Note from the Editor: For this year’s Record Store Day we gave our writers a deliberately vague brief. ‘Just write anything you like about record shops or the event’ we said. In our first feature our man in Oz came back with this wonderfully evocative exploration of what record stores mean to people.

(((o))) I had been in Umbrella Records a couple of times years before. It was an interesting record store compared with the giant Alans Music shop off the Mall. The records sat in crates on the floor, there was a small counter and posters up everywhere and they played music that didn’t really appeal to ears used to the Daly Wilson Big Band.

It would be a few years later in 1982 after I saw the Violent Femmes that I really discovered alternative music and I ventured back a few times, the store now looking far more established in a new home.

Owned by local guitarist Doug Thomas, I still remember the first time I walked in and he said;
“Hi Gilbert, I’ve got some records here you might like.” I was no longer just another face in the queue at the big record store, I was valued. It changed my life.

(((o))) I asked some others to share their stories about what part record stores played in their lives.

I reckon I can squarely lay the blame for my current tinnitus and liver damage on Sydney’s Waterfront Records (RIP).
As a teenager in the 80s, just growing a pair of ears, I stumbled upon a radio station called JJJ (may have even still been JJ back then, can’t remember). This is back when it was an exclusively Sydney station and before Barry Chapman and Arnold Frollows raped it in the arse. The song I heard what was to become one of my all-time favourite songs – “Disconnected”, by The New Christs, from their album Distemper.

I’d never heard anything like it in my life – the most bilious, ragged rock and roll song that sounded as though the band was disintegrating as they played it. I had to hear more, so I rang this new-found station, asked them what it was and where I could get it. They said “try Waterfront”.

Now I’d never heard “independent” or “alternative” music before, let alone realise that there were whole stores dedicated to it. So I looked it up, and made the trek to the shop. What transpired pretty much blew my mind. From the music on the stereo, to the walls of band t-shirts, racks of vinyl, videos, everything screamed new, dangerous, exciting and led me to discover bands that would inspire me to start one of my own. I bought Birdman, Swervedriver, Nomeanso, Rollins Band, Motorhead – all from Waterfront. I also discovered local bands like Massappeal, the Hellmenn, Proton Energy Pills, the Hard Ons, and went on to discover that THEY ACTUALLY PLAYED LIVE! IN MY CITY!

So yeah, that fateful song on the radio led me to Waterfront, which led me to fake ID, pub gigs and underage drinking, then eventually to having a crack at being in a band myself. 20 years later and Waterfront is no more, but it remains an important first step on my road to rock and roll damnation. It was a source of music, of knowledge, of community, of adventure – a clear indication that you don’t have to accept the mass-produced garbage that is peddled, that there is music out there especially for you if you look hard enough, and that there are others, like you, who like it too.
Bow (Front End Loader)

I spent my younger days in them as a religion. I lived in share houses and didn’t drink or do drugs so all my money went on rent and records.
Tim (Tym guitars)

Growing up in 80’s/90’s before the internet was so prevalent, record stores were these hallowed places full of amazing sounds I could never dream of finding elsewhere. Apart from sharing new-found gems with friends, the record store was a place to hang out, discover, listen, chat, and buy. I would routinely buy albums solely on a recommendation of the clerk, often without even listening to it first. There was an unspoken trust, and acceptance.
In high school, my friends and I would often travel ridiculous distances in the city just to check out a shop we hadn’t been to before. And if none of us found anything we wanted, we left with a sense of satisfaction, rather than disappointment.
Mikael (Flicker State)

As a kid one of my fondest memories was getting onto a train with my buddy and coming to Sydney to drool over awesome indie vinyl at Waterfront and Red Eye records in the city. Whether it was a new Tumbleweed EP or an obscure Trilobites live album, we’d get really ripped and spend the day thumbing through records, CD’s and generally shitting the guys who worked there. We’d catch the train home reading through lyrics and production credits from our score talking about bands we’d soon be old enough to see live.
Stu (So Little Time)

Enormous part in my formative years, we used to almost daily go to Impact records in Canberra to see what was new and listen in store to old punk and ska. They had a great second hand section (when second hand records had value) and lots of limited releases. This developed my musical tastes and influenced my attitudes and even fashion
Glenn (punter)

Growing up in a somewhat culturally challenged regional city in northern Australia, our one decent record store, Pet Sounds, presented as a small oasis of cool. Lingering there, you could be assured of the chance to enthuse over the latest 4AD offering or discuss the merits of Pavement’s simplistic brilliance. Suffice to say that attempting the same elsewhere around town would likely earn you a punch in the face for being a “poof”. R.I.P Pet Sounds, you were good to me.
Jonathan (punter)

Black Wire Records. Here in Sydney the numbers of pubs and clubs supporting live music are dwindling. This has led one record store in particular – Black Wire Records – to pick up the slack. On top of being an amazing store that stocks heaps of killer LPs from underground Australian artists, they frequently host some of the best hardcore, grind, experimental, folk, post-punk, stoner and doom bands from across that nation. As a performance space and social hub, it is priceless. I love the place – and the owner Tom Scott – to death. It has that true DIY ethic.
Lachlan (Art As Catharsis)

(((o))) Indie record stores have also helped young bands.

Being from the pre-internet generation, along with John Peel (and friend’s cool older siblings), record stores played a key part in shaping my musical taste, knowledge and passion. From the moment when my Mother stopped me buying Never Mind The Bollocks – having to settle with Parallel Lines (still a good listen) instead – I regularly spent the weekends of my youth hanging out at the local indie record store, lapping up the new releases and discussing what’s good and what’s bad with whoever was there. It was more than a shop. It was a place to socialise with like-minded people: discuss records, gigs, form bands.

I can still remember being blown away the first time I heard ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ by Dinosaur Jr, as it was plucked out the box fresh from SST and plonked on the shop’s turntable. The support of the local indie record store with their SOR policy was also paramount when I started publishing my own fanzine in the mid-80s and putting out my first releases.
Steve (Meinkinder, Fret! and more)

(((o))) Others thought of the part record stores played in their lives more as a continuing thing.

Record Stores have played an important role in my life as it is a convenient place to discover new music, pick up some crazy bargains and in more recent times to see a live show featuring local bands busting their hearts out in front of an intimate crowd. Records stores are more than a place that sells music on a vinyl, it is now more of a social hub for creative minded people.
Andrew (Solkyri)

(((o))) I probably had most fun frequenting B# records in Rundle St, Adelaide. I can’t remember his name but one of the guys who worked there was a huge U2 fan and although for me it was R.E.M. at the time, we would play each other our latest bootleg or rare B-side as he would tell me about the crazy Depeche Mode fan who came there.

Melbourne has quite a few small record stores that tend to specialise – some just new and some mostly second-hand. I asked people to tell me about their favourite record stores.

Growing up my favourite record store to visit was Repressed Records in Penrith. On a Thursday night, I would walk from school to the local mall with a group of friends and we spend quite a bit of time flicking through records and other sources of music. Since that has closed down in the past few years, I really enjoy visiting Black Wire Records on Parramatta Road in Annandale (Sydney). The place has an incredible vibe for DIY live shows and the owner is probably one of the nicest guys out.

I also enjoy visiting Tym’s Guitars in Fortitude Valley in Queensland when I am on tour. Their vinyl collection is large and they always have some classics thrown in with some current releases. Live bands play in-store on the weekend too which is a really nice touch.
Andrew (Solkyri)

Can I say mine ? (I would if I owned a record store – Ed) Otherwise I’ve always had a love of Rockinghorse records as they sold me most of my old collection.
Tim (Tym Guitars)

For my teenage years it has to be Revolver Records in Bristol (UK). Since then it has been both RPM and Beatdown in Newcastle Upon Tyne (UK). Both stores are very supportive and enthusiastic of the local scene, so there were never any problems when it came to stocking DIY releases and they truly love music.
Steve (Meinkinder, Fret! and more)

(((o))) Bands have always played anywhere they can fit. It stands to reason one of those places would be a record store. It’s been a long time since I saw a band play in a record store, so I’ll leave it to others to talk about their favourite performances.

Lou Barlow or Future of the Left.
Tim (Tym guitars)

My personal favourite performance in a record store is seeing this hardcore band called Totally Unicorn play at Blackwire Records late last year. There would have been over 100 people cramped into this small space and the members in Totally Unicorn were dressed in nothing but tye dye underwear. It was a sight to behold and the atmosphere in that room was something special. Easily one of the best shows I have ever been to.

Close second would be seeing Sleepmakeswaves annihilate Tym’s Guitars earlier this year in the boiling heat. They did not miss a beat the entire set. My favourite performance of my own would have been when we supported Apollo on their EP launch at Black Wire Records. Once again, the room was full and it was incredibly to see the faces of the people enjoying the music.
Andrew (Solkyri)

Violent Femmes, either Redeye or Waterfront.
Stu (So Little Time)

I haven’t seen many so have to go with the Dressed In Wires (https://www.dressedinwires.co.uk/) performance at RPM Records (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) in 2005. This was organised for the label I was involved with at the time (www.distractionrecords.com) for a grandiose picture disc release of his album, The Big Black Cock Of Death. Check the sounds on his site and you’ll see why it was a bit different than your standard in-store acoustic set, especially when you consider that RPM is about the size of a large living room 🙂
Steve (Meinkinder, Fret! and more)

In November 2010 a crusty and disshevled assortment of South Australian chaps took to the stage in front of me. There were eleven of them in the band; tattooed, dreadlocked, and with deeply faded clothing. They stood before a crowd of perhaps no more than 25 people… despite the mediocre turnout the 11-piece group exploded into an orgy of partyfunkrock intensity of awe-inspiring proportions. The energy, the passion and the power these guys put into their playing was jaw-dropping.

I had just witnessed Adelaide’s God God Dammit Dammit. When they finished I was met with a feeling of regret – regret for all the hundreds of people who should have been there, and missed one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen.
Lachlan (Art As Catharsis)

(((o))) So record stores hold a place in many a music-lover’s heart, but you can’t ignore the fact that downloading is where volume is headed, both legally and illegally. Digital photos are shite compared with film, but convenience and cost have won the battle. In fact there wasn’t really a battle was there? It’s the same with MP3 versus vinyl or CD. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

There’ll be the die hard hipsters stupid beards and black framed glasses that’ll always need to be seen hunting for the latest Bon Iver release. With most indie labels in Australia arse up I reckon the future will be on-line digital self publishing. Record stores will be for drinking coffee and reading Samuel Becket on your kindle while discussing how we’re all doing our bit by hitting the like button on the latest dumb shit Kony video. Sad.
Stu (So Little Time)

(((o))) Ouch! So you won’t be wanting to see my owl polaroids then Stu?

I think there is a potentially good future for record stores that are willing to forget about how ‘it used to be’ and adapt so that they do not rely solely on walk-ins as they could in the past. Convenience always wins over quality & experience and that is why they are suffering but the key is to provide both. A major factor in the vinyl resurgence is that people have realised they can enjoy the physical experience of an album at home as well as the convenience of digital while they are out. To survive, record stores need to follow a similar model. Provide a place to go for locals and visitors to their area but also provide an online presence that simulates the experience of going to a store for those that previously would have traveled but no longer need to. For example not only provide an online store that stocks new/used/digital but most importantly keep in touch with customers via facebook/twitter etc – let them know when new stock is in, list what they have, provide a way for people to reserve/pre-order etc. I have seen this happening with a few Sydney based stores and it appears to be working”.
Tim (The Wonderful Lives)

As long as there are people who love something tangible, there will be record stores. The artwork, the smell, the feel, the quality, the crackles, the social involvement, the physical enjoyment of actually putting a record on. Those things will keep record stores alive.
Tim (Tym guitars)

Record Store do have a future in our culture as Vinyl is making a comeback and there is an overwhelming demand for DIY gigs. With the closure of many Sydney venues in recent times, I would not be suprised if record stores can be considered a social hub for people who are enthusiastic about music.
Andrew (https://solkyri.bandcamp.com/)

I’ve no idea. It’s really hard to say. I think the big chain stores will possibly fizzle out eventually but I think there will always be a place for the indie – more niche – stores, the same reason why there will always be indie book stores. As the cassette didn’t kill off vinyl and likewise the CD hasn’t either & it’s unlikely the digital download will, so there will always be a place for shops that specialise in these formats, mainly due to the reasons I’ve highlighted above – they are more than just stores selling records. Vinyl and cassettes have also now evolved even more into works of art or artifacts, rather than a communication medium. So with that thought in mind, specialist record stores are important to sustaining our art and culture as much as any gallery or museum.
Steve (Meinkinder, Fret! and more)

I think they are a niche that will stay with us, we are seeing turntables back on sale and people getting all nostalgic about the warm tones of Vinyl again. Here to stay just not as many.
Glenn (punter)

I’m not sure man, that is a very difficult question. Clearly smaller record stores can’t compete on horrid mainstream music – pop R&B and the like. They just don’t have the buying power, nor would they have the differentiation from what the chain stores are offering. Certainly they can specialise in avant-garde, underground and local music – but even still, most music is so easily available for purchase online that I can’t see a long-term future in that model.

I think the future of record stores lay in specialist collectibles, social hubs and as underground performance spaces – if there are indeed a future for them at all.
Lachlan (Art As Catharsis)

(((o))) Despite the digital revolution there is hope. The stories above are full of it, because no matter how much we communicate online people will get together to share life and their love of music.

21st April is Record Store Day and I don’t need to tell you what to do, but I will anyway. Pretty simple – go to a record store, talk to other people who love music, share your stories and then buy something. Many stores will have limited stocks of special releases for the day so get in early. There will be bands, DJs, famous people and possibly performing llamas (although I can’t guarantee them).

But before you do that, please share your record store tale with us by adding it in the comments field below. Then share it with someone who you have never talked to about music before.

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