Thursday, 1 April 2010

Interview with Spencer Hickman - UK coordinator of International Record Store Day

Why bother going to a record shop? The internet is faster, has a better selection of music and is, in many cases, cheaper. If we were wholly rational beings there would be no physical record shops.

Thankfully we are far from rational. The emotional engagement with where we purchase our music is one that is hard to explain and yet even the casual music buyer can gain immense pleasure from browsing through the CD racks in a supermarket or HMV rather than logging onto Amazon.

For those that cherish music buying, there are a number of other reasons for choosing the physical purchase; the thrill of the chase - scanning the shop for that illusive recording; the pleasure gained from not knowing what you are going to come home with until you do – often having been tipped off about something by the knowledgeable assistant and the joy of looking at real record or CD sleeves to get a sense of the artists creative vision.

Despite the obvious attractions, fewer of us are doing it. I’m as guilty as anyone of downloading (although I do still spend significant amounts of cash on records). Between 2004 and 2006 alone a quarter of the UK's record shops went out of business.

Why does this matter I hear you ask. There are a number of reasons. Firstly, the purchasing of music is increasingly in the hands of massive online conglomerates – Amazon, Play, Tesco et al – this will inevitably lead to a blanding out of music as these larger operations base their stocking decisions on who will sell most – these organisations care little for breaking innovative, good music. Second, the loss of the local record shop, like so many other independent shops is a blow to the high street itself and thirdly, and for me at least, most importantly, it is another blow against human interaction in an age where relationships are increasingly virtual.

Thankfully help is at hand. Saturday 17th April is International Record Store Day. This is a date where thousands of shops across the globe open up and interact with you the public. Live gigs are held in store, special vinyl only releases are made available for one day only (participating artists this year include Hot Chip, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Metallica) and people are invited to come and celebrate the sheer joy of sharing music with each other. Having visited Rough Trade Records in London last year I can assure you that the event is both well supported and unique. I caught up with Spencer Hickman, the manager of Rough Trade East and the UK co-ordinator of International Record Store Day to find out what all the fuss is about.

How did international record store day come about?

It came from a store in the US called Bull Moose music who thought it was crazy that we don't celebrate what we do

How has the organisation in the UK linked up with the US effort?

We piggy backed on the US event in 2007 very late in the day I only had six stores involved. This year we have over 140 !

What’s going to be going on on the day?

There will be lots of vinyl exclusives including an unreleased Rolling Stones 7 inch from the Exile on Main Street sessions, Crystal Castles and Foals are starting their new album campaigns with exclusive vinyl for the day All told we have 116 releases that are ONLY available in your local store plus lots of in-stores, cakes, face painting , gigs you name it , it's happening

Which particular vinyl exclusives are you particularly looking forward to?

The Flaming Lips (version of Dark Side of the Moon) is a hot one, the factory records sampler with cover artwork of the fac 1 poster as well as the Jesus and Mary Chain reissues - as my originals are worn out !

Has it been difficult to get artists on board?

Not this year. People are aware and up for it

Ultimately, what do you think the day will achieve?

Apart from bumper sales on the day !? Goodwill toward the high street. If stores do their job right on the day first time visitors will realise how vital their local shop is to the local music community and will continue to support it on a regular basis. I grew up around record shops and want other people to be able to do the same.

If you’ve not been to an independent record store for a while, why not seek out your local one on 17th April? You only need to spend a tenner and you might have something in your hand you will cherish for life. Here are 5 I would particularly recommend...

1. Ameoba records - San Francisco - huge warehouse chock a block with vinyl

2. Butter beats - Brisbane - a big personal favourite because of its well stocked Aussie funk section but loads of other good stuff too

3. A1 - New York - great for disco, funk and hip hop

4. Sounds of the Universe - London - great for new stuff and a second hand section downstairs. Can pick up the various Soul Jazz compilations for cheap

5. King Bee - Manchester - well priced and wide range of stock

Let me and others know your favourites below

For your local store – click here...

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