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"People in record stores didn’t think I was cool enough. So I opened up my own - Take Away Jazz Records

22 June 21 words: Eileen Pegg

Machine Woman moved from releasing records to selling them via her pop-up shop at Nottingham’s The Carousel this spring. As she closes the door for now and considers the next move, she reflects on the experience, explaining it was always about much more than simply having music for sale… 

I felt nervous before heading into Take Away Jazz Records – a year of restrictions has made in-person conversation hard to readjust to, especially when wearing a mask. Mainly, it’s because I was heading into a record store that sells a mixture of electronic and experimental vinyl and cassette tapes, owned by established producer and DJ Machine Woman (Anastasia Vtorova, away from the decks). Underground music has inclusive origins, but certain pockets can sometimes be more elitist, carved out by cultural gatekeeping and taste snobbery. Is my favourite label good enough? What sound am I even into again? One wrong word could expose me as out of touch. Soon these worries melted away as I realised the feeling was common.

“I’ve always wanted to work in a record store, but the people in record stores didn’t think I was cool enough. So I opened up my own,” Anastasia tells me, as she explains a history of intimidation and a lack of wider diversity in similar spaces. It’s an honest, surprising and humble conversation with the artist who has a decade of releases behind her, working with respected labels like Ninja Tune, DFA, WTN? and Phantasy Sound. “Eventually I came to a mindset where I accept that I like what I like. It doesn’t matter what other people think. If I think I’m cool enough, that’s all that matters.”

Another story describes a situation that many fear, after she asked the store staff about which tune they were playing. “Apparently it was famous, and everyone was really shocked, asking me, ‘How can you not know this?’ It was quite intense and it put me on the spot.” This time, Anastasia had the confidence to respond perfectly. “I said to him, ‘I appreciate the surprise, but I’m here to learn about new music.’ You can’t expect everyone who comes in to know everything that’s playing. I mean, they probably don’t know about some obscure band I was listening to in the nineties in post-soviet Russia. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less cool,” she adds, with a smile. 

With this mindset, “wanting to create something where people feel comfortable, and showcase that music is for everyone,” Take Away Jazz Records – also the name of her self-run record label – opened up as a pop-up shop in The Carousel in April. Operating via pre-booked appointments, guests can browse through the selection of music with as much or as little guidance from Anastasia as they’d like. 

This is the first time she’s ever operated a shop, let alone navigated the ongoing challenges of launching a business during COVID-19. Guided by advice from her mentor, Kyle Marriott of Neuron Pro Audio, the experience is as much of a test and experiment for the owner as it is the opportunity to realise a lifelong ambition. “A lot of the stock is from my personal collection gathered from around the world – Canada, Japan, Georgia...”

Anyone who collects anything – whether records or comic books – will be shocked at this statement. Anastasia notes that it wasn’t always that easy to watch strangers handling her story-soaked possessions, some more carefully than others. She did indeed take home a selection of the more precious items, while others are on display on the wall. In the shop, my eyes are drawn to a signed Actress record sitting proudly in the centre of the room, gazing down at the crates. 

“It’s there to look at but you can't buy it! It's like being a kid and showing off your favourite toy, but not letting anyone play with it. If my store was burning down, I'd grab that record.”

Music is so beautiful. I want people to feel that when they walk in, and get ready to discover something.

Looking back at Anastasia’s CV will give you an idea of the many other creative endeavors she’s been involved with in the past. Touching on the strange feeling of opening the shop and waiting for clients to call up, she recalls initial thoughts of feeling like she’d failed. Quickly though, there’s a realisation that this is only the first part of a longer journey of “learning every day and loving the process.” A few weeks later, word spreads and demands for appointments soar. 

“This is also a test for me to share myself, and not be materialistic. To separate yourself and your ideas. What’s bigger – my dream and my idea, or my physical possessions? It’s a psychological self-experient as well, which I'm enjoying in a weird way…”

Further chats expose more of this deeper thinking; referring to each guest as a ‘client’ rather than a ‘customer,’ most records she sells leave a lasting personal memory from the experience. We touch on QR codes, a technology revived due to COVID and was used for the audio visual digital event that launched the shop, collaborating with artist James Seechurn/thameswater. This love for old tech goes further, as Anastasia explains why she both collects and releases music on cassettes. “For me, cassettes aren't really for playing. It’s a piece of art.” She then reveals that these tapes are now also stored in the British Library, after being approached to archive her work in a very “proud moment” for the artist. 

Underpinning all of this is a genuine passion to help other creative people, particularly in the music business. As a longstanding member of the Musicians Union and having just joined the Music Publishing Association, she often hosts talks for communities such as Rhythm Sister to share insight on how producers and businesses can navigate the industry, ensure fair pay and avoid any legal mishaps. 

Knowing this, it’s easy to imagine the open and two-way approach she takes with her record shop clients. Even with this knowledge and experience, due to a fondness for travel the Russian-born artist feels like an outsider wherever she settles. With Take Away Jazz Records it seems like she’s found a shared language that works. “With having this pop-up store, even the local people who come in don’t quite fit into ‘society’ and feel like outsiders themselves, so I felt like I really belong. As outsiders we share the same energy, the same love for music.”

Take Away Jazz Records closed its pop-up shop at The Carousel on 1 June. Follow then on Instagram for more information.

@takeawayjazzrecords
machinewoman.bandcamp.com 

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