? Yes. I'm sad that Technics turntables are going to be gone for good. That doesn't make any sense to me. I feel like that's Prince saying he is never going to play his old music ever again. At some point, Prince is going to go on tour and play all his old music again because that is where the money is at. That's a weird analogy, but everyone has Technics. Everyone only wants Technics. I think you can definitely appreciate all different [music] mediums for different reasons, but as a hobbyist I like to collect records because I think it's beautiful.

Your day job now is working at MAC as an event designer and organizer. As an organizer, what would be your suggestion to the record industry to organize their business model to attract the next generation of music buyers? As far as smaller record stores, doing more in-store with less local and more national acts [and] getting more people involved in the store through signings I think will definitely drum up business. On a broader scope, if media or these companies could hype record collecting again, they would have to create devices to do so. Like containers or book shelve that were for the record collector, or only releasing records instead of CDs. I'm not exactly sure if people or going to be moving backwards at all. There's a way but it would have to be all over the place. Every time you turned on the TV there would [have to] be the media saying, "For the holiday record collector." [Laughs]

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