Record Store Day – The Death Of The Cool

I didn’t go to my local independent record shop today. I did go last week and the week before that. It was great – full of new releases on a variety of formats and friendly knowledgable staff who were happy to while away an hour chatting to a strange little man about dubstep,death metal,obscure rockabilly records and cover versions of Bob Dylan songs in Bengali.

I looked through the racks of CD’s and LP’s and 7″ singles, my eye occasionally falling across something with an odd looking sleeve or a name I vaguely remember seeing on a blogpost or in the NME. They’d even taken the time to put little handwritten messages on some of the records to help me choose:

“Moody and off-kilter electronics with a synth-pop pulse and bent-out-of-shape vocals.”
“Sweeping drone-ambient with sound sources drawn solely from a self-built analogue synthesizer….”
“rock-solid combination of garage / surf / rockabilly / blues /punk. Check this out if you’re into the Cramps or Tav Falco.”

I spent a leisurely couple of hours in the sparsely populated shop (it’s not a fucking STORE, it’s in fucking LEEDS) and having happily forked over 30 quid for a selection of things most of which I’d never heard off two hours earlier I left the shop replete with that slightly queasy combination of guilt at spending too much money and excitement at the prospect of new tunes that I always get when leaving a record shop and skipped home.

It never occurred to me what colour vinyl the three 7″ singles I’d bought might be or what quantity the CD’s I’d bought had been produced in.

Fast forward to last Wednesday when I picked up a copy of enduring pop kids weekly music bible NME which promised on it’s cover “NME’s guide to the 50 most essential record store day releases”. Ignoring briefly that “essential” is now vying with “amazing” for the most meaningless word in the English language. I leafed through and perused the list of artefacts that would surely change my life forever. Here are a few excerpts (with extraneous comments)

David Bowie – “Rock n’ Roll Suicide” (7″ Picture Disc) (Yeah,this probably is essential.If you haven’t heard it, you should. But it won’t sound any better if you’re watching a picture of Bowie dressed as a pirate transvestite spinning round while you’re doing it. In fact you’ll feel ill after a bit. Picture discs are shit. Always have been. And it’s 42 years old.)

Neko Case and Jason Lytle – “Satellite of Love” (Red 7″) (It’s a cover version. Admittedly of a good song by two people who have both made great records of their own, but it’s the kind of thing that used to turn up on the b side of the third single off an LP – remember though, because it’s red it’s now “essential”)

Joy Division – “An Ideal For Living” (EP) (Came out in 1978 – all the tracks are on any of the 900 Joy Division compilations currently available for 4.99 everywhere – and they’re all rubbish compared to “Love Will Tear Us Apart)

The Fall – “White Lightning” ( Translucent 12″) (It’s The Fall therefore it’s better than anything else but it came out in 1991 and all the tracks are on the reissue of “Shiftwork” that’s been out since 2007. Waitaminute! “TRANSLUCENT YOU SAY?” MUST HAVE!)

and so on. A motley collection of old stuff, stuff that wasn’t worth releasing properly and stuff that looks tempting and screams “limited edition” that will be on iTunes in 6 months for half the price.

Here’s the truth. Independent record shops are fucked and here’s why. Lots of the big record companies and artists who bask in the reflected glory of the holy grail of “real” music shops are involved in massively loaded distribution deals that are either biased against or exclude entirely the very shops they are claiming to support.These deals insist on shops stocking things in quantities they can’t possibly hope to sell or have matey sweetheart deals that favour big chain stores and supermarkets so that anything that might sell in quantity won’t have enough of a profit margin for your local indie shop to sell at the same price as you can get it elsewhere.If your local independent can make some money off a big LP by say, The Arctic Monkeys or Kaiser Chiefs it can continue give you all of the things described in the first two paragraphs.

The record companies have carved up the market for maximum profit and record store day is them chucking a few crumbs towards the independent sector to try and foster the “we’re in this for the music” lie.This especially true now that the online market has ripped the arse out of the chain stores and they can’t get away with charging £16.99 for a copy of “Revolver” anymore.Unless it’s on vinyl – and it’s purple.

If we, the music loving punters, really care about independent music shops, the places where you could get “Bleach” “The Queen Is Dead” “Sister Lovers/Third” “Safe As Milk” “Marcus Garvey” on the day they came out then we need to invest in our culture. Now. Buy new music on obscure labels just to see what it’s like. Buy a white label 12″ single with no info on it or an obscure compilation of Japanese hardcore bands that you’ve never heard of.Even if it’s a bit dearer than you’d like sometimes. And we need to do it whenever we can afford to.

Because it’s important that we don’t abandon music to a section of society who see it as a collection of artefacts to be owned and judge the value of a record on exclusivity. Are we really going to allow “music lover” to be an appellation applied to the kind of people who are prepared to get up at 4.30am and stand in the street for 5 hours to get their prize? The people who make music such a vital and compelling force in culture are getting home at 4.30am not filling up a flask with Bovril and searching out a warm jacket in preparation for the queue.

Record Store Day was created by well meaning people in a desperately unfair situation trying to do something to help. It has become a validation of the same anality that turned the comics industry from a dangerous and radical mouthpiece of underground culture to the province of 40 year old men in ketchup stained Green Lantern T Shirts who live with their mum. Who they’ve killed.

The squares are coming in their Paul McCartney World Tour T Shirts, £200 scalped Kate Bush tickets in the back pockets of their supermarket jeans,to take all the beauty,power,love and danger out of the most important art form of the last 100 years and if we give up our independent record shops to the vinyl sniffing supercilious hipster scum then you’ll be still having to listen to the fucking Stone Roses in 2050.

Please please share this, retweet it, go out and spray it on bog walls but don’t ignore it. It’s not too late to pay a visit to a record shop and take a chance on something new that might change your life. You might just save music in the process.

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10 thoughts on “Record Store Day – The Death Of The Cool

  1. avatarRob Walsh

    Effin awesome. Is that you Phil? no need to be anonymous, this is great stuff.

    Limited editions have always bugged me – music should be AVAILABLE.
    Ta!
    R

  2. avatarAlbert

    Your raw and impassioned thoughts here make my own blog post seem rather tepid by comparison. It’s like you’re Elvis and I’m… I don’t know, Ray Martin? Johnnie Ray?

    Anyway, what colour vinyl are those Bengali Bob Dylan covers coming out on?

  3. avatarPhil Post author

    Rob’s right limited editions started out as a financial necessity for small bands. Press up a 100 singles and knock them out at gigs. Now they’re pressed up by major record labels for scarcity value – a bit like all those posh kids eating n greasy spoon cafes in the 90′s in search of the “authentic” experience. And the Bengali Bob Dylan cover version is a gloriously real thing Albert – listen to next week’s Big Joan for details…

  4. avatarMatt

    This is bang on! RSD is fucked…even the guy running it believes so! but too many people are afraid to speak out in fear of rocking the indie boat.

    On a sidenote…i’m reading this at 4:51 having just got in! fuck all Bovril in sight!

  5. avatarAdam

    Phil… Great to hear your passion for music and for record shopping, and I certainly agree that there is much more to record shops than limited edition vinyl or, indeed, Record Store Day. That said, Record Store Day is a vital part of what we do – it’s our busiest day of the year, and generates the publicity that we just aren’t able to get anywhere else. The vast majority of people who queue up for the limited releases are genuine music fans, and not just profiteers. Some are into re-issues, and some are into new stuff that is put out on the day – and to be honest, both of these categories get some stick for not being in the spirit of the day. For the shop in question – and no doubt for the majority of shops up and down the country – Record Store Day is about not just those exclusive releases, but also about celebrating the culture of these shops. We (in the inclusive sense of the group of independent shops who participate in RSD) organise instores, do catering, write fanzines, do radio shows, forge links with other likeminded businesses, which is really an extension of what we do for the rest of the year. It doesn’t get as much publicity, but it works – people generally seem to have a good time, and there is a marked increase in the number of people just browsing through the racks and picking up ‘regular’, rather than RSD releases. So really what I would say is: please don’t give up on Record Store Day, but keep up the criticism, because that will be how the day is shaped in the years to come – and honestly, you will not find many shops that want it to go away.

  6. avatarAlbert

    I’d agree with Adam that RSD definitely has its place, and does a lot to get people into the shops. I for one have spent far more time and money in independent record shops since my first RSD in 2009. But we need to be mindful that RSD does not lose its focus, in fact in some quarters it already has. The BBC reporter interviewing people in the queue on Saturday morning was not asking people about record shops, he was asking about the records we were queuing for.

    I think the special releases could be made less limited, and the day would still be as effective. If there were twice as many Space Project box sets, meaning it didn’t sell out by 10am, there would be more happy customers, and fewer people would be disillusioned with RSD.

  7. avatarAlbert

    Ha. I was just coming to the blog to post a link to exactly the same essay, Phil! It’s fascinating to read dissent from actual labels.

  8. avatarSimon

    Oh god, I feel really guilty about having posted something positive about RSD now. I promise to ignore it next year…

  9. avatarAlbert

    Don’t ignore it, Simon. Continue to promote it. Just don’t forget why it started in the first place. It has an important role to play and we mustn’t lose sight of that.

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