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.