July 15, 2016
People move slowly through the shop, carefully checking each stack, looking for something new, something different, something coveted. The quest is rhythmic, the hand movement like a metronome, flip flip flip, as customers note and dismiss each album, until they find the one.
I inhale, the scent of old cardboard and vinyl stirring something deep in my memory. I scan the stacks—today I’m looking to replace part of my collection lost in a move. K is open, so I step up to table, and start my search. I’m suddenly 20 again, black-and- camo clad, my bleached hair covering most of my face.
I’m looking for old punk, Seattle grunge, industrial … and my newest love, Courtney Barnett. I pull Electric Cafe, a 1986 release from Kraftwerk, and it’s once high-tech- looking cover elicits a smile. I have the 2009 release of this album, under the title Techno Pop, but this album is older and in amazing shape. I set it to the side—it’s going home with me.
Vinyl occupies an odd place in time and space, sitting both in the then and the now. Independent record stores—for so many years, the place to find the latest release— continue to hold, protect and perpetuate the culture of independent music. The record store is a place of intersection for style and sound, artists and fans, creativity and self expression. But small record shops are on the endangered list, and one must think that the culture of independent music is also threatened.
This week, Warner Music added to the threat when the company’s marketing and distribution arm, WEA, terminated the accounts of retailers that have ordered less than $10,000 in vinyl in the last year, about 100 stores according to WEA. Explaining this was just the application of a long-standing policy, WEA’s press release suggested that those, “limited number of retailers would be better served by working with one of the many vinyl wholesale partners that carry all of our artists’ releases.”
Here’s my problem with this: those small record shops are the last bastion of truly independent music. Besides higher costs for retailers and higher prices for consumers, WEA’s move means potentially limited access to the WEA catalogue depending on what wholesalers pick up.
In a world where the music industry sells stars created by TV shows reminiscent of the 80s Gong Show and where everything “edgy” is mainstream, we are losing those revered spaces where new and interesting sounds are discussed and shared. Record companies tell us what is cool, what is hip—record stores put it in front of us and let us choose.
As celebrated record stores close their doors—NYC’s Other Music being one of the most recent to fall—there’s a sense of loss amongst collectors. Record stores offer
community for music lovers on the hunt for obscure vinyl, for special pressings, for new sounds, and for shared passions. Digital music has a place in my collection, but vinyl is a passion, a tangible connection to a community of people who love music the way I love music.
It could be a Tuesday afternoon, but on this particular day—the day of my Kraftwerk find —I’m celebrating Record Store Day, ostensibly a day held in celebration of the culture of the record store.
The cynic in me knows its a sign that independent music is hanging on by its proverbial finger nails. The music lover in me celebrates every year—and on random Tuesdays— those moments in the record store an outward sign of the small tendril of coolness, rooted in my youth, still curling around my heart.