Vinyl first wrote a story in Dezi Magby’s life at the age of 4, when his parents took him to Soul Beat Records. They handed him a $5 bill and said, “pick out what you want.”
“Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players was the first record he ever bought with his own money. It was a song he’d play on his child drum set.
“45s were cheap back then,” he recalls. “I often couldn’t make up my mind, but I’d have that one song I’d have to walk out with.”
It was the beginning of a longtime love affair for Magby. The 47-year-old DJ and record collector, who DJs solo as DJ Psycho, is also a part of the famed Detroit techno music collective, Detroit Techno Militia, which he joined in 2006.
Magby now owns more than 85,000 records. Most are stored in warehouses, but 25,000 fill three wall-sized shelving units in his work space he calls “The Dungeon.” Eventually, his goal is to find a spot big enough to host them all.
Surrounded By Sound
Here at The Dungeon, Magby lives and breathes music. Guitars, music merchandise, and DJ equipment fill the space not taken up by vinyl. Around his neck is a turntable necklace, a nod to the one thing that drives him: the art of sound. “It’s my communication.”
Growing up in Flint, the music of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and James Brown filled his childhood — played by his mother, Bessie, and his father, Moses. At breakfast, especially, music would be playing.
Using a trait learned from his father, Magby can recall experiences by what he was listening to at a specific moment in time. When he talks about a record, the first words out of his mouth are the year and month it came out, and where he was when he first heard it.
Take, for instance, a 1978 Thanksgiving dinner. That’s when Prince’s debut album For You, changed Magby’s life at the age of 9. His uncle, James, a mobile DJ, brought over stacks of records that Magby listened to in the living room. The funky, fresh sounds of Prince were unlike anything the young boy had heard before. Today, Prince is an inspiration and icon for Magby – a framed photo of the pop superstar hangs just above his computer.
Magby also tuned in to the otherworldly radio shows of The Electrifying Mojo — a Detroit radio personality who helped break Prince, The B-52’s, and The Cars in the local market by playing their records late at night.
Magby began amassing his own vinyl collection. And what a collection it became.
By the age of 11, he started to DJ and picked up even more records to fill his sets. When he turned 16, he had a serious collection on his hands that had moved past the point of hobby.
Later, while attending the University of Michigan Flint studying English literature and minoring in communication, Magby got a job on-air at Flint’s CK105.5. Record labels sent him promo copies on a near-daily basis, and they’d send two copies, which he’d trade with friends.
“The first place I look at in any respectable record store is the dollar bins, because that’s where all of the hidden gold is,” he says.
Often, people would give him parts of their record collections that they no longer wanted or wanted to “re-home” — especially when CDs moved in and records moved out.
“You do that over the course of 25 years, and it adds up,” he laughs. He’s gotten all sorts of collections, from ’60s and ’70s rock to electronic music when a DJ no longer wished to play vinyl.
Even when vinyl suffered its drop and consequent resurgence in pop culture — 2015 sales of vinyl records were up 32 percent, their highest level since 1988, according to the RIAA — Magby never lost his passion for what was physical and tangible.
Vinyl requires time and investment. His records receive top care: You’ll never catch Magby leaving a record out of its sleeve for too long if it’s not up on a turntable, and his giant shelves of vinyl are precisely and methodically organized by style of music, artist, and type of record. Some records that make multiple appearances in his collection, like Yellow Magic Orchestra’s self-titled yellow vinyl, of which he has four different editions.
Ready, Set, Go
Magby doesn’t get ready for DJ sets. His music selection will depend on what he’s heard that day, what mood he’s in. But when he gets in the booth, he has one goal in mind. “If people on the dance floor are reacting, you win,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re using two sticks and banging them together. If you’re not into the music, they’re just going to stare at you. And I want them to pay attention.”
At Movement Electronic Music Festival in 2012, Magby’s daughter, Courtney, joined him on stage. During the set, he spotted the reason for doing what he does, way back in the center of the crowd.
“There’s this little girl who gets in the middle of a circle and just starts dancing her heart out,” he recalls. “She didn’t care who was watching or what was going on around her. She just wanted to feel free right at that moment.” He still thinks about the memory to this day, especially when he hears the track that was playing at that moment: Dajae’s “Brighter Days (Underground Goodies Mix).”
It’s that personal connection that people develop with music, himself included, that makes Magby happiest. “I have a relationship with every piece of vinyl that comes through, especially something that I play out because I have to trust my emotions that I’m going to play for people who are going to get a reaction [out of it],” he explains.
Even though he’s been DJing for 35 years, Magby is still learning, still discovering something new. “I’m always a student of the music,” he explains. “When I’m holding a record, I’m trying to learn every groove. I’m trying to understand what went into it: who did the production, the artwork. Each record has a story.”
And some, like that little girl dancing at Movement, set the foundation for new stories to write themselves.
“My point is to find the story within,” Magby says. “If I feel like I know it all, then this stops becoming fascinating to me.”