by / March 11th, 2009 /

Circuit Breakers Special: Road Records

The fate of Road Records has been the subject of great debate recently, with the iconic Dublin store seemingly doomed for closure before the possibility of a rescue plan from friends and supporters appeared over the horizon. Ahead of this weekend’s benefit gig (Buy a ticket, even if you can’t go) at Andrew’s Lane featuring Jape, The Jimmy Cake, Si Schroeder, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Adrian Crowley and The Large Corporation (The Dudley Corporation vs. Large Mound), Road owner Dave Kennedy writes for State on the shop’s history and, just maybe, the possible future.

Road Records was opened by myself and Julie on Fade Street in Dublin in September 1997. We had both previously worked in another independent music store and during our time there, we realised that Dublin was lacking a friendly independent music store concentrating on underground Irish music. We also both shared a great love of vinyl and began to notice a lot of other stores were leaning away from vinyl and just concentrating on CDs. With both of these ideas in mind, we came up with an idea for the store and spent a year working out our plans and trying to find the right location for the shop. We finally settled on Fade Street as it was both in the city centre but also just a little off the beaten track: this is a rule for Indie stores [they must be hard to find].

Our main aim at the beginning was to provide a decent outlet for the thriving music scene in our city: all these great bands were releasing high quality albums but nowhere seemed interested enough to stock them in other stores at the time. Our second big aim at the time was to stock as much underground/indie music on vinyl as possible, as people were still craving their music on vinyl but it was dwindling in most other stores as CDs were this amazing new format that everybody was switching over to. We both noticed during our time in other stores that customers were still looking for all the new releases on vinyl but at the time, they were becoming a thing that was only stocked as a special order for people.

With these two aims in mind, we opened up the store in September 1997. Our main genres at the time were indie rock, reggae imports, underground Irish and punk. As the years passed by, we began to diversify rather a lot to various forms of electronica, post-rock, soul, funk, jazz and then finally second-hand vinyl too.

The longer the store remained open, the more known we became for our knowledge of all forms of underground Irish music and people were hitting our store from all over the world looking for small press titles that really could not be purchased anwhere else.

Road Records, Fade St

With this worldwide interest in our Irish titles, we then decided to set up our first website around 1999. It was pretty basic at the time but such was the volume of orders that we revamped the site in 2001 and streamlined everything to make the ordering process easier. Finally we had a worldwide outlet for all this amazing music that Ireland was producing.

The store itself grew steadily over the years and we started to get local artists to perform live in-stores and we have had the pleasure to host the likes of The Frames, Josh Ritter, Jape, David Kitt, Lisa Hannigan and so many more.

I suppose the shop became a sort of focal point for local musicians: some would say a hang-out, but we still like to think we are just like a community centre where people can get our advice for free and maybe get a tip or two on some new music at the same time.

We have always prided ourselves on keeping a personal touch about the shop: it’s just one of those places where we are still very very passionate about music so if we hear something new that blows our mind, we both just want to scream it out at the top of our voice – obviously we don’t do that anymore, we just put it on the stereo as much as we can. That is the beauty of small indie stores, really: it’s all about a pure love of music rather than ‘shifting units’ as they say in the bigger chains. When we hear something new that we love, it’s just like -day one’ all over again [imagine a kid tasting chocolate for the first time].

Along with all the positives going in the store over the course of our 12 years, we have obviously seen some tough times. The first few years were hugely enjoyable but it took many years before we were well established and many years of hard hard work too. In recent years, we have really begun to notice the downside to the digital age, as the store has been hit by a lack of new customers, kids really, and it seems to us that there is no new generation coming along to take over the mantle from us older vinyl lovers. It’s not a big grumble: it’s simply just a sign of the times.

At the same time, it’s kind of sad to think the there may be a day when there may be no physical format released and the days of the old time album or LP will be gone. We have always been excited by album artwork: we get to see so many different ways of approaching the old album and CD sleeve, with the likes of screen-printing, gatefold sleeves, hand made jackets and individually numbered editions. These kind of personal things could easily become a thing of the past as people seem more interested in seeking out single tracks by artists and not complete albums as it was always meant to be.

Along with these reasons, we have also found a downturn in people physically coming into the city centre to shop in stores and so we made a decision in January 2009 to close the store down. It was a very very tough decision to have to make. After all, it has been 11 years of hard work to build up what we have, but it just seemed like things were never going to get any better. We have come to the conclusion that people have decided how they want to buy music and that does not include small indie stores like ours. People’s buying habits seemed to have changed for us and our market was dwindling by the week.

After we made our tough decision and announcement of our immediate closure, there was a truly overwhelming outpouring of sadness on behalf of our customers and the general underground music scene, which, to be completely honest, has totally blown both of us away. We really did not realise the depth of feeling people had towards our store and what we were trying to do with it. The local music community have been very supportive of our cause and really got behind us with several ideas to save the store. We have a benefit show coming up on March 14 in Andrews Lane Theatre here in Dublin and along with some other ideas, we are now in the process of deciding whether to carry on or not.

Hopefully, if everything falls into place we will be albe to get through these tough times and continue to support the local music scene in the same way.

Watch this space !

One for the Road

Main photo by Naomi McArdle.

  • Nay

    Dave, that was some read, great to hear some history! Road Recs is a flagship of Irish music, a hub that provides musicians and fans a rare chance to cross common ground. The news of the shop’s financial difficulties came as a crushing blow but it’s been inspiring to see people rally round in support, I’m glad your shared passion and dedication did not go unnoticed. We all really love Road for the integral role it’s played at the centre of independent music…one of equality, everything deserved a fair listen.
    Visits have always been a refuge, a treat to drop in and scan the racks for your latest goodies. The Irish EPs section is one of My Best Things.

    You’re the business. Thanks for everything. See you at the weekend.

  • The Road records email has always been amazingly useful just to keep up with the latest releases.
    I was always amazed at this shop that was literally stocking everything…stuff I couldn’t get in NYC…very jealous.
    I’m finally hoping to make it to Dublin in the next few weeks and visit this Irish institution.
    I hope I can contribute a few purchases to the cause. See you soon.