Music fans are visiting their favourite shops to celebrate Record Store Day on April 16th. Join Ciarán Gaynor as he takes a nostalgic trip through the defunct record outlets of his past and laments the demise of record shop culture.
Would you like to purchase a Secret Affair LP for €8.95? Perhaps a vinyl copy of Heaven 17’s The Luxury Gap – yours for a ‘mere’ €9.95? Ok, well how about Malcolm McLaren’s Double Dutch on 7″? Only €3! Admittedly, all of these records are available to stream. For free. From ‘legitimate websites’. At your leisure… No? Suit yourself, then.
Ah, the joys of record shopping. Wandering into the city centre with some cash burning a hole in your pocket and arriving home at tea-time carrying a plastic bag with handles splitting under the weight of the many treasures you’ve unearthed. Except these days record shops aren’t what they used to be. HMV is stuffed to the gills with DVDs, games and casual clothing for ‘the man about town’, with CDs relegated to the basement. Tower has now opened part of its upper level to the coffee connoiseurs of Dublin. And the second hand shops are just as odd. “We’re not actually open downstairs”, a helpful staffer tells me as I venture towards the basement of a record and vintage video game emporium on Fade Street, “because we’re having like, an exhibition on Friday. So we’re like, painting and stuff.” An exhibition? What the jiggins is going on?
With the arrival of the Internet and increasingly fast download speeds, record shoppers have abandoned the high street for the information super highway. Alongside this exodus, the record shop culture which was once so conspicuous on our streets has dwindled to the point of near invisibility. Those records shops that do still exist can’t get by on record sales alone, and increasingly they’re starting to feel like libraries – sites of particular cultural value which need protection in an environment of rising rents for shop owners, and widespread public indifference. The music industry has finally awoken from its slumber and its nostrils have been thoroughly assaulted by the hum of the proverbial coffee. The latest manifestation of this dozy response was the announcement last week that the Mercury label intends to stop producing physical singles from next month. How did it come to this and can the tide of public indifference to physical music purchases be reversed?
Record Store Day which was officially founded in 2007 seeks to draw some attention to beleaguered independent disc retailers, and while it is undoubtedly fun, right-on and a celebration of something that deserves celebration, it also seems totemic of the demise of record shops. When the generation that remembers the pre-digital days of vinyl, cassettes and sleevenotes passes on, will record shops continue to exist at all? Today’s surviving shops defy the economic realities which threaten all high street business – and good luck to them too – but the “vinyl junkies” who frequent them are like a minority interest group, fighting to keep their beloved shops alive. It wasn’t always thus.
Back in the early to mid 90s, when Jedward were just bits of amniotic fluid in some mad scientist’s petri-dish, I would take the train from my home in north Dublin into town once a week with just enough money to spend on one CD, or two old albums, or possibly a half a dozen if I went into the bargain bins. These trips were very formative for me, as I discovered a whole world of pop and rock history by trekking from shop to shop in search of records I’d heard of or read about, or caught a snatch of on the radio. This seems as good a time as any to reminisce in Style Council fashion about My Favourite Shops, which were; The Secret Book and Record store (which I am happy to report is still on Wicklow Street although it has been taken over in part by Freebird, more of which in a moment); Trinity Discs, which was beside the offices of Hot Press (as far as my impressionable younger self was concerned that association alone meant the shop was the height of sophistication and glamour); the aforementioned Freebird records on Eden Quay, which was always a good place to scoop up some five year old CD singles that I’d missed out on; and Rhythm Records on Aston Quay, just around the corner from the Virgin Megastore (a similarly defunct corporate cousin which, fact fans, was officially opened in 1986 by none other than Terri Nunn of Berlin!) If you liked stocking up on old punk and disco singles or old issues of NME, Vox and Select, Rhythm Records was an Aladdin’s Cave – particularly so if you were an excitable U2 fan from continental Europe seeking out bootleg videos of Bobo, The Hedge and the other two.