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State of Wonder

Discogs and Crate Diggers: Match Made in Vinyl Heaven

We walked right into record heaven last weekend.

April Baer/Oregon Public Broadcasting

Discogs, an online marketplace for vinyl, hosted its first-ever in-person record fair last Saturday: Crate Diggers. And indeed, what we saw when we rolled up to the White Owl Social Club in Southeast Portland were crates and crates and crates of …well, everything: funk, soul, and electronica of course, but also country, hard rock, classical and more.

“Vinyl is the source. Vinyl is the atom to everything,” said Harvest “Quiicsiix” Green,  as we passed by.

Harvest "QuiicSiix" Green

Harvest “QuiicSiix” Green

April Baer/Oregon Public Broadcasting

A self-proclaimed record fiend, and Discogs volunteer, Green was passing out promotional stickers. “Without vinyl, what else do you got? You got other stuff that likes to duplicate what vinyl is but vinyl will always be number one.”

The Discogs story doesn’t quite predate the vinyl boom, but it’s had an increasing role to play over its ten years in business. Liz Maddux is Discogs’ community manager. “We are about cataloging music information.

“Yeah, we have a marketplace where people buy and sell records, but for us, the goal is to have the biggest, most comprehensive music database in the world. And the more music we can get out there and cataloged, the better.”

Discogs was founded in 2000, with the intent of cataloging electronica, but it now lists records across dozens of musical genres.

Discogs was founded in 2000, with the intent of cataloging electronica, but it now lists records across dozens of musical genres.

April Baer/Oregon Public Broadcasting

Whether you’re wanting to browse for a mint-condition Isley Brothers seven-inch, get a quick fix of Cold Specks to drop into your set this weekend, or figure out if that Beverly Sills LP you saw at the record store around the corner is really worth twenty dollars, Discog can help.

The company has grown hugely in the past few years. Sixteen months ago, Maddux says, the company had about ten employees. Now there are twenty five. And she says Discogs is getting close to six million records in the data base.

Alongside a small handful of other sites, like PopSike, Discogs has unlocked volumes of information for buyers and sellers, and changed some things about how people connect with their favorite vinyl.

Part of Discog’s appeal has to do with relationships it’s built with buyers and sellers. There are interest groups who trade messages on Discogs listservs about genres and artists they’re interested in. And then there’s a curatorial function.

Zernell Gillie flies the colors.

Zernell Gillie flies the colors.

April Baer/Oregon Public Broadcasting

Zernell Gillie of Grimy Edits Records DJed a set at the Crate Diggers after party. He’s originally from Chicago, but lives in L.A. now. “It’s a website I use every day. Most of the music I’m looking at in stores, I’m on my phone, comparing it to what’s on Discogs, looking at pricing and what they’re selling it for - just information in general. What pressing it is, is it the original cover.”

Gillie’s been DJing since 1984. He spent a lot of years talking to record store owners, and listening to DJs to figure out what was available and what he ought to check out. Now a lot of that information is exchanged online. Buyers also look to DJs like Zernell to see what cuts and edits they’re releasing on Discogs. It’s not the only channel for vinyl enthusiasts, but it’s one that gets a lot of traffic.

Talking to the buyers and sellers at Crate Diggers, you can tell: while the internet has become an inseparable part of the vinyl trade, swaps like this one still hold a lot of appeal. Record fiends can’t resist poking around in the crates. Zernell Gillie told us he wasn’t planning to look while he was at Crate Diggers, but ended up stumbling across a record he’s been trying to find for twenty years.

“Double pack, it was mint-condition. The last time I saw that record, I was in Amsterdam.”

Here’s the really crazy thing. The guy who had the record is a guy Zernell knew. It took a face-to-face meetup for them to figure out they should make a deal.

The business of  selling records is kind of a Rube Goldberg way of life. Tim Rust of Gratitude Records sells stuff on Discogs, goes to record fairs, has a table at a local record consignment shop. His most creative angle was building a mobile record store out of a box U-Haul truck. “Every Thursday it’s at 50th and Hawthorne at the Eagles Flea market from seven to seven,” he said, grinning. Rust says Discogs has become a great service, making it easy for people to buy. “I’m super grateful for Discogs. it put braces on my kids.”

Tim Rust (left) and Matt Griesse (right) both sell records online and through bricks and mortar shops.

Tim Rust (left) and Matt Griesse (right) both sell records online and through bricks and mortar shops.

April Baer/Oregon Public Broadcasting

He came out just to see how this highly-promoted Crate Diggers thing was going to work out. Rust gestures around the breezy, sunlit patio where tables and DJs are set up under colorful umbrellas. “Usually record shows are in dingy, small places. After a few hours, all the oxygen gets used up… Whereas here, this is nice.”

Rust and his friend Matt Griesse says they moved some inventory at Crate Diggers and were pleased with their take. Griesse pointed out sellers have to be focused, and know their clientele. But Rust adds, it’s also helpful to understand the product.

“The bottom line is: it’s really hard to worry about tomorrow or yesterday when you’re digging through a thousand different titles. What we’re selling is the ability to be present, in the moment. That’s what is so attractive.”