Even in modern times, there is a strong affection for things from the past. Whether it’s due to nostalgia, or our longing for simpler items, there are communities that surround themselves with various forms of analogue culture. Ani Phoebe is a record digger and a vinyl DJ who has fostered her own community through Bad Times Disco. A while ago, we sent her Lomography Color Negative 400 and Lomography Color Negative 800 as she embarked on her world tour across America, Europe, and Australia. Today, we catch up with Ani, check out her tour photos, and discuss why she continues to use vinyl and film photography.
Hi and welcome to Lomography Magazine! To start, can you introduce yourself, and tell us how you started DJing and then photography?
My name is Ani, I'm from New York City and I first got into records and DJing in Rio. So after university, I moved to Rio and I was living there for most of my 20s. When you're in your early 20s, you look for people you want to resonate with. When I was in Rio I basically found it through the underground scene over there. A lot of DIY collectives, people doing free parties, and stuff on the streets. And just very naturally, I gravitated towards musicians and DJs. Then I started collecting records. I think everybody knows that Brazil is famous for records because they have their own pressing plants and their own record labels. So Brazil has a really rich array of records.
In terms of photography, I've always been into film. I think just naturally, all of this started connecting together. So before digging records, I was always really into thrifting, and vintage clothes, and also always into photography. I was actually part of my high school yearbook committee and it was there where I was able to foster more of a connection to photography. I met someone who became my best friend in high school and this friend is actually the one who inspired me more in photography. Besides this, I think I've always surrounded myself with photographers and even now my partner is really good at photography. He's taken some of my press pictures. He's very good. I'm surrounded by people who love photography, and then I naturally gravitate towards it. Yeah, towards film. Even now, I think I'm just interested in older technology because it gives a warm human touch.
For the tour, I was using an Olympus Mju. It's light and easy to take around. I have to say, from the photos, I think the ones during the day turned out better. Just the natural light made everything easy and I realized it's so hard at night. I think the most beautiful photos are just with natural light, like using shadow. Nature and people. I also wanted to capture that from the tour. Not just parties, not just people, but also some of the landscapes from some of the places I visited. I really wanted to find time to do some leisure activities such as going to a national park or camping but the schedule makes it so hard.
We went camping and rock climbing right after this festival in France. This was my first gig in Europe. I flew from New York to Paris, and then my first gig was at Divagations a small festival in the south of France, in the middle of nowhere. Me and my partner don't know how to drive so we can't rent a car, and we have all our climbing and camping equipment. So I'm running around the festival asking people to help us to drive us somewhere. Balancing these things is hard and take note I have all my records with me so it can be hectic and crazy but it makes good stories. This is why my photos are a mix of the gigs I performed, and more personal photos, and nature.
I really like the photo of the mushroom.
The story behind that photo is cool. First of all, I've never been to Finland. I found out that every neighborhood in Helsinki has what they call a neighborhood forest. So instead of having a city park, they just have like a plot of forest. Everybody can go for a walk, get away from the city. I don't have to travel an hour or two hours outside to see some nature in Finland. I went to Helsinki for a talk. My friend Miia Laine, a radio host and a DJ, brought me over to talk about Bad Times Disco and solidarity parties and kind of how to do them. She's somebody who I think is really curious and critical as a DJ, someone who is not just thinking about parties as a hedonistic space but is really thinking about the value and principles, anti-capitalism, underground scenes, LGBTQIA+ rights. She's hosting this regular talk series to share knowledge, especially amongst like promoters, DJs and cultural workers. So I went there and we did a talk, I had a gig, and then we went mushroom foraging.
Were you satisfied with the photos? I think the results were great and captured the spirit of the tour.
I was so happy. For me as a DJ, and as an artist, it's so hard for me to remember to take photos, I kid you not. This is why there are no pictures from the US tour. The whole month went by and I think my head is like really full of stuff that's already happening.
I'm obviously taking pictures on my cell phone. But in a funny way, like all the pictures we take on our cell phones, you can't find them anymore. You can't use them or you don't remember them. But for the film pictures, I kind of remember that I took them more. It was only when I got to Europe that I was able to shift my mentality and be like, okay, I actually need to document. I need to take some pictures of really special moments. So I just went snapping about. I wasn't thinking if it was day or night.
What was the highlight of the whole tour for you?
I hate this question! It's so hard! It's like very impossible to say because I toured the US, Europe, and Australia. It's so long. Most people just don't do this all together. I think they would break it up. They'd be lucky if they could tour one of these places in one year. So I feel like it's been a lot. I've actually been back in Hong Kong for like a month, and I think I'm still kind of processing everything. Looking at the photos actually really helps me to remember and to think about certain things. I have highlights in each place. I think that's the best.
In the US, my highlight is finding out that the US has an underground cosmic and disco scene. This is super cool to me. I've never fucking known this. I'm from the US and I just feel so alienated from supposedly my own country. Anyway, I basically found some new cosmic DJs and promoters and parties in the US. Two examples were the one in San Francisco where my friends run a party called Vague Terrain and another one in DC where they hold parties in this independent movie theater called Suns Cinema. In San Diego, there's this socialist disco party called People's Disco and though I wasn't able to check it out this would be a dream gig for me.
In Europe I have many highlights. But the time I had to do gigs in Prague and Budapest was one that I will never forget. So back when I was fixing my tour dates I made sure to send the dates to our friend ADIS IS OK because I really wanted to play for his party in Budapest. In the middle of my tour, the people from Zmar which is a small intimate festival in the Czech Republic also asked me and I was like, ok I'll do it. But these gigs were back to back, so after my midnight set in this festival I had to rush to catch the bus bound for Budapest and play for that daytime party the following day. During my time in Europe, I tried not to use planes and really made an effort to use trains and buses. Though it may take longer you have a lot of downtime to do other things while in transit.
Australia was amazing but by that time I was definitely homesick for Hong Kong. At the same time, I think this specific roll had some of my favorite and best photos. Basically, I went into Chinatown in Melbourne, and I was just shooting around. I think the reason why I was also shooting is because, at that point, I was super homesick. I really wanted to go back home, and sleep in my bed, and eat Chinese food.
After coming home you didn't have much time to rest because you had to plan your next Bad Times Disco party. What’s it like fostering your own community?
Bad Times Disco started as a way to foster and promote the playing of vinyl in clubs especially in the more electronic music scene. Before, there were DJs playing vinyl records at selector listening bars and also scratch DJs, but in terms of electronic music, I did not see much. Beyond the parties, Bad Times Disco has been doing a record fair in 2023. I would say building a community is very hard in general, no matter where you are around the world, but it's also it's very hard in Hong Kong because in order to build a community, you have to do it not for profit. You have to intentionally build community to not be exploitive or extract anything from these people. So you're putting unpaid time into something that is doing something beneficial for everybody else. And I would say that community is the most overused word. A lot of people just do a market, and then they say, well, this is our community. And I'm like, okay, but everyone who is in this market is driven by their self-interest. When we do a record fair, I believe that we do it in a community-oriented way. But I believe that we have a long way to go in terms of actually building a community that's not inherently driven by self-interest or money. We still have to foster that. It's still growing.
I would say one of the strongest examples of a music community in the vinyl world in Hong Kong is every Wednesday, at 7 p.m, in the Jordan MTR. There's a bunch of people there, like 99 percent men. And they trade records with each other. Almost all of them are like, 40 and above, they're kind of older. They're not DJs, they're not going out to parties, and so the music tastes are slightly different. I'm not going there too often but I really appreciate that and you can see this kind of community grow over the love of something analogue.
Why do you think people still want to use these older formats, whether it's vinyl or film photography?
To be really honest, I don't even know why we ask this question, because to me it's just so clear. I've never really been this person who has been very interested in doing or using what everybody else is using. I've always been someone who's more interested in history. I'm a little bit more curious about older stuff in general than I think maybe most people. But I think the reason why it'll just never die is because I think the quality is there. The way of selecting, the way of being limited, of having constraints, it actually helps us mentally as humans. If we just have access to everything, and if we can just produce an excess of things, we don't value it. And we can't cope with so much. So being surrounded by limits, and constraints, it actually really helps us to focus on what we want to do and be very intentional. In my opinion, the quality is there, either for records or film. I'm very happy with the quality of what I'm doing, you know, otherwise, I wouldn't do it. I'm not doing something because I'm a medium fetishist. I'm doing it because I believe that the quality is there and I think the interest is stronger than ever.
I've always lived in places where the film culture was really strong. I don't know if that's because of my friend group, or because of where I'm living. But for example, Hong Kong is a super big film photography hub. Huge. In Rio, there's a lot of thrifting culture, so you can kind of walk around and lots of people, very working-class people, they're selling stuff on the ground everywhere. And it's just very common for people to buy cameras and shoot film. It's definitely a bit more of a middle class, to upper-class hobby, just because of the cost. But I think people are willing to spend the money because they are getting something that they will really remember and value.
Is there anything you'd like to share with the rest of the Lomography community?
I'm always inspired by people who are super passionate about what they're doing. Everybody's passionate about something. Everybody kind of gets obsessive about something. So I just think that it's always good to keep on trying to get better at something. Like, now I'm taking house dancing lessons. After this tour, I want to get better at photography. So I think that's what I want to say to Lomography, it's really cool to be connected in this way and document my tour in this way, and to have this on Lomography. It makes me feel like okay, I'm surrounded by people that I really respect. I can always learn more and I think to have this humility of always learning more. I always want to tell other people who are not so into music or DJs they can always go to a record store and learn more. I don't primarily define myself as a photographer. I don't really think that I'm a good photographer but I want to learn more. I have these amazing cameras that are manual that are sitting full of dust on my shelves and I'd be super excited to play around with them and learn more!
We thank Ani for her wonderful photos and wise words. Be sure to keep up with her on Instagram. What does community mean to you? Comment and share your thoughts with us below!