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  • I became obsessed with records when I was about 12 years old.

  • My parents used to give me money to eat

  • and on most days, instead of eating,

  • I would save it and buy myself a record at the end of the week.

  • Here I am with a gigantic Walkman that's about half my leg --

  • (Laughter)

  • It actually looks more like a VCR.

  • (Laughter)

  • So when I was a teenager,

  • the obsession of buying cassettes, vinyls and CDs just kept growing.

  • I was even working in a record store for many years

  • and only ever got paid in records.

  • One day I realized that I had thousands of records more

  • than I could even listen to in my life.

  • I became what many of us are:

  • record junkies --

  • or record diggers, as we like to call ourselves.

  • Record digging, as the name suggests,

  • means getting your hands dirty.

  • It means spending hours rummaging through warehouses,

  • church basements,

  • yard sales, record stores --

  • all to find records that have been forgotten for decades.

  • Records that have become cultural waste.

  • The earliest record collectors from about the '30s to the 1960s

  • found and preserved so many important records

  • that would have been lost forever.

  • In those days, most cultural and public institutions

  • didn't really care to preserve these treasures.

  • In many cases, they were just throwing them into the garbage.

  • Record digging is a lifestyle.

  • We're absolutely obsessed with obscure records,

  • expensive records, dollar-bin records,

  • crazy artwork,

  • sub-subgenres.

  • And all of the tiniest details that go with each release.

  • When the media talks about the vinyl revival

  • that's been happening these last few years,

  • they often forget to mention this community

  • that's been keeping the vinyl and the tradition and the culture alive

  • for these last 30 years.

  • It's a very close-knit but competitive society, a little bit,

  • because when you're hunting for extremely rare records,

  • if you miss your opportunity,

  • you might not see that record ever in your life.

  • But I guess the only person in here truly impressed by record collectors

  • is another record collector.

  • To the outside world,

  • we seem like a very weird, oddball group of individuals.

  • And --

  • (Laughter)

  • And they're mostly right.

  • All the record collectors I know are obsessive maniacs.

  • We know we're all crazy in some way.

  • But I think we should be viewed a little bit more like this.

  • (Laughter)

  • We're music archaeologists.

  • We're hunting down the lost artifact.

  • We all have a list of records that we would do anything to get our hands on,

  • that we've been chasing for years,

  • and we actually call this list our "holy grails."

  • When you're digging for records,

  • you're surrounded by music you don't know.

  • You're surrounded by mystery and by all these dreams --

  • records that people once believed in.

  • Imagine the thousands of artists who were destined to be legends

  • but for various reasons, were just overlooked.

  • Many of these records only exist in a handful of copies,

  • and some have never even been found,

  • never been heard.

  • They're literally endangered species.

  • I'll tell you a story

  • that for me sort of sums up the value of the work of record diggers.

  • The story of a brilliant Montreal musician and composer.

  • Henri-Pierre Noël was born and raised in Haiti,

  • but he lived briefly in the US and in Belgium.

  • He passed through Montreal what was supposed to be for two weeks,

  • but he ended up staying for the next 40 years.

  • When he was young, he learned to play piano

  • and developed a very particular way of playing his instrument:

  • very fast and almost like a percussion.

  • His style was a mix of his Haitian influences and folklore

  • mixed with the American influences that he grew up hearing.

  • So he created a mix of compas mixed with funk and jazz.

  • As a young man,

  • he played and toured with live bands in the US and in Europe,

  • but had never recorded an album or a song before moving to Canada.

  • It was in Montreal in 1979

  • that he released his first album called, "Piano."

  • Completely on his own, on Henri-Pierre Noël Records.

  • He only made what he could afford: 2,000 copies of the record.

  • The record received a little bit of airplay,

  • a little bit of support in Canada and in Haiti,

  • but without a big label behind it,

  • it was very, very difficult.

  • Back then,

  • if your record wasn't getting played on mainstream radio,

  • if you weren't in jukeboxes or if you weren't invited to play on TV,

  • the odds were completely against you.

  • Releasing an album as an independent artist

  • was so much more difficult than it is today,

  • both in terms of being heard and just distributing the thing.

  • So, soon after, he released a second album,

  • kept a busy schedule playing piano in various clubs in the city,

  • but his records started to accumulate dust slowly.

  • And those 2,000 copies in the span of 30 years

  • easily started to get lost

  • until only a few copies in the world remained.

  • Then in the mid-2000s,

  • a Montreal record digger that goes by the name Kobal

  • was doing his weekly rounds of just hunting for records.

  • He was in a flea market

  • surrounded by thousands of other dirty, dusty, moldy records.

  • That's where he found the "Piano" album.

  • He wasn't specifically looking for it.

  • Actually, you could say it sort of found him.

  • You could also say that after 20 years of record digging every single week,

  • he had developed a sixth sense for finding the gold.

  • He took the record and inspected it:

  • the front, the artwork, the back, the liner notes,

  • and he was intrigued by the fact that this Haitian musician made a record

  • in Quebec in the late '70s,

  • so he was intrigued.

  • He took out his little, plastic, portable turntable

  • that he brought with him whenever he was on these digging quests

  • and put the record on.

  • So why don't we do the same thing?

  • (Music)

  • He fell in love with the music instantly,

  • but he had to know the backstory behind it.

  • He didn't know where it came from.

  • He knew the artist,

  • at the time of the recording,

  • was living in Montreal,

  • so for months, he tried to track him down.

  • He even found Noël's business card inside the record sleeve.

  • That's how DIY Henri-Pierre Noël was.

  • So he found the card inside the record sleeve --

  • of course he did try to call,

  • but after 30 years, the number didn't work anymore.

  • So it was only in Belgium,

  • where the artist had once lived,

  • that Kobal managed to find someone that knew the artist personally

  • and gave him the contact.

  • So when he finally sat down with the artist,

  • he made him a promise to someday find a way to get the album rereleased.

  • He then arranged for a British label called Wah Wah 45s

  • to get the two albums reissued.

  • And what happens very often is,

  • in these reissue projects,

  • that it becomes very difficult to find the master tapes --

  • the original recording of the sessions.

  • Art can be destroyed by fires, floods, earthquakes,

  • thrown in the garbage,

  • or just lost forever.

  • But thankfully,

  • the Henri-Pierre Noël tapes were safe

  • and they were ready for remastering.

  • The record was finally rereleased

  • and received praise from music critics, DJs and listeners worldwide --

  • the praise that it should have received in 1979.

  • The artist was so inspired that he decided to revive his music career,

  • get back on a stage, and play for new audiences.

  • The artist, now in his 60s,

  • told me, "This changed everything for me.

  • I went from planning my retirement

  • to playing on the BBC Radio in London, and on Radio Canada and more."

  • But also it gave him a chance to play

  • in front of his three sons for the first time.

  • To me, this story shows perfectly the work of record diggers at its best.

  • Beyond the rarity and the dollar value --

  • and I'll be honest, we're totally obsessed by that --

  • the true beauty is to give art a second chance;

  • to save art from oblivion.

  • The work of a good record digger is a constant loop of three phases.