An ode to the record store

The overwhelming nature of the Internet makes it incredibly difficult to keep my head above the waves of music that crash down around me everyday. Like television in the nineties, I keep flicking through the endless options, but rarely land on something I can stay with for even a moment. The next awaits me like that ever-looming presence of some duty that escapes me. My email inbox, is like an never-ending infomercial, without the luxury of repetition. My music news feed looks like the scrolling pages of a stock exchange report that’s consumed LSD – erratic impulsive and very rarely any logic to it. Aphex Twin has just released another 60 tracks on his soundcloud account. I bookmark it, but have yet to listen to the first load he spent all over the web. All while the promo behind his Syro release is still ringing in my ears. Someone tells me he apparently launched a blimp over London for the release. Why am I still talking about this when the release is a year old? In the meantime I am being force-fed a release that’s only out in October; a twice daily promo update from some label that produces music in a Chinese factory it seems; and a preview of a clip of a track, that promotes some artist’s new “sound installation” for a clothing line. FKA Twigs has just released a new EP, but I have to deal with 5 seconds of a furniture ad before I can move onto the mini mix of tracks that accompanies the video I ignore while I write this, all 16 minutes of it. I stop it at Glass & Patron, a track I’ve heard before. I don’t have the time for something that’s come my way in the recent past although I wish, just for a moment, I can stop, watch the video, listen to the song, enjoy the song, and perhaps even listen to it again. The rate at which we consume music is just so staggering that it’s ridiculous to think that you can go back to something from even a few months ago and enjoy it again. That opportunity hardly presents itself in an age where new music is a daily occurrence and much of it is worth a listen. I close the laptop screen with this thought, and make my way to a place where I could still achieve this; a place where music can still be new and refreshing; a place so remote it’s completely cut off from the rest of the digital world: The record store.

I remember my youth, a youth when the record store was a chain of discreetly generic carbon copies, existing only in the context of a shopping mall and records themselves were a foreign outdated concept to a generation of day- glow ravers. It’s the nineties folks and even the sales staff are indistinguishable, plastering the latest radio friendly chart to a stucco wall where they simmer under the florescent luminosity of their unjustified glory, long enough for some radio-jock or producer to move onto the next thing. I’m not getting new music from the radio or television unless its during the darkest of hours, turning over to static-ridden channels for a mere glimpse of a Carl Cox set or the Windowlicker video. I’m getting new music in the context of a friend’s bedroom floor, listening to our combined collection of new cd singles, tapes, and radio broadcasts, recorded while we were sleeping. It’s there we hear the extended Insomnia mix or Music for the Jilted Generation for the first time. Everything is new and exciting, even if it has been out for a year when we finally get our hands on it. We sit in our reverenced poses, savouring each delicate moment of the music, and when it’s over, we press play again, but only if the repeat function isn’t already activated. We give music the time it needs to gestate, and with no distractions pulling at our every nerve ending we invest the patience the music demands. It’s an era when albums are matured in the studio with great care taken to get every little aspect of the music just right, because there’ll be only one shot at it. Independent labels are still few enough that a certain level of constraint is applied, with impulsive releases avoided at all costs, because hiring a studio requires a mortgage and they’re printing thousands of copies at a time, not hundreds.

But this is not some lament of the past, reflecting on the contrasting nature of music from a time I’d forgotten more about. If we are honest, music achieves this today, and it’s happening at a much larger scale than ever imagined. But with little restraint applied and not many objective views held during the whole process from creative idea to recorded format, there’s also an unhealthy dose of half attempts at music making their way out in the world. We look here again to Aphex Twin and his ridiculous soundcloud discography  of demos. We also consider A Made Up Sound. The Dutch artist previewed a bunch clips from two EP’s to be released in October, and in one particular track that sentiment is truer than ever. We could chew over the fact that that Half Hour jam on a burrowed synth might not have any literal connotations with its title, it won’t deflect from the truth that this track is certainly not a finished product. It’s underdeveloped in every aspect of the composition, and we have to ask; “really, and you think half an hour on a burrowed synthesiser should be worth our time?” Music that goes directly from the initial idea to the audience is just too easy to accomplish in modern times, and often makes for music that is very incomplete. There’s no filter applied between the musician/producer and his/her audience, and thus we find ourselves in a situation where, what is essentially a practise session, making its way into the world, without any real attempt at applying some sort of creative control. If the music isn’t allowed time to develop with the artist, how are we to find time for it to grow with us, the listeners. It’s here where I leave you and make my way to the record store. I make my way to the record store with a sort of blind optimism, finding a new sound or record that I have yet to have come across. Yes, in two months time I will find A Made Up Sound’s jam session there, but I will quickly leaf over it like an old acquaintance’s facebook profile, hoping it wasn’t there to begin with, but unable  to delete it. I don’t go to the record store for the records I know, I go for the records I’ve never heard of. In those strangers I find the chance to make new friends or familiarise myself again with an old acquaintance.

My first stop is always new arrivals. The record store is not to be mistaken for some lonely relic, preserving the past in the capsule of the form of the latest repress from the seventies. The record store is place where new music waits to be enjoyed, and although that means that a listener can often find a piece music that might have slipped him/her by, it doesn’t accommodate rehashing an old record from the hit parade past. It’s in the new arrivals section where I find Helena Hauff and Andreas Gehm going head to head in a machine driven acid split, that courses from the music right through to the trip-inducing green record. I have a standing order to lap up any Hauff production, but if I perchance browsed over the small print on the label, I would certainly not have missed the luminous tie-die record through its clear plastic sleeve. A record can be as much about its visual appeal as its sound, and that visual appeal can be contained to something as small as an image on a central label. There are no crass promotional tactics behind the record in the context of the independent record store. The records all sit there in the same box, on equal footing, regardless of which tiered online promotional package the label had invested in. You might find the odd record on a wall or a few copies taking up a single shelf, with some labels able to afford a press that goes into the thousands, but very few hands ever disturb the pristine display that contain these records, favouring the frayed tops of record sleeves in search of that one record that will make its listener stand out as a music enthusiast, rather than a consumer of popular products. We rifle through endless shelves with dusty fingertips to find something that reflects our taste, something we can display in our home as our own, an embodiment of our personality.

More than anything, I go to the record store to be surprised. I find the inconspicuous records the most arresting. I know when I drop the over-used needle on that record, that the first sounds I hear will be completely novel to me at least. These are the records I’ve never heard before; this is the music that was released with some constraint by a small label with a small budget; these are the songs that have been carefully picked and allowed to gestate and even if they don’t particularly appeal to my taste I give them patience, flipping the record over a few times, before I make my decision and take it home with me. Often one turn is enough and an interesting rhythm or captivating sound hits a particular nerve and very often that happens on B2, the black sheep of the 12”. Mix Mup’s Bungalow on his hinge finger release from a few years back is just such a track. The ambient track is out of place in amongst the bass-drive tech record, but it does well to highlight the innovation in the other tracks. A release like that immediately transports me back to the bedroom floor, when electronic music first took hold of me and I get some of the feeling back that I lost in front of the computer screen. That sensation of finding something truly new is fleeting today, but if I find it anywhere, it’s not within the endless pit of information that is the Internet. If I find it anywhere, I find it, in the hallowed space of the record store.