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Feature: Record Store Day and the new independents

Posted on by Kate Hutchinson

This article originally appeared on Coggles.com in April 2013

Record Store Day, the annual international celebration of music on wax, is on April 20, exploding in a shower of limited edition vinyl at more than 850 participating shops worldwide. The day not only highlights new and specially released music, but also the exciting independent record stores that you can buy it from. Coggles takes a look at a few from across the globe that are doing things differently…

It’s lunchtime on Sunday at London’s Rough Trade East and the shop floor is abubble. Eager music fans paw the endless racks of new releases or jostle for space around the staff’s ‘albums of the month’. Others pour over the noticeboard, line up to be snapped in the photo booth and, crucially, purchase things. Elsewhere, well-dressed young girls and guys swig beer on the benches out the front, or sip Monmouth coffee on the slouchy couches inside. Come Record Store Day, there’ll be queues of them snaking along Brick Lane by 7am, ready to get their hands on exclusive vinyl-only releases when doors open at 10. 

Now in it’s seventh year, Record Store Day is bigger than ever and has helped fire new excitement around vinyl. Spencer Hickman, who was involved in setting up Rough Trade East, is its UK coordinator. “I managed to get six record shops involved in the first one,” he says, “and now there are 220 shops participating in the UK alone. Most stores report bigger sales on that day than during Christmas week.” The figures speak for themselves: according to a recent official report in America, sales of vinyl records in 2011 made $177 million – their highest profit since 1997. 

But what’s really interesting, Hickman continues, is that new shops are opening all the time, spurred on by Record Store Day and by vinyl sales. Despite doom and gloom stories of record shop closures in the media, around 25 to 30 have opened in the UK in the last three years alone. Thanks to the digital age, there’ll never be as many record shops as there once were. You can forget dusty racks of overpriced second-hand vinyl though: the new breed, like Rough Trade East, are serving up something unusual alongside their record collections.

In the south of England, ‘record café’ Pie & Vinyl, which opened last year, is leading the way. The Southsea shop has 34 types of locally sourced pies and a wallpapered record room at the back. “We started Pie & Vinyl because we had the belief that people still wanted to buy music physically, but we weren’t 100 percent confident that we could just open a record shop,” says Steve Courtnell, who co-owns Pie & Vinyl with Rob Litchfield. “I liked the idea of selling an experience instead. Vinyl records are as old and as traditional as pie and mash, so they work well together.” 

Despite the shop’s olden day style, you’ll mostly find new records in their vintage suitcase shelving. Says Courtnell: “We wanted to get away from the connotations of an old second-hand record shop, so we specialise in new vinyl. I think those shops, as in the film ‘High Fidelity’, are the ones that are dying. These days, to start from scratch, you need to offer something else.” 

Pie & Vinyl’s point of difference is doing them a roaring trade. They’ve already got their own merchandise range, which even includes moustache wax. It may sound like novelty, but Pie & Vinyl is a hugely important addition to the area. “We seem to be the focal point of the local music community and a lot of bands come in,” says Courtnell. “We have in-stores, we put on shows in bigger venues and we’re soon to launch our own record label.”

Plenty of other record stores around the UK are similarly morphing into new social spaces. Rise in Bristol has a recently opened café/bar concession from local artisan eatery Friska, so you can sip a frothy cappuccino as you sample the new releases. Glasgow’s Monorail also takes food seriously – it’s located in the corner of vegan pub Mono, thus offering tasty grub alongside its vinyl collection. Elsewhere, in Europe, record shops like Copenhagen’s Sort Kaffe & Vinyl are priding themselves on having, not just the best records, but “the best coffee in town” too. 

Likewise, in-stores are an important part of creating a social atmosphere. Established London outlets like Phonica in Soho and new ones, like Kristina Records in Stoke Newington have gained a reputation for their brilliant free DJ sets from prolific and discerning turntable talents. Back at Rough Trade East, it has famously hosted gigs by huge names like Radiohead and Blur. 

London’s Vinyl Pimp in Hackney Wick, which has been open a year, is also fast becoming a cool ‘live’ hangout. The shop is the physical extension of owner Man Hon Luk’s online Discogs store: he’ll take your unwanted records, ‘pimp’ them for you and pay you when they have sold. Hon has always hosted DJ sets at his east London venue but he is looking to put on more pre-parties for big club nights at warehouse spaces clustered nearby, as well as exhibitions. When the weather is fine, Hon also puts on the Hackney Wick Flea Market. He’s throwing his first Record Store Day event with music from forward-thinking electronic labels Planet Mu and Erased Tapes, plus food from nearby bar, The Hackney Pearl.

Spencer sees these hybrid shops as more of a UK trend, but there are notable mentions around the world, too, mainly in the US. In downtown Los Angeles, composer and Ghostface Killah collaborator Adrian Younge and his wife Sherry Ann run The Artform Studio. Adrian opened up the record shop part in his wife’s beauty salon two years ago and its boutique selection of records forms much of the inspiration for Sherry’s hairstyling. On Record Store Day, they’re hosting vinyl-only DJ sets throughout the day and Wu-Tang Clan rapper RZA will be making a special guest appearance. 

In New York and Kentucky, meanwhile, baking and records go together like milk and cookies. East Village’s Cake Shop sells records at the front, coffee and cupcakes in the café at the back and, downstairs, has a live music venue. Brooke Vaughn’s Please & Thank You in Louisville shares a similarly sweet tooth and sells everything from homemade vegan muffins to hot apple cider. Its vinyl collection is modest but lovingly curated and there is plenty of room to lounge about in and listen to it. 

“The days of the record shop from a purely utilitarian point of view, as a place where people go to buy music is gone,” says DJ and musician Sam Willis, who is performing at RTE for Record Store Day. “But record shops can survive if they follow Rough Trade’s example and create an environment that people can enjoy and spend some time in.” The shop itself is expanding this idea in New York; it’s due to open a massive 10,500sqft space – that’s double the size of Rough Trade East – there in autumn. As well as providing a cornucopia of new releases, the Williamsburg branch will partner with local music institution The Bowery for in-store gigs and will turn into an intimate live venue at night. 

Hickman sees shops like these only increasing. “More stores will pop up and will continue to grow because they can offer something you can’t get anywhere else,” he says. “If you go into a record shop that has a café or a reading room, you can experience the atmosphere without feeling like you have to buy anything. And even if you don’t buy something that day, I guarantee that you’ll go back and buy something another time.” 

After all, a record shop is for life, not just for Record Store Day.

KATE HUTCHINSON

Record Store Day is on April 20 2013 at participating record shops. For a full list of Record Store Day 2013 events at the record shops mentioned here and more, visit http://recordstoreday.co.uk/