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Photos by Audrey Gallagher
Introducing: Inside Listening. In this new series from VMP, we’ll be holding up a lens to the sacred listening spaces of various vinyl collectors from all over, one collection at a time.
In the spirit of VMP 100, we’re kicking things off with one of our longest Essentials members, Desuana Dubose, who has most of our Essentials records. Take a visual tour through her space to learn how Desuana has grown her collection with VMP and the impact her listening rituals have had on her life over the last six years.
Back in January of 2014, Desuana Dubose was drawn to vinyl but she didn’t know where to start — so, she Googled “record club.”
Born and raised in Philadelphia, a city with a rich music history and scene that seeded her life-long love of music at an early age, she was seeking something more tangible and meaningful than a basement full of clunky CDs and lost MP3s every time she upgraded her devices. She wanted a physical copy of all the music that had made her life come alive the past two decades on earth, and that desire (with a little help from a search engine) brought her to VMP.
She signed up and received our 13th-ever Essentials record in the mail: the self-titled debut from English musician and producer SBTRKT. At first, she didn’t have a record player or the funds to acquire one, and when she did, it was a humble Crosley. But, she knew she wanted a collection, so she did what she could to grow one.
“It definitely can be intimidating, especially because you don't know where to start. I think that was the biggest thing, for me, was where do you just start? And it's just one record at a time. Just one. There's no need to have 1,000 initially. You just come across what you can come across, and sort of build slowly from there,” she said.
Flash forward 7 years, and Desuana’s record collection is the heartbeat of her life and home. Her collection currently hovers in between 700 and 800 records (and counting) — including 88 of our 100 VMP Essentials titles — all of which she acquired one at a time. “You guys have created the monster,” she said, laughing. Her collection resides in her central living space in the home she shares with her partner, Zach, and dog, Sable. Long gone are her Crosley days, and in their place, a surround-sound speaker in every corner of the room.
After long days and weeks spent working as an administrator in a hospital helping cardio-oncology patients — throughout the added stress of the COVID pandemic — on top of going to school for business, her records are a central source of detoxification and relaxation from stress. I ask what pairs best with her own listening experience.
“Drinking. Yeah. It's mostly having a cocktail or just listening to something. Or cooking. Actually, drinking is number two. Cooking is number one,” she said, and grinned. COVID-era Saturdays, for her, look like waking up, hitting the bakery, the farmer’s market and spinning records all afternoon while cooking and gorging on the fresh provisions. Her style, care and rituals reflect this organic, relaxation-oriented approach; while she cares for her collection and does what she can to clean them when her records aren’t sounding their best, she doesn’t stress too much about it. Her records exist to be actively enjoyed, and not tenderly fawned over.
In the true spirit of a longtime Essentials subscriber, her collection is the definition of an eclectic mix. While the ’90s hip-hop, R&B and neo-soul she grew up on (“That's my bread and butter”) are abundant among her shelves, so is just about everything else. “I'll listen to any and everything, always,” she said. She fondly recalls her music journey leading her from hip-hop and neo-soul to the Paramore-obsessed pop punk days into her Phoenix Tumblr discovery into reggaeton, K-pop, Broadway show tunes — you name it.
“I've always been a person who loves to just, like, prove people wrong,” she interjected, while explaining her multifarious music preferences. “I love when people are like, ‘Oh, you know that?’”
But her journey into vinyl has led Desuana, a warm, vivacious social butterfly who freely and abundantly gifts music recommendations to anyone who will listen, to more than just a diverse and growing record collection — it’s also brought her an abundance of community, both digital and physical. After starting to post unboxing videos on YouTube in the early days of her VMP subscription, she’s cultivated followings and community on her vinyl-centric YouTube and Instagram accounts, through which she’s built real connections with other music and vinyl-obsessed friends and creators. She also used to host a branch of VMP’s former listening party, The Spins, in New York, and later in Philly.
It was there she met one of her best friends, Audrey Gallagher, the photographer behind this Inside Listening feature and a lot of Desuana’s own content. The two of them connected after realizing that Audrey and her husband won a vinyl giveaway that Desuana orchestrated, and have been friends ever since. For her, the key to building real relationships within the vinyl world — whether online or in real life — is to simply be real.
“I just try to be as authentic as I can within the community. There is a great lack of diversity. And it's not anyone's fault. It's no one's fault. It's like, we need more representation. It's just that there isn't that many collectors that are women most of the time, or Black, Indigenous, people of color. But, thankfully, out of it, there've been a lot of pages and stuff that come up and support, like Black Girls Love Vinyl,” she said. “I think that's the thing is, within the community, these women have started their own community within it. So there's a vinyl community, and then there's a group of women who sort of stick together and have each other's back.”
Before the pandemic, her collection was a centerpiece for storytelling and entertaining friends, vinyl-lovers and otherwise — not just the stories the records themselves tell, but also the meaning and stories they carry in the context of her own life.
“The one thing I love about my collection is I can tell you the background of how I got every single record,” she said. She laughed, describing her boyfriend pulling a Daft Punk record off of their shelf recently. “I was like, ‘Yes, I remember that.’ I was like, ‘This was the year when I was dating several men at once. And during my birthday, they each got me a vinyl record."
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.