Twenty years ago if you wanted music you had to leave your house, go to a record store, talk to some people, part with $30 and return with a CD to pop in your discman. But today we have near instant, near free access to most of the last few hundred years of recorded music. So that makes record stores obsolete, right?
Well there’s certainly less demand but the few record stores left are quietly thriving. And what better proof of this than International Record Store Day? The annual event, now in its tenth year, sees artists, labels, and record stores banding together to provide music lovers with limited releases to add to their collections. Although, as I found out, record store day is about much more than just the limited releases.
In the wake of the event, I talked to Dave and Irene who run Relics, one of the dozens of record stores in New Zealand to participate, and the only one in Dunedin. Relics arose five years ago out of the ashes of Marbecks which Dave used to mana “I had the opportunity to buy all the furniture out of there for next to nothing and very slowly we’ve been building up ever since” he explains.
Irene indicates two small CD bins near the entrance.
“We literally started with those two green bins there being half full, and maybe a few crates of records.”
Today they’ve got the biggest selection of new vinyl in the South Island, “and probably one of the biggest in the country” according to Dave. On the day I interviewed them the store was ripe with the pungent fragrance of glue from the carpet they’d just put in to extend the store further back to allow room for even more vinyl.
“Probably the strongest genre if you like is NZ music and particularly Dunedin music.” says Dave, “Our best sellers since we opened here have been Nadia Reid, The Chills, virtually any Flying Nun artist that put out an album, Kane Strang…
“And we get flying Nun tourists, people walk in and they’re like we came to Dunedin because we love Flying Nun, so how cool is that?“ adds Irene.
“The guys from Brian Jonestown Massacre when they were in were, they were just so knowledgeable” says Dave.
“They were just so happy to be here, they were like ‘the only reason why we booked a gig here is because we want to play a gig with The Chills and we just love Dunedin.’” says Irene.
All around the country there are similar stories of passionate music fans running independent record stores. It’s a tight community, more about sharing music than about selling records or making money. As Irene puts it: “This is something you do because you’re passionate about music”
I ask what role they think record stores serve in 2018.
“We think of it as a hub, a community hub.” responds Irene.
“And those that love going to record stores, they really love it. I think because music is so emotive there’s some of that attachment to having found the music and then going home and experiencing it, it does keep you coming back for more. The investment in buying music is much more than just listening to something streaming and going ‘that’s nice.’”
There’s definitely something to be said for being able to pick up a CD you bought ten years ago and experience memories of time and place flood back. It’s hard to get sentimental about adding an album to your Spotify library.
Record Store Day is a celebration of all that and more, and there’s plenty of people keen to celebrate.
“It was huge this year, it keeps getting bigger and bigger” says Dave.
“It was so awesome in here,” adds Irene, “you could see people all over the store discussing albums with each other, and bands with each other, and things they did like and didn’t like… It was awesome”
“Every year has been great, but this year we just got so much feedback, so many people talking about it”
“It’s validation and an acknowledgement of something they like, and they’re happy that it’s still around, and that’s what it is for us”
I ask what’s next for Relics.
“Well we seem to keep buying stuff” laughs Dave.
“Like we said, we do it because we love it, and if we didn’t love it we’d find something else to do. So if it starts becoming like that, that’s what we’ll have to do.” adds Irene.
“I think there’s definitely still demand and I don’t see it declining much more than the current level for a decade or two at least. I honestly think that people can’t go online exclusive otherwise it’s no shops anymore and no town anymore” says Dave.
“People like to be around people” Irene adds. Dave agrees.
“The alternative to having shops and physical products is just everyone buying everything on the computer and not interacting with each other”
Which, to be honest, doesn’t sound too far fetched. But then you look at the resurgence of cassettes in underground communities and it’s clear people still crave that physical, tangible experience. Record stores might be changing, but I don’t think they’re going away.