Vinyl Enthusiast Cian O'Donnell is the man behind not only Ponsonby's Conch Records, but also George Sundays Earshot show. Now residing in Raglan, Cian continously has a huge influence on Auckland's music scene, especially when it comes to vinyl. He has been DJing since 1989, locally and internationally, across club nights, events and radio. We caught up with Cian this week to talk to him about the birth of Conch Records, working with vinyl in the digital age and what he does on Sundays.
Conch Records original started 18 years ago, as a market stall in Aotea Square. Tell us a bit about how the market came about?
The markets came about through our good friend Gino Jouavel, who conjured up the concept of a small outdoor inner-city market. It was located in Aotea Square every Friday and Saturday from around 9 am til 5 pm. That space seemed pretty underutilized on the weekends back then, and Gino gathered together a tight bunch of stall holders (mostly mates and acquaintances) to add some colour, music and culture into that area. This was the end of 2000/2001.
I shared my space with Sparrow Phillips, better known as Component (street/graphic artist/Cut Collective member). I was selling imported vinyl and Spaz was selling screen printed tees. We also had Benny Staples coming down and helping out as well. Due to the fact that we were the only ones playing music out of our stall and into the square at a decent volume, people gravitated to us. Word got out pretty quick that there was someone selling records out of a small market stall on the weekends and it fast became a real hang out spot.
Do you remember the particular moment you decided you wanted to turn the market into a physical store?
Yeah, I had been working in San Francisco for a couple of record store and a label and had put the market stall on hold. During that trip my partner in crime, Brent Hollands, got offered a space to rent in Canterbury Arcade just off High St. It was literally a broom cupboard and he thought it was ideal for a small shop of sorts. He remembers him calling me up when I was in New York and pitched the idea. I think the rent initially at that spot was $80 a week or something stupid. My memories pretty hazy but think this was 2003.
Ponsonby road is one of the most prime locations today. When you opened Conch what drew you to Ponsonby?
We outgrew our shop in Canterbury Arcade and initially, we were looking at K Road. It just so happened that the spot that we moved into was in Ponsonby, it was never planned.
What attracted you to Ponsonby at that time vs now?
The block we moved into felt good when we initially checked it out. That section of Ponsonby Road still retains character and has some long-running and well-respected establishments along it. Although Ponsonby still had that stigma attached to it of being over gentrified and have lost its flavour, we still felt at home there. I'd like to think we also contributed to the block and brought a community together around the shop.
Even now I still feel that Conch has retained its original vibe of bringing something a little bit different to the area and still holds a sense of realness, without having been saturated down by the influx of stereotypical bars/restaurants and cafes
You have been DJing since 1989, locally and internationally, across club nights, events and radio. What are the biggest or most noticeable positive changes you have noticed locally?
If you mean like really recently, then that's kind of hard to answer, as I feel like I've been out of the loop with what's going on over the past few years, mainly due to now living in Raglan, not DJing as much and being more of a homebody and full-time Dad.
I do love the fact though that so many more local artists are able to push there sound internationally and connect to a larger audience. Which in turn has given the world a wider idea of what Aotearoa has to offer musically.
How about the most drastic or progressive?
The obvious - the change from analogue to digital. Not just in the making of music, but in the way we promote it visually (flyers/posters) to how we sell it and digest it etc etc.......I'm still an analogue lad, living in a digital world and finding it harder and harder to fit in!!!!
Hosting and DJing club nights, special events and ‘Ear Shot’ on George Sundays must keep you very busy. Do you tend to keep the sound and style of your sets cohesive for all platforms? Or have a slightly different direction per style of gig? What shapes the direction or mood of your sets?
It doesn't really keep me busy at all nowadays, nowhere near like it used to. Especially since I got out of the city.
I find it a tad boring and predictable to play one style or genre over the course of a set, so I like to go here, there and everywhere. BUT.....yes there needs to be some kind of flow and connection between the tracks, not just random tracks thrown together, so I guess there is some sort of cohesiveness going on in my sets.
I never really know what I'm going to play when I turn up at gigs, I don't plan or practice, it's made up on the spot. Hence I'm always having the piss taken out of me for always bringing far too many records than is needed to gigs. I think any knowledgeable or in tune selector would know that what shapes the direction or mood of your sets is firstly your audience. Other contributing factors can be the venue (size wise and acoustically), your mood, time slot, indoors/outdoors etc.
Let’s talk about Ear Shot on George Sunday’s, when did you start the show?
Think dinosaurs were still roaming if I recall.......
What can we expect this Sunday? For those who haven’t tuned in before, how would you describe the show?
I try to keep it as upfront on the radio as I can. Mainly because it's the only platform I feel comfortable playing digital music. I try not to get stuck in any one genre for too long and hope to keep the listeners guessing as to what's coming up next. At the same time, I like to delve back into the past and revisit tracks that need to be heard again. "All styles & smiles".
Other than Ear Shot, what do you get up to on Sunday?
Entertaining the kids and trying not to fall asleep too early in the evening.
Locally and internationally, who other than your close crew of fellow DJs, who do you rate?
Locally - Longboss, Benny Linsay Williams, Nabeel Zuberi, Geezer Guy
Internationally - Chiz, Moonboots, Tom Thump, Romanowski, Lefto, Muro, DJ Nuts, Benji B, Gilles P, Keb Darge, Cut Chemist, Kode9, Theo Parrish, Andrew Weatherall, Aba Shanti, Carl Craig.............
Just worth noting......i don't rate DJs on their mixing abilities.