The legendary downtown fixture and supporting force of local music – Dr. Disc is celebrating 25 years of business this year. I met up with owner Mark Furukawa a few years ago to talk about his 21 year anniversary.
Not only is Mark one of the genuinely nicer guys around, and a fountain of musical knowledge, he is also a terrific cook. We played a game of ’21 questions’ over lunch.
1 – Your 20th anniversary celebrations last year were a huge success. How did it feel?
It was a lot of fun, but a lot of work. We had a great turnout and response from local artists and a great multiple day celebration. For the amount of bands and shows we had we only had one noise complaint from the community – on the last day when the Barettas were playing. Otherwise, it went off without a hitch. The community down here was pretty patient with our outdoor celebrations.
2 – What was the first piece of music you purchased as a kid?
Deep Purple, ‘Machine Head’ was the first album that I ever bought with my own money. I mostly bought vinyl – the first CD I bought was the first cd that was available, I think, which was Genesis CD single – not because I liked it but for the novelty of the new format.
3 -What was the first show you attended?
Teenage Head – in Barrie in a movie theatre that was converted to a live venue – it is now ‘The Roxx’ ( it has since been converted to ’46 West’)
4 – Do you find that friends and family come to you for music suggestions?
Yes, and no. My family isn’t really hardcore into music. My cousin in law is a DJ and he loves the fact that I sell DJ gear. As for friends, they tend to ask more and come to me for gift suggestions.
Biljana: What do you usually recommend?
It is difficult because I listen to everything, depending on my mood. I have my favourite genres; I grew up in the ’80s and a lot of that alternative and New Wave has a special place with me. I tend to go back to older music often, the beauty of it is that you can always go back and enjoy it again. If it’s good it will hold up over decades.
5 – What do you think about dubstep?
It isn’t my favourite genre of electronic music. My musical education began as a DJ, so I can apprecite all kinds of electronic music. Dubstep is not my favourite – but i do listen. I can see why it is cool and i get it, but personally I don’t come home after a long day and play dubstep.
6 – Can you tell us about your DJing?
I was a DJ for 15 years. I started in Barrie doing high school dances with friends. I then moved to clubs, and I spun in Hamilton and in London while at Western University. It was great and a very good way to meet a lot of people. It was something that was social, musical, and I got paid -so for me it was an ideal situation. It felt great to be paid to go out and look for new music and thats probably why I’m here today.
7 – Did you ever play any weddings?
No, I was never a wedding DJ. I did a few Western University functions – but mostly I spun at clubs and I had a stint at Western’s radio station.
8 – What was your DJ name, and would you ever go back to Djing?
It was just Mark. I didnt go for anything crazy like DJ Peanut Butter.
Biljana: Thats great, if you ever go back to DJing – you should consider that name
Nah. Everyone bugs me to do it, and I’m sure that I could still do it, but I’ve hung up my headphones and have moved on.
*** 2016 update: Mark has gone back to DJ’ing and has been killing it at his hugely popular Discography series at Baltimore House.
9 – What percentage of new music that comes into the store do you listen to?
It’s tough because there is so much – but I try to keep up. I’m more locally focused and I keep up with that a lot more.
10 – How hard is it for a local musicial to get their music sold at Dr. Disc?
Easy, just walk in the door – thats it. Bring us your CDs. We take everything on consignment and we take a certain number (magazines, fanzines, records etc.) and keep it in our inventory. You can see if it sells – if it does.. bring us more.
11 – Tell us about what kind of support you offer to local musicians?
We support everyone who sells their music here, and we try to go above and beyond for certain artist to give them that extra push to get their stuff out there. Most recently The Rest released a CD that I personally loved. I wanted to push it so we did our best to do a window display, and to hype them on Twitter and Facebook. We try to go the extra distance if we can – if you have a show poster.. bring it to the store. We also have play copies and will actually play your stuff in the store.
12 – Can you tell us about sponsoring local events (ie. Steel Gold)?
Local events with young enough performers – that’s where we want to be positioned. The music scene must support itself, and I try to support local music in all avenues (live, recorded, etc).
13 – What are your thoughts on the internet in relation to the local music scene?
The internet is great, obviously, and I do sell our stuff online. However, 95% of my customers come from within a 10 mile radius. I try my best to meet everyone and to attend as many shows as I can.
My biggest supporters have always been Hamiltonians and it is really important to me to foster and nurture that music scene – those people have had my back for over 20 years.
14 – Thanks for lunch. What kind of food do you usually cook for yourself?
I make everything, it really depends on what I’m craving. I feel like I’ve got a handle on Thai cuisine and Indian is what I’d like to learn next. I eat out quite a bit and Rapscallion is my favourite place at this moment. Another one is Pho Dau Bo on Cannon / James
15 – What is the best show you’ve attended in Hamilton recently?
That would have to be The Rest’s album release concert at Christ’s Church Cathedral on 06/30/12 with New Hands opening. The gorgeous, open space was an outstanding choice of a venue for The Rest who have quite an expansive “wall of sound” dynamic to their music. The sound of Anna Jarvis’s cello was especially potent and emotive in that setting, and their performance was first-rate. New Hands, one of my favourite local bands currently, were also just stunning!
16 – If you were making a 2012 time capsule – which albums / singles would you include?
Well, to be quite honest I am VERY biased towards local music so the above mentioned bands New Hands and The Rest would be in the top 10. The entire album by The Rest called “Seesaw” is just a wonderful, coherent whole, and the single “Always On My Mind” is just a pulsing, anthemic gem of a song that just carries you along for the ride when you listen to it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6Jeb2faGCY).
New Hands, also from Hamilton, have a single called “Tulips” (http://newhands.bandcamp.com/) which I have listened to repeatedly, but I still can’t get enough of their nod to ‘80s synth-pop with a contemporary sensibility. Spence Newell’s lower register, Dave Gahan-like vocals are really trippy. And he isn’t trying to sing like that – he just does!
Other outstanding local music that I can’t get enough of includes the supremely catchy and raucous single by The Dirty Nil, “Fuckin’ Up Young” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3jaVMBmJ7A); for some fantastic down-home blues you can’t go wrong with the latest Steve Strongman album “A Natural Fact” (http://www.stevestrongman.com/fr_news.cfm); and there is some am amazing songwriting on Dan Griffin’s recently released “Leave Your Love” album (http://www.dangriffin.ca/index1.html).
17 – Are you a fan of karaoke? If so – what do you like to sing?
I am not a fan at all of karaoke, but I think I could pull off a tune – but only if my life totally depended on it. I would probably choose to sing some Frank Sinatra oddly enough. I really dig the material that he recorded with Capitol Records. And to think I used to laugh at my mother when she played Sinatra back when I was but a wee thing!
18 – With more and more people turning away from traditional music outlets (Much Music, MTV, etc.) what do you think is the place of music videos these days?
Music videos have gone through quite a radical transition as far as their function and sheer necessity is concerned. They originally emerged as marketing tools; virtual commercials to advertise and promote a band’s image more than anything else. The music became secondary to the visuals in most instance. In fact, it got to such a point that a band virtually had to have a video in rotation on MTV (or MuchMusic) in order to guarantee any kind of commercial success.
In 1985 the post-punk American band The Replacements had been signed to a major record label, but in rebellion to the whole “video as commercial” trend (and to major labels in general) they produced a video for a single called “Bastards of Young” which was an obvious statement of protest. The video, filmed rather sloppily and entirely in black and white, is a close up of a stereo speaker. Someone, off camera, puts the Replacement song on the turntable and it plays in the background. When the song finishes, whoever has put the record on the turntable gets up and kicks the speaker in. That’s basically all there is to it! The video actually fits the lyrics of the sing extremely well, but was an obvious attempt at commercial suicide – and it succeeded. Brilliant!
Videos just got more outlandish and expensive with each band trying to outdo each other visually. But the sharp decline in TV viewership has largely mitigated the necessity of producing a video, and subsequently the budget for videos set aside by record companies has shrunken exponentially. So now what you find these days is that if a band feels the necessity to film a video they will occasionally design, write and produce it themselves, perhaps choosing a favourite director or visual artist to interpret the music. So artistic integrity has returned to making music videos to some extent.
I don’t think that videos are as key or relevant as they once were for selling a release or branding an artist nor will they ever be again in my opinion — except for the rare one that goes “viral” on the Net. But at least if a band makes the decision to shoot a video these days there is a better chance that they will have artistic control over its production.
19 – Summer is the season of music festivals. Do you have any favorites? Locally or otherwise?
Aside from holding our own “Raise the Roof” live concert series which takes place on the store roof this summer I currently do not have any plans to go to any music festivals. Having just said that there are some really incredible artists at this year’s Greenbelt Harvest Picnic and so I may end up attend that one. However, I don’t really like “gorging” on music and much prefer to see 2 or 3 bands at a time in a club rather than trying to absorb a dozen bands at an orgy of concentrated aural and visual stimulation in a festival setting.
20 – Do you have any music recommendations for me?
Well, not to dwell on New Hands, but I think their upcoming album is going to be the cat’s meow! They are starving students for the most part and are working slowly and deliberately producing and crafting one track at a time (as time and money permit!) with the very able Michael Kiere of Threshold Studios at the controls. Every track I have heard thus far is a mini-masterpiece and I think I am going to lose my mind when the entire album finally drops!
Also, you’re going to get the impression that I have a fetish for Canadian Bands with the word “hands” in their name, but the “Hunting Season” album by Toronto’s Hands & Teeth has been in heavy rotation (http://handsandteeth.com/). The standout track for me is called “Missing” and it’s this exquisitely crafted Beach Boys-esque pop tune with lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” in the chorus. I have an informal list of songs that I wish I would have written (if I indeed actually wrote songs) and this one made it on the list easily!
For upcoming live events, there is a one-off performance by the artist known as Dirty Beaches from Vancouverthat is part of the New Harbours music series which will take place at Christ’s Church Cathedral on October 17, 2012. This solo performer plays “atmospheric, lo-fi rockabilly” (for lack of a better term) and the ghost-like, surreal effects and production he applies to his music are just going to sound that much more otherworldly in the expanse of the cathedral! And Dirty Beaches uses video to express his artistic vision in exactly the way I was mentioning earlier. The Jim Jarmusch-like video for “Lone Runner” directed by Kevin Luna is a perfect example of this (http://vimeo.com/30150622). I think it illustrates the song perfectly.
21 – What are you most proud of in your 21 years of Dr Disc existing?
Quite simply, I think the fact that Dr. Disc has survived this long is the thing I am most proud of!