Dust-to-Digital: the Instagram video archivists loved by Jarvis Cocker

Where else on the internet can you see schoolkids in Nigeria play Stevie Wonder and South African steelpan festivals?

No gigs for the foreseeable? No problem. With 370,000 Instagram followers and counting, Dust -to-Digital are social media’s favourite live music archivists. Run by husband-and-wife team Lance and April Ledbetter from Atlanta, Georgia, the cult reissues record label has taken on a new lease of life during the pandemic by uploading clips from its extensive video collection on to the platform. Spanning not just the decades but all imaginable genres, it features clips of everyone from gospel giant Mahalia Jackson performing in church with Martin Luther King Jr to country singer Blaze Foley and jazz harpist Alice Coltrane.

With a celebrity following that includes artist Jeremy Deller, Michael Kiwanuka, Cat Power and Mike Skinner of the Streets, the account also gives younger fans easy access to a world of sonic history previously locked up in expensive CD and vinyl box sets. “I’ve got nephews and nieces and I don’t know if they’ll ever own a piece of physical media,” explains Lance Ledbetter, “but they know what a smartphone is and they use them.”

As well as showcasing alternative legacy artists to his ever-growing audience, Ledbetter is also driven by a desire to shine a light on a century of overlooked talent. Of the thousands of clips they have shared, one of Ledbetter’s favourites is of the 1930s street performer and guitarist Blind Connie Williams. “It’s striking how amazingly talented he is, but nobody’s ever heard of him. Then you watch this video and think: ‘This guy should be up there with Jimi Hendrix!’”

Rather than just firing videos out at random, there is a timely and often political element to what Dust-to-Digital does. In the wake of George Floyd’s death it featured his work with revered hip-hop producer DJ Screw, and in the midst of last summer’s global lockdown one of its most-liked videos was of German musician and sculptor Armin Küpper duetting with himself through the magic of delay and reverb as he played his saxophone into a set of large gas pipes. “[It] always gives me the feeling: hey, you’re not alone,” says Küpper in the video.

And in a world where recreational travel is impossible, Dust-to-Digital offers insight into the sounds and spirits of a globe-trotting array of countries, with Albanian Tepsia singing and Latin American coronavirus anthems among their recent uploads. “The best thing is how varied it is,” explains Dust-to-Digital devotee Jarvis Cocker. “In just this last week I’ve seen a couple of schoolkids in Nigeria play a Stevie Wonder riff, watched a guy on a banjo jam along with a giant Moog synthesiser, laughed at Dean Martin and Caterina Valente playing One Note Samba and discovered that there is an international marimba and steelpan festival every year in South Africa. Music in all its multifaceted, magnificent forms.”


Leonie Cooper

The GuardianTramp

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