An Interview with Bob Lipitch of Chopped Herring Records

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Digging Up Rap History: The Story of Chopped Herring Records | Bandcamp  Daily

Here in New York, Hip-Hop is pretty important. There is an entire culture and sub-culture devoted to it. While I love both West Coast and East Coast Hip-Hop, I will always have a special place in my heart for the East Coast guys (I am from NY after all), and I still maintain that Illmatic by Nas is the greatest Hip-Hop album of all time. I mean, does it really get any better than ‘Halftime?’ Anyway, as a fan of Hip-Hop and all adjacent genres that have spawned it and lent it samples (Jazz, Soul, Funk, R&B, Disco, Spoken Word), I am also a huge fan and proponent of crate digger culture. If you are as well, I recommend you check out the Crate Diggers series that Fuse ran some years back. I’ll leave the link to that here.

Bob Lipitch is a former DJ out of the UK. He’s been on extensive digging trips throughout the UK and has been known to frequent NYC shops in search of gold in the form of vinyl. Since 2001, Bob has been running his Hip-Hop centric label, Chopped Herring Records, which is one of the premier labels in the game today. All of Chopped Herring’s releases focus on long out-of-print, never-in-print, or underground artists who aren’t getting their due. More so, all releases are limited and highly sought after within the vinyl, DJ and Hip-Hop communities. In short, if you’re into this type of music- these are records you want, but you’ve got to be vigilant and move quickly. If you would like to learn more about Chopped Herring Records, you can head to their site here. Also, here is a really good article about both Bob’s and the label’s history. It’s truly interesting if you’re a vinyl collector, or a cratedigger. That’s all for me, for now. Cheers.

Andrew:
Bob, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us about your back story. How did you get into records?

Bob:
Sure man – I peeped the range of cats you have interviewed and thought, I can dig it! How did I get into records? Well I can’t say my dad or mum had a sick collection that I plundered – well I could say it, but it wouldn’t be true. But dad’s taste was pretty cool – trad Jazz, light Operetta, Dubstep! I got hooked on buying records before I knew much about the music really. It was habit, and a way to pass time on the weekends. At a fairly early age we used to go around London with a one day travel card jumping on and off the bus at various neighbourhoods raiding the bargain bins at all the record stores, only spending a relatively small amount of cash. The idea of coming home with a load of varied wax started early, and led on to digging to flip stuff much later on in life. That idea of opening up a bag or box of wax and spending the rest of the day listening to those daily finds is a major part of why I release records in “cycles” – so cats get 4 or 5 pieces in the mail and they get lost in a bunch of tracks. Kind of like an album, when you listen to it the first time and you know there are several tracks you like but you can’t yet remember the names or track numbers, just that there were 3 or 4 you really liked [albums with 3 or 4 KILLER joints for me are pretty, pretty, rare]. That’s also why I spent years dealing wax, buying collections and going on buying trips – to have LOADS of new wax to look through, of a day. I like to drown in records.

Andrew:
You’ve been running Chopped Herring for some time now. Tell us about the journey of owning and running the label.

Bob:
Yeah, I started the label itself in 2001 after getting a small grant from a charity for young people getting into business set up by that stalwart of underground Hip-Hop Prince Charles of Wales. As we know, government sponsored music is wack as fuck, but royal family sponsored music is the real shit. I conned them into giving me a couple of grand claiming I was going to release a scratching tool, something more functional, where taste isn’t so much a thing. Banks etc hate the music business cause, frankly, who the hell can predict what people like or want on a large scale? It takes the majors to release loads of music before they fluke a success. The journey came in parts and was based in different countries. It started in Manchester, UK where I worked with a small roster of local talent/friends from 1991-2005. Then become more NYC centric as I travelled back and forth from NYC to London, raping record collections for reselling. Then in France for 6 years where I ran the label shipping everything by La Poste and not the USPS or Royal Mail. Then back to London where I grew up and where I’ve been for the last 6 years or so.

Andrew:
Before you started Chopped Herring, you were a DJ out of Manchester. Manchester has an incredible musical history over the last thirty or so years. Are you still a DJ?

Bob:
Yup. Strong music and counter culture vibe since way back. The Northern Soul scene around clubs like The Spinning Wheel, the legendary indie and alt scene with Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays based around the Hacienda [Fac 51] where Madonna played her first European gig in the early 80s, owned by Tony Wilson. The music scene in Mcr has always been hot. Do I still DJ? Not so much – I’m too busy and would rather stay at home. Can’t do late nights now, so it’s a massive inconvenience. But I do use my skills as a DJ in lots of different ways in running my label.

Andrew:
You also worked at Fat City Records in Manchester. How did those experiences effect you as a DJ and in running Chopped Herring?

Bob:
Fat City was great. Met a lot of old Manchester music heads which widened my knowledge and understanding of the culture. Just being around older cats was invaluable. I came up with so many dope Manc artists and through the hub that was the Fat City shop. Manchester is one of the foremost music cities in the world and at that time, in the mid-90s, the section of the club scene influenced [by among other things] Hip-Hop, was buzzin.

Carhartt WIP Label Feature: Chopped Herring Records | carhartt-wip.com

Andrew:
As a DJ, where were/are your favorite spots to crate dig? How far have you traveled to dig for records?

Bob:
Favorite places to dig are where people don’t know the value of the records. Haven’t been able to joyride for wax – just dedicated trips to NYC – maxing out on the 3 month visa, then coming back a mere few weeks after flipping mucho crates of the good stuff, for more diggin’ fun.

Andrew:
Kind of piggy backing onto my last question, Chopped Herring is almost like a label aimed at releasing crate digger classics? Is that right?

Bob:
It’s a mix of a few things. New ill shit that not many cats are onto, YET. Legendary artists’ obscure, unreleased material. Records that are rare and records that are known for being rare. And demos that were never released by artists who never had an official release. I’m trying to document a period and genre of music through different production sounds, moods and characters, on and off the scene.

Andrew:
As record collectors, I think we all can appreciate rare and obscure records, but what was it about them that pushed you to want to create a label centered around them?

Bob:
The label was created to express myself as an artist as well as a platform for the art of my friends who I did music with. It only turned into an archival project around 2008 after a trip to NYC where as well as finding nice pieces, I was invited to buy some of Da Beatminerz’ record collection. Through Walt, Bazarro and Finsta in Bushwick, I started up the repressing of and looking for, obscure and unreleased material. I began by buying rare records from some of these dudes’ personal stock and ended up licensing material from them for limited vinyl releases. It’s like, when the old records ran out, we had to create new ones that had the same juice.

Andrew:
Since the label’s inception, you’ve maintained a limited released schedule. I know from experience that Chopped Herring’s output is highly sought after. I still struggle to find them to this day! Why did you choose to release the music in such limited quantities?

Bob:
‘Cause I wanted to make a record like the old records I found aka available in only small numbers. I also hate seeing records in bargain bins – I never wanted my stuff available in stores for cheap. I want them to hold their value so they are in demand. The best way to make a record desirable is to insure that the content is dope, but you can’t easily find a copy. Artists can if they wish make loot from the scalable, digital format, but the physical should be [IMO] limited so that it is wanted and searched for. Nothing great comes easy, plus it is a retort to the digital age, and the easy access one has to pretty much everything via the internet.

Andrew:
As I am sure you know this, but quality control is a problem with in the industry. At Chopped Herring, I know you take this seriously. What is your QC process like? What do you think could be done to improve QC throughout the industry in general?

Bob:
TBH I don’t really care what others are doing – actually, the worse others are, the better Herring appears! QC can be torturous. I reject a lot of stuff that then appears on other labels. Sometimes I reject for sound quality, but mostly cause I’m not feeling the music, at that point. And I can make mistakes, but it’s all about putting together “cycles” that excite me, on the fly, WITH time constraints. I create my own deadlines to force a decision which should make what gets released, personal and particular to the label, as a grouping of records. 

Andrew:
Is there anything within the industry that you would like to see change for the better? What improvements would you like to see that you feel would beneficial to us all within the vinyl community?

Bob:
I only really focus on what I’m doing. I don’t really collaborate or see myself as part of anything bigger than just me. I’m not particularly sociable or sceney. So, as far as improvements, see above – I don’t mind other labels making Herring look doper!

Andrew:
I know this is a broad question, but who are some of your favorite artists?

Bob:
My fav artists are film makers really. Hitchcock, Woody Allen [before and after the fake allegations], Jacques Tati, Billy Wilder, Mike Leigh, David Lean…music artists just aren’t as ILL. Maybe Prince Paul, ATCQ, De La, Beasties or DOOM are, but not THAT many others. I’m more into tracks than careers anyway.

Andrew:
This may be an obvious question, but do you collect records? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? How many records do you have now? What do records mean to you? More so, what does music mean to you in general?

Bob:
I don’t collect in the literal sense. I accumulated many, many thousands for sampling, for DJ-ing with, for flipping errr, for listening to?? It was always about how many records I touched rather than how many, or what I keep/kept. I don’t cop so much anymore. It’s a bad habit. It’s better to be selling them, so you can reduce, not accumulate. I’m a recovering addict.

Andrew:
What are some albums you don’t have, but hope to find one day? Are there any albums you’ve given up that you wish you hadn’t? Are you like some of us who purge records only to rebuy them again? 
 

Bob:
I don’t NEED anything. I’m not looking to get lost in that realm. No one needs anything. You need what you find until you get rid. As a DJ I never felt I needed a hot joint. I spun what I found. Things that I came across on my journey; because I decided to go to a particular thrift store that day, and the record was waiting for me. I do hate that I sold Frank Cunimondo Trio with Lyn Marino LP, but I needed the money to pay the rent or some shit. That’s the best value a record can have – something that helps you eat, survive, pay the bills that month. That’s how important a record can be. Not something you want or NEED, but something that gives you something back for recognising it. There’s a nice metaphor to be had there.

Andrew:
What is one album that means the most to you and why?

Bob:
Three Sinister Syllables mix I did – but it’s not an album. Why? ‘Cause I spent every day for a couple years working on it and it sounds great 16 years later.

Andrew:
You’ve pressed well over two hundred albums at Chopped Herring now. Looking back, what are some of your favorite releases?

Bob:
Nearly 300 now. I love Tha Grimm Teachaz EP, a faux 1993 project made in 2011 by the extra talented Serengeti aka Dave Cohn. The Action Bronson – Dr. Lecter Album. Three Sinister Syllables. The Brothers Grym unreleased album. Man, there are a lot. Obviously, I like them all. You should ask which ones I like the least, but I wouldn’t tell you.

Andrew:
You have a reputation for discovering artists before they hit it big (Action Bronson is an example). So, who are some artists we need to watch out for present day? 

Bob:
Who the hell knows who is gonna blow up? Bronson was a particular type of talent. He just happened to be around at a particular time. I dunno, not luck, but timing, which no one can control. All the acts I touch I think are dope. Whether anyone else does, that’s up to them and TBH, I don’t really care. I’m not releasing certain things cause I think they will blow up, I’m releasing it cause I like it and my tastes probably go in and out of fashion. But having said all that, Ill Conscious is a dope MC whose three albums I’ve released. Burgundy Blood from Manchester are the only UK act who’s new material I’ve released – done their two albums and debut EP. Pen Pals and a spin off act Bobby Noble, from Brooklyn are nice with it too.

Andrew:
Last question: You’ve maintained a strong DIY work ethic and ethos throughout your career, which I love. Why is that important for you? What advice would you have for anyone just starting out?

Bob:
So, it’s personal and ultimately “original” – I mean the path, the connections between releases are original and the way they look is pure, Herring. I’m not trying to create a brand – I hate marketing and marketing types, but I’ve created a brand, just cause I’ve been in the game a minute, continuing to do my thing, without regard for commercial concerns. Just chugging along, in my own way. Just seems the most natural way to roll. What advice? Do you and fuck everyone else, not in a nymphomaniac sense, in a “not give a shit” sense.

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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