It was a rainy morning at 20th and San Carlos, and Lamont Bransford-Young was combing his 12-inch single collection for a Sylvia Striplin album — the one record from which his entire collection of 14,500 has grown.
“I’ve had that record since I was 14,” he said.
He wasn’t able to locate it (he had just reorganized the sprawling collection) but that didn’t seem to matter: “It’s interesting organizing these because I just had a lot of nostalgia.”
The reorganization was not born out of whimsy or boredom or an investigation into a troubled love life, but something far more practical. Only a month earlier, Bransford-Young schlepped the collection into the workspace because, for the first time ever, he’s had a workspace of his own.
While Bransford-Young has done DJ lessons out of his Mission District home for the last 15 years, the enterprise is now in plain view for anyone to walk in, inquire, and sign up. Already, he said, that is happening. “They walk by and see something for themselves,” he said.
And for him, the act of moving his enterprise — and lifelong record collection — into plain view on at 20th and San Carlos is a new frontier for the career radio and club DJ.
“It was a big emotional step to free it and put it in this environment where it’s vulnerable in a way,” he said of the record collection, though he really could have been talking about his business venture, or life writ large, “because now it’s not under my full control.”
To many listeners of the community radio station 89.5 KPOO, he’s DJ Lamont — a disco and house-music aficionado whose on-air segues are heartfelt and philosophical. In person, he’s very much the same, speaking with the deep, warm timbre of someone who’s heard his voice filter through the airwaves for much of his life.
That in itself did not come easy. Bransford-Young was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in December 1964. The first time he ever heard his voice recorded was in the 3rd grade. He had a speech disorder, and his speech pathologist would record his voice so he could hear his mistakes. “I was just so fascinated to hear my voice,” he said.
Bransford-Young was also fascinated by the voices of others. He was a natural loner whose best and most consistent companion was the radio, particularly the New York-based WBLS radio — the flagship of the first full-service radio network aimed at African Americans. Much of the time, the music was disco.
“I would sleep while the radio was on, and I would hear music in the middle of the night and wake up and just listen to be inspired by it,” he said, “or dance to it.”
Despite these hints at his destiny, Bransford-Young’s learning disability — a struggle with reading — deterred him: He auditioned to become a student at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, and while reading the script, “I basically just fell to pieces.”
But he stayed the course, cutting his teeth at Central Connecticut State University’s college radio station and eventually landing a full-time gig at a station specializing jazz, and shortly after, its sister station that played country music. He paid the bills by working in the station’s continuity department (radio speak for advertising), and received a first-class education in what Bransford-Young described as the “art of radio.”
He moved into the Mission in 1997, and has remained here ever since. “I’m happy here,” he said, explaining that he never wants to leave.
Bransford-Young’s DJ academy smells fresh and newly painted. Remnants of the underground scavenging hub Junko’s, which vacated two years ago, have been erased by time and renovations, and have been replaced by a row of turntables, controllers, and CTJs. One of the turntables is set up in front of a large window facing 20th Street.
On this table on a recent Tuesday, the tall man with thin dreadlocks flipped on a single by Agent K, a pioneer of “broken beat”-style house music and let the beat pulse through the room. “It’s one of my favorite songs here,” he said, moving to the music.
He then took out another record, “Walk” by Amaria. He turned dials and moved faders, resulting in a sonic alchemy that produced the driving, textured sound made to coax body and soul into motion. “The idea is to engage with the track,” he said.
“A lot of my students walk in bringing their day with them,” he said. “And, after they’re done, they say their heads are spinning, just like the music.”
DJing may appear to be an expensive undertaking — Bransford-Young said that professional tables and controllers can cost up to $2,500 — but, like anything else, he said, beginners need only a small investment to do a lot.
He held up a smaller “starting unit,” a $250 piece of equipment he recommended for any budding club DJ.
Bransford-Young talked about the responsibility he felt toward his students. They could be out getting into trouble, he said. “But the fact that they’re getting this, this is creating an opportunity.”
He embraced the controller unit tighter and held it to his chest and reiterated: “This is opportunity.”