We've already got a city full of superb record shops, where even the hungriest ears can find something to satiate their musical cravings. But there's a new one to add onto the pile; several months ago, Chris Dixon's Explorist International threw open its doors on 24th Street. It's a sleek, somewhat esoteric mixture of Rural American Music, Jazz, International Pop and Folk vinyl from artists both local and global, books and zines about music and arts movements, a few cassette tapes and vintage electronics. It's an absolute must for vinyl collectors and people looking to expand their minds with psychedelic sounds and tunes from the farthest corners of the earth.
It's also the perfect spot to duck in, away from the hustle and bustle of 24th Street, and just chill out. We caught up with Dixon about his favorite things in the store, why he didn't move into the Discolandia space, and more.
It's pretty ballsy to open a record store in this economy. Why now? How long was it in the works?
I decided to open the shop for a number of reasons, the first being personal; It's always been in the back of my mind, probably since I was about 15 or so. I figured that I'd put in my time working for other folks, it was now or never. But also, a lot of record stores closed over the years and I felt like there was a lack. I wanted to open up a shop in the Mission with the idea that it was a comfortable, non-intimidating place to hang-out and shop for records. From looking around at other independent retail businesses, it seemed that the small, "curated" is the way to go.
Do people have crazy reactions when they walk into your store? 'Like, WOW a record store, I thought these were all gone!'
Every day. I often have people walk in, do a quick glance around the shop and walk up and ask "what is this?"
It would've been cool if you had taken over the old Discolandia space....did you ever have you eyes on it?
Discolandia had an amazing storefront, but the space itself was huge. I wouldn't have been able to fill it. Also, I felt like there would be some sort of stigma attached, new kid shows up and changes the whole thing on the inside but keeps the outside or some such thought....
Do you have a more beefed-up Latin section since you're in the heart of the Mission?
I definitely try to. Cumbia and Boogaloo are both very popular right now and it's hard to keep the stuff in stock. Plus, used records in good condition are hard to come by. I started off with a ton of Cuban stuff (mambos, afro-cuba rhythm big band type of stuff) and people came in bought it up in the blink of an eye.
What are your favorite record stores in the Bay Area?
Rooky Ricardo's, Grooves...... Groove Merchant, Aquarius, even Community Thrift's record section. They all kind of have a niche that they cater to more or less and that's what I like. Amoeba obviously is great and insane but it's just so big and overwhelming.....it gets a little stressful for me in there.
Tell me about the events you have in the store.
The first Friday of every month we do a free improvised music show, called Free Jazz Friday. So far it's been mostly locals, although we did have a small group from Norway perform a few months back. It's been going quite well, the response has been good. Randy Lee Sutherland, (alto sax, drums, bass, etc. etc. etc.) has been instrumental in setting up the groups for the night. At the first one we did, we had six reed players and some additional percussion. At one point some random kid rolled up on his skateboard, reached into his back-pack and pulled out a pocket trumpet and starting wailing along with the group. When it was over, he just hopped on his skateboard and split. It was great.
How'd you get into world music?
Just like anything else; you listen to one thing and someone comes along and says, "oh man, if you like that, then you gotta check out this". I had a friend who had all of these mix tapes or African pop records and we would drive around listening to them on repeat. Plus I had worked in a couple of shops so I had access to all of this stuff. "Oh, you like experimental music? You should listen Balinese Gamelan records" You're right, I should. "You like psychedelic music? You should check out Ravi Shankar and Moroccan music." You're right I should. "You like heavy soul? Listen to Fela and the Ethiopiques stuff." You're right, I should.
What's some of your favorite stuff in store right now?
Lately, I've been playing a lot of Dub in the shop. Mostly stuff on the Wackie's label; it's heavy and minimal. A lot of early 70's synth records have made their way into the shop recently, Tangerine Dream, Conrad Schnitzler, stuff like that, and they've been on heavy rotation. Some days, I play every Bossa Nova record in stock.
What countries put out the most exciting stuff, then and now?
That's actually sort of a tough one. I think every region has had it's time. The explosion of Afro-funk in 70's especially the Ethiopian stuff is pretty amazing. There is some really great and weird underground stuff coming out of France right now I think. I don't want to sound cliché but the late 50's to the early 70's was a pretty amazing time for music all over the world in Jazz, Pop and Rock. But you know, the 20's produced some pretty intense stuff as well...
Explorist International is located at 3174 24th Street. Hours are 11 AM - 8 PM Tues.-Sat. and 12 PM - 6 PM Sun. 415-400-5850