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Record Stories: Nina Tarr talks ‘Suicide: Alan Vega and Martin Rev’

Written By: 
Lauren Fay Levy
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Introducing a new series dedicated to shining a light on the weird and wonderful stories, characters, and places behind the world of record collecting.

For the first edition of Record Stories, we welcome our good friend Nina Tarr. Nina is known for curating some of the best music events in Los Angeles, one of which is the very popular weekly residency “All Girls, All Vinyl,” where female vinyl DJ’s from near and far exhibit their skills on the decks to conjure a full on dance party. Nina is an excellent all vinyl DJ, incorporating a unique blend of funk, glam, afro beat, world, boogie, hip hop, new wave, electro, post-punk, kraut, disco, groove and soul. She’s developed an encompassing collection of pristine records spanning from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s to today. We asked her to pick a few records from her collection and talk about the stories behind them.

Hello Nina! Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a collector and all vinyl DJ and I split my time between LA and NYC.  

When you look at your collection, is there a pretty clear divide between the external DJ Nina Tarr section and the internal personal Nina Tarr section? Like the DJ-able jams and bangers vs. stuff you love to listen to at home to feed your soul, or is it all one in the same? 

I have a pretty clear divide between my more accessible/dancey jam bangers and my obscure rarities. Definitely more of the latter. Of course I have the ubiquitous pop leaning stuff, new wave, 60’s soul, hip hop and funk, etc, but I’ve got more of the post-punk, no wave,  bizarro, off-kilter psychedelic disco stuff. My collection gets real weird… in a fun way! 

On the subject of music meant for audiences vs. introspective listening, is the first record you've chosen, Suicide: Alan Vega and Martin Rev, particularly sentimental or dear to you, or was it more of a must-have acquisition for your DJ sets? 

Suicide: Alan Vega and Martin Rev is very near and dear to me. I remember hearing Suicide’s debut album for the first time in high school. I must have been 15 or 16, and I’d never heard anything like it before — like cataclysmic avant-garde spooky synth punk. I was instantly hooked and wanted to go deeper in their catalog. 

What’s the story behind how you landed your copy?

I was in Paris, and whenever I travel anywhere, I spend a lot of time record shopping. I like to remember my travels with albums I’ve acquired from the various places I’ve been, rather than souvenir magnets or mugs. I was in Le Marais and I stumbled into, or at least attempted to, a random shanty record store, but a fairly old man who reeked of cigarettes was blocking the doorway of the shop. I attempt a question in French (yeah, I speak French… pretty cool, right? In reality, my French cognition is at a five-year-old’s level, so basically I can ask where the bathroom is and order fries and very little else), so I ask him in my broken French if he can step aside, and he looks a little bewildered, and more notably looks right through me. I am thrown off but not shocked — the French can be a little passive, sometimes veering into rude. I attempt to yet again get his attention so I can enter the store and, as though he just saw me, he grunts and steps out of the way for me to enter. He goes behind the counter of this itty bitty store and I think “oh great, it’s this dude’s store, he probably already hates me ’cause he knows I’m American,” but I browse anyway.

He’s got some gems on his shelves — all original pressings of post-punk, no wave, and kraut albums which are hard to find and definitely up my alley. I pick up Tuxedomoon’s album Half-Mute and it has no price on it so I ask him and he says “what is it?” and I lift up the record to show him and he says “no, you have to tell me what it is.” It’s then that I realize this man is straight up blind as a bat and I’m a dumb, stupid, ignorant idiot who didn’t notice… my bad! I tell him what it is and his face softens into a smile and he exclaims, “magnifique record!”

He then starts to buzz around his store with a little spring in his step now. He brings me a James Chance record. We start chatting (in English, lucky for me!) about how much we love Pere Ubu, Wire, Silver Apples. He tells me  about the time he saw Gang of Four perform in 1978. We basically hardcore vibe out and it is delightful! He pours me wine and talks my ear off about how Faust, not Can, is his most favorite Kraut band ever — controversial, I know! He then pulls out Suicide: Alan Vega and Martin Rev and my eyes light up — this is a kind of a hard record to snag, especially in the wild, and this particular Suicide record is missing from my collection. I ask him how much for it and he smiles and says, “pour vous 5  euro.” I was elated! He threw in a NEU! record too, and I was so grateful that I threw my arms up and hugged him a little too aggressively. What a great day that was. 

What’s your favorite track on the album? 

B2 – Be Bop Kid 

Are your rarest and most special records the ones you tend to listen to the most, or are they like fine China that only come out for very special occasions? 

I’m pretty careful about low usage on my rare and expensive stuff. I definitely avoid taking them out for DJ sets, but I definitely play them as a flex when some music-centric pals come over to my house.

How long have you been digging for records and building your collection?

I started collecting vinyl when I was 14 or 15 and I never stopped.

In regards to the sheer number of record stores sprinkled all throughout LA, do you think LA has more to offer than other places when it comes to looking for records in person, or do the LA stores feel too picked through as opposed to, say, a random store in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere? 

LA record stores can be amazing but also, yes, definitely can be a little picked over, which is common for any record stores in highly populated areas. That said, I can’t underscore enough the importance of supporting your local record store. It’s such a passion project for anyone who envisions building a record store and bringing that into fruition. I’ve got a lot of love  for all the record store owners. My LA favorites are: Mono Records, Permanent Records, and Jacknife Records.

They say you can’t judge a book by it cover, but what about an album? How often does eye-catching album art lead you to purchase something you’ve never heard of? Can you think of a success story where album art turned you on to something you ending up loving?

Absolutely. I love the visual and tactile aspect of vinyl, and because of that I have definitely rolled the dice multiple times with purchasing a record based solely upon the album artwork. It’s a gamble I’m more than willing to take and has led me to discover some incredible hidden gems. Some “cool-looking” misleading records have definitely been purchased in the process, but it’s all apart of the ongoing discovery that collecting vinyl is all about.

Can you show us your single most favorite album cover amongst your collection?

Any other rare or crazy record finds you want to talk about?

When I was in Mexico City I did a lot of record shopping, and upon perusing the disco section in La Roma records, I picked up this 12” that just looked and felt like it was gonna be a banger, and HOLY SHIT it did not disappoint. (Do You Have) The Force by The Droids has been one of my go to dance jam bangers, and whenever I drop it, I can’t help but have at least one person  (usually multiple) rush up to the DJ booth asking what I’m playing.

To hear more from Nina, tune in to her weekly radio show Topless Romantic every Tuesday at 8pm PST on Eastside Radio: https://www.eastsideradio.org/toplessromantic

Instagram: @pizzaparty69 

Website: djninatarr.com

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