Crate digging with Psymun

Diggin’ for vinyl gold

Psymun performs his brand of hazy hip-hop.

Image by Sway Heavy

Psymun performs his brand of hazy hip-hop.

by Alexander Brodsky

Behind the endless shelves of knick-knacks and shiny, shrink-wrapped records at the Electric Fetus lies the used vinyl section.

The collection of reject records does not make for good listening. But for a beatsmith like Psymun (aka Simon Christensen), the eclectic mix of vinyl offers possibility.

A bevy of local artists have laid down vocals over Christensen’s hazy, hypnotic beats. He’s worked extensively with singer K.Raydio, and his surprisingly deep discography is populated by a laundry list of other one-off collaborations. Christensen doesn’t exclusively use vinyl for samples, but he said working with records forces him to think outside the box.

“You can’t skip around in a song on a record. It makes you really listen,” he said on a recent record store trip. While you can easily skip over an MP3, a record makes you hear every little sound contained in a song.

“With vinyl, I find stuff I would’ve never heard on the Internet,” Christensen said.

Used records have the advantage of sheer randomness. You would never think to look for sound effect albums and teach-yourself-Spanish records online.

Christensen quickly flipped through Electric Fetus’ dusty stacks.     

“The packaging has a lot to do with it,” Christensen said.

Amid the gaudy ’80s album art, Christensen pulled out a more subdued-looking record. He quickly scanned the back for any information he could glean.

“I look at the year. The ’70s are usually best,” he said as he examined Pete Christlieb’s “Apogee.” He didn’t recognize the artist, but the promise of smooth ’70s keyboards intrigued him.

Contrary to the hip-hop days of yore when funky drum beats reigned supreme, Christensen searches for more nuanced sounds.

“I’m not looking for loops — more like textures,” he said.

Starting out, Christensen struggled to get artists to rap over his beats. He recounted how several years back, local rapper Toki Wright told Christensen he’d use one of his beats. For months, Wright tried to let Christensen down easy, assuring him he’d                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     use the beat eventually.

Rather than tracking down rappers and sending endless emails, Christensen resolved that if he crafted beats well enough, the rappers would come to him.

Nowadays, he can’t stop people from using his beats.                                                                                                                                                              

“Sometimes it’s tight [when rappers steal beats]. Sometimes they ruin the beat for me forever,” Christensen said. “I’m never mad, though. I don’t really believe in intellectual property.”

In recent years, websites like Soundcloud have altered the relationship between rappers and producers. Collaborations happen more fluidly. It’s given beatsmiths like Christensen more autonomy.

Hip-hop producers have gradually risen to a higher level of prominence, Christensen said. More and more, beat makers are taking ownership over their work. The artist line of his recent “Jupiter” single reads “K.Raydio & Psymun.” A decade or two ago, a producer wouldn’t share a billing with a vocalist.

Christensen is no stranger to being at the forefront of his music. He mentioned singing for a ska band called Jalopy in eighth grade, and he currently fronts the punk band Dogshit Kid. Christensen left the store with only the Pete Christlieb record. Buying records comes with more risk than sampling free MP3s.

“It can be hard. I can buy a record, and when I go to sample it, I have no idea what I thought was on it,” he said.

Still, Psymun will continue to dig through stacks of cast-off albums. The promise of the utterly unique nugget stashed away in a record is too enticing to pass up.