DJ Shawn Ryan on How He Was Forced into DJing and His Dollar Bin Jams Blog
Developing a feverish obsession with record collecting at a young age, DJ and producer Shawn Ryan traveled the world record hunting and only began DJing when friends demanded to hear his extensive collection. While early on, his primary interests were punk and hip-hop, he later moved on to collect disco, house, and synth-pop records after spending college semesters in London and Dublin. Nowadays, he showcases his collection with residencies at Philly parties like the disco-heavy Hurrah and the post-punk-focused Steppin' Out, as well as on his blog, Dollar Bin Jams. We recently spoke with Shawn about the furthest he's gone to find a record, his love of disco, and which S.F. record stores he'll be hitting up this weekend. He plays Go Bang! on Saturday at Deco Lounge with Tres Johnson, SMAC, and more.
When you started out collecting records, you were primarily interested in hip-hop and punk records. How did the obsession with these two genres begin?
I'm 28, so as a kid in the mid-'90s I caught a great era for hip-hop. I could hear it on TV and the radio and just buy it in an average CD store. It was accessible and a million times funkier than the alternative garbage that dominated rock radio at the time. Don't get me wrong, I've always been open to rock music, but my parents didn't really instill any classic rock values in me -- they just put on the radio in the car sometimes. So as a teenager in Lancaster, Penn., I gravitated to Bad Boy Records, Wu-Tang, The Beastie Boys, etc., which, in hindsight is great, because they introduced me to lots of great funk and soul by sampling it. This was all before I got into records. I started with tapes, then CDs.
Anyway, the punk part happened in high school. I sat in front of this kid Tim in some class. We talked music and he pointed me in the direction of The Dead Boys, X Ray Spex and so on -- lots of early U.K. and New York punk. From there I got into Bowie, T-Rex, Elvis Costello, and other stuff a step removed from punk. That period of my life, right around 16, is when I started buying vinyl. I would go to shows and bands would have 7-inches for sale or I'd learn about a band and and go buy their album for three dollars at Record Connection, my local shop. It's kind of funny looking back on it all. I didn't realize it until my early 20s, but I totally missed out on what other kids my ages were listening to. I bypassed the whole hardcore and emo thing and I feel pretty grateful for it.
What's the furthest you've gone to find a record?
I always keep an eye out for vinyl when I travel, but I've only driven a few hours with the sole intention of digging. Back when I had a car I was always wandering around central Pennsylvania and to Baltimore and Philly looking for records. Now, aside from my travels, I mostly stick around Philly and browse Discogs. I recently went Pittsburgh to check out some spots, which was a five-hour drive. It was totally worth it too!
When did you start showing interest in disco, the genre you're most known for playing these days?
Around 2004. I was listening to lots of '80s post-punk and Beats In Space, and my friend Vinny was always showing me crazy funk breaks. Then one day I picked up Bombers' Get Dancin' 12" and I was hooked. And after I moved to Philadelphia in '06, I met Mike Trombley. Mike did a night called Paradise back then and he took it to the next level for me. He's an encyclopedia and a very generous person!
You collected records first. At what point did you decide to start playing the records for others?
I actually didn't decide to. Some friends used to put on hip-hop shows in college and they pushed me into it. I was the only one with a decent reggae collection and they wanted me to DJ before their sets. From there I bought a pair of Gemini belt drives and a little mixer with no EQs from my friend Harry's little brother for $100. I think it was a pre-packaged DJ start kit or something. It even came with needles. Anyway, if you learn how to mix on belt drives, then working with Technics is a breeze!
What made you want to start unique parties like Hurrah and Steppin' Out?
With Hurrah, Chris Rogy actually started it and I jumped on board for the third one, I think. It was just cool to have an outlet for all of the music I was into and learning about at the time. Since then, the night's just evolved with my tastes. It's been five years and I still look forward to playing new discoveries there each month. As for Steppin' Out, Dirty (my partner for the night) and I were talking about it and I saw it as an opportunity to start playing my favorite new wave and post-punk stuff again.