Ghost Stories: The Road To Berlin’S First Mobile Record Shop
The Ghost’s story begins like any good urban legend: an overgrown yard in a dark corner of old Berlin, a haunted house, a withered old couple peering out from a cobwebbed window. But in this case the overgrown yard is a semi-vacant lot in Neukölln, the haunted house is a nearby storage shack, and the old couple are the new tenants of a trailer that’s parked across the way. They’re blasting the Grateful Dead. Fitting.
The lot certainly has its charms — its crumbling walls are quintessential Berlin — and it affords the perfect set up for The Ghost, the first ever mobile record shop for underground electronic music, which finds its home in a renovated 1970s Mercedes camper van. Its owners, Josh Tweek and James Creed, are drinking Gössers and sketching out their plans to drive The Ghost cross-country. James has likewise divulged his plan to ditch his WG and move in the storage-shack-cum-haunted-house. I can’t tell if he’s joking.
But if all their plans seem like nothing more than good old banter, The Ghost itself is reason enough to believe them. The idea started out as post-party pipe dream in the summer of 2015 and has since morphed into a fully-fledged business. Specializing in 90s electronic music, The Ghost boasts four genres within their small but expertly curated collection: tech house and minimal, techno, early house and disco, and the misfits (everything from 90s hip hop, drum ‘n bass, and dubstep to a few golden oldies). Everything is handpicked by James and Josh; the essence of quality over quantity.
The pair have been swapping records together for years, and they’ve known each other even longer. “We met around a swimming pool at age 10,” James explains. They’re both laughing even though the story is true: James’ cousin was a mutual friend so they’ve known each other most of their lives (“But we didn’t like each other,” they joke). They went to the same university in Leeds, where Josh was also running a music event series called Louche, before eventually moving to Berlin — James in 2009 and Josh in 2012.
Berlin seems to be the great changer where music (and just about everything else) is concerned. “How couldn’t it be? It must surely be for everyone,” Josh agrees, “It’s such a big thing, the music scene here. We’re all living here because of it.” In the handful of years since the pair have moved to Berlin, their taste in music has shifted, evolved, and been put into motion — a good thing for the owners of a mobile record shop. “My music taste is constantly changing,” explains James, “It’s always constantly taking a little nudge, meandering in one direction or another.”
Josh’s interest — he sheepishly admits was sparked by early Pete Tong shows on BBC Radio One — quickly found the kind of considered minimal and tech house that Louche famously favored for parties in Leeds and London. Josh attributes his evolution to a Matthew Herbert tune called “Butthead.” “It was an eye-opener when I heard it for the first time. I bought it straight away. And I still play it!” Likewise, James can trace his musical growth back to a Derrick Carter record or two, but the real transformation occurred in a moment, not a tune. “To be honest, the answer to all of this is the first time I saw Zip play,” he laughs, “I never knew it could be done so well. That was pivotal, that changed everything indefinitely. I’ve never gone back.”
Zip is a DJ’s DJ — the type of artist whose record bag is replete with hidden treasure, and on a good night, the Perlon co-founder and Berlin-based DJ’s sets are the stuff of real urban legends. Magic aside, much of what a good DJ set (Zip’s or otherwise) comes down to is digging; finding the best, the rarest, the most unheard of records. “What does it mean to be a digger? Putting in the hours, sure,” Josh explains, “But it’s so fun putting in the time that it’s not like it’s work. I mean, I’m doing it before I get out of bed in the morning with a cup of tea.” James agrees: “There’s definitely similarities between buying records and playing slot machines. When you find a cool tune, you get a rush. It’s instant gratification; something in your brain triggers and makes you want to keep doing it again and again. There’s definitely an addictive aspect to it.” If that seems like an obsession, well, James and Josh aren’t denying it. They’ve spent countless hours online and in stores looking for tunes and listening to records. But it’s a labour of love — or as James puts it, with a wink of irony, “It’s all for the music.”
“James and I had been digging together for so long that a gap in the market opened up,” Josh is sitting on a bench in back of The Ghost. He’s leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, taking long hauls on a rolled cigarette. As with every good ghost story, it’s clear he’s told this one before. “With enough knowledge of cool stuff on Discogs, we thought it might be possible to buy in and curate a small selection, let people hear stuff that’s not on YouTube, something small like that. We’d been talking about that for a month or two, and we were sat on Hobrechtbrücke in Kreuzkölln, scheming…” That’s what they call it, in true Fortean form. Scheming. “We were scheming on the bridge drinking beers when a big van drove past and we were like, ‘That’s the one!’” They both laugh. ‘“Eureka!’ Literally!” Within two weeks, they were fully committed to the idea of a record shop on wheels. The story’s telling is being shared between them now, each filling in a line. “There were so many things we didn’t think of though,” Josh continues before James picks it up: “There was about three or four crisis points. I remember one where Josh was going, ‘Are we making the right decision to be doing this in a bus?’” Josh again: “Of course those moments cross your mind because at that stage, it’s still just a pipe dream.”
The pivotal moment came with the first collection: over two tons of records — about 10 000 tunes — from a mystery seller in Vienna, Austria. “After renting a van and driving the seven hours from Berlin to Vienna, a run in with the cops along the way, getting stranded at a motel overnight, we were on the highway set back 24 hours and low on funds thanks to the motel… All of a sudden, we drove through a big cloud of cash,” They both laugh at the unbelievability of it, “We drive out of it and we’ve got twenties stuck to the front of the car, like, ‘Was that money?!’ It was wild.” You couldn’t invent a better good luck omen. So far so good.
After a drive home to Berlin, James and Josh unloaded the van. They have listened to all 10 000 tunes. In fact, over the course of this project, they’ve probably listened to more than 20 000. For its part, The Ghost’s entire collection amounts to five thousand or so, with just 500 from that initial first buy. “We were sat in my apartment with towers of records just Discogs-ing everything,” Josh explains, “Listening to it for a minute, needle on, trance? Nope! Next side, trance? Nope. Pass it to Jimbo and he’d check it on Discogs, worth a fiver? Yep, sell it, next! If it was house or techno, we’d put it on their respective piles. We came up with this crazy system and that was all just for those first 10 000 tunes. Almost immediately after we’d moved that collection out, we went and bought another one.”
10 000 tunes aside, though, at that point they still didn’t have the bus. “The name of The Ghost came around while we were van hunting,” James says, “Before we’d even bought The Ghost it was called The Ghost. We were looking for vans for three months or so, and we had a list of possible ones we wanted to buy. The names were shorthand, basically: one of the vans was a big white one and so we gave it a name, The Ghost. And then a green one we were considering was called The Goblin.” They ended up buying a different big white van but the name stuck all the same. The Ghost’s name — think less Slimer, more Casper the Friendly — is somehow a perfect fit for a record shop on wheels. One minute it’s there, the next it’s somewhere else.
The van is a well-loved 1970s camper that Josh and James bought from a family in Heidelberg. “The lady we bought it from, her family would go on roadtrips in it, but the oldest son was getting too teenager to want to do them anymore,” Josh remembers, “It had been their pride and joy for ages. She cried when we drove off in it.” The van eventually found its new home in Berlin, and it hit the streets in May 2016.
Though they can’t simply set up on the corner or in the platz of their choosing due to German laws and legislation, The Ghost opens for one-on-one appointments and private digs, as well as making the occasional poltergeist-like appearance at markets or outside the esteemed Club der Visionaere. “Basically, all our favourite DJs are regular customers,” James smiles. “And lots of our very first customers are still regulars,” Josh continues, “Going to CDV, hearing Nicolas Lutz and seeing the orange Ghost stickers on records he’s playing… That’s pretty cool.”
It’s been a long road to get to this point though, and this is only the beginning. Josh and James are also playing out as a duo under the name The Ghost. With the music knowledge they’ve culled after a year bringing The Ghost to fruition, they’ve hit CDV and Tresor already, armed with their own hidden treasure: shop bombs, personal favourites, and records so rare they’ve torn the labels off. I can’t help but wonder if their closeness brings out a competitive edge between them — a fight for the best tunes. “That’s the nature of it,” James explains, “We’ve all got better because we’re all pushing each other.” And then, both of them exclaim in a unison that’s almost too good to be true: “That’s what keeps you going.”