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Mississippi Records: I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Mississippi Records is a truly unique record store; it’s slogan Love Over Gold, perfectly sums up both the store, and owner Eric Isaacson’s goals. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is an in depth exploration into culture and how it’s expressed, recorded and consumed by society today. Eric skilfully achieves this through the use of his own archival footage, as well as a vast collection of clips from the archives of Alan Lomax; whose obsession with capturing culture before it became extinct has produced over 300 hours of footage. The tour is an extension of the label - much needed after ten years of silence. I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to interview Eric since the label began. He starts by talking about his life, the work of Alan Lomax, and why he’d decided to tour Europe and showcase the footage. Mississippi Records was set up by Eric to provide a platform to distribute hard to find vinyl at reasonable prices. “I was spending sixty or seventy hours a week in my basement.” He begins by describing the Mississippi process. “I was producing one record per week. That was my goal.” But after ten years of working like this, Eric had what he described as a ‘spiritual crisis’ after watching a film by Harry Smith. Heaven and Earth Magic is an avant-garde exploration of the life and death cycle, which prompted Eric to question his life and the culture surrounding him; leading him to Alan Lomax’s work on cultural preservation. “I was sitting on my couch one day and the phone rang.” Eric laughs. “We’ve booked you a bunch of European dates. Can you do them?” Eric agreed and began to put together the presentation. “At first it was very militant, political and an all out attack on the major labels.” He explains. But after some time Eric distilled the presentation into what it is today; and he still admits to changing it each time it’s performed. Eric’s encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject and relaxed composure when addressing the audience makes for an intimate and compelling presentation. The content is thought provoking and well arranged; musicologists, artists and philosophers are introduced and explained through amusing storytelling, which is welcoming and un-chauvinistic. Eric’s opinions on the internet and global communication play an important role in the presentation. It’s clear that the Mississippi label shares some of Lomax’s intentions; to preserve culture and to provide a platform through which art from every society may be showcased. “Two billion people have access to the internet. Five billion people don’t. Those people are generally the poorest people in the world, and who makes the best art? In my opinion, some of the best art comes from the poorer parts of society.” The footage shows a rare insight into the musical scene of the 70‘s and 80’s. Raw and unedited, Lomax captured the poorer, Southern musicians of the time. From back porch dances to New Orleans funerals, rarely do the subjects acknowledge the camera, giving the footage a distinct authenticity. During the show, Eric references his childhood multiple times; growing up in LA in the eighties clearly had a great effect upon him, shaping him into the person who started Mississippi Records at a time when most record stores were shutting down. I asked him how society today compares to the often oppressive Reagan administration he grew up with: “I think it’s better, I really do. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I’ll speak for America. From 1980 until now has really been the dark ages and we’re just starting to wake up from it a little. At least now people have more choices; the eighties was really narrow for people in America, their stylistic options. Reagan was really on a warpath to destroy culture.” Mississippi Records is centred around a DIY ethic; from the recording of musicians to the artwork on the sleeves. I asked Eric about the decision to take this stance, and where his influences were: “Ever heard of the guy Daniel Johnston?” “There was this record store in LA that got a box of these tapes from Daniel. I used to go in there all the time; just listen to the listening station but never buy anything. One day I came in and they were joking: ‘It’s what that kid would sound like if he made music.’ They handed me the tapes and said: ‘Take them, they’re terrible.’ I took them home and they were the best things I ever heard.” “All the covers were like super homemade and the music was totally lo-fi recorded at home and really beautiful to me. In my head, because of what was said at the record store, I thought he was a kid my age; even though in reality he was like 25 and living in an insane asylum.” “That was definitely the tipping point where I realised ‘Woah, I can make my own art, I can make my own music and I don’t have to rely on anybody else. I can figure it out.’” Eric was the perfect companion to the footage, and despite the two never having met, Eric showed great enthusiasm and genuine belief in continuing Lomax’s work. This is the first time Eric has done any kind of tour, and from speaking to him after the show, I gathered it could be the only time. “I’ve always liked the idea of appreciation” He explained. “But I don’t like the idea of direct attention. Maybe the best way for me to operate is in darkness, in secret. It’s working; this is proof. People are getting the records, getting the ideas without me having to say anything. In the future if I do something like this I want it to be more about art than a message.” Mississippi Records )

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