Record Store Day brings out the crowds
By Lynne Hogan
Record Store Day, April 16, is a young holiday in its fourth year with the goal of celebrating and supporting music. Born out of love for independent record stores and vinyl, Record Store Day celebrates everyone involved in the making and distributing of music. Independent record stores have been essential to numerous musical subculture or independent scenes by connecting buyers, listeners, collectors, and creators of music.
We all know music is predominately acquired digitally; this is the era of tracks and singles, no longer albums and conceptual narratives. Napster and Limewire caused an online shit storm of file sharing and the new mode of music distribution was born. Undeniably, online music offers much more than a simple bang for your buck but the web has taught us the lesson of authenticity; more does not always mean better (it just means more). I strongly believe that online music robs the listener of an artistic context, a deliberately created narrative for you, the listener. Some say albums are in a sense heightened music, creative art, even cultural sonic artifacts. I admittedly geek out and invest way too much time studying physical album features like track order, liner notes, lyrics booklets and album art so I admire Record Store Day’s goal of preserving the artistry and appreciation of music. My support for Record Store Day falls behind the ‘Store’ part more than the ‘Record’ part but I can appreciate vinyl: its changing influence and significance, the cover art, the hiss of the needle and all the sexiness that comes with a vinyl recording.
With Calgary’s Megatunes closing down last summer, I set out to check out Calgary’s remaining independent record stores. The best music retailers always have an impressive stock of new and old releases, organization of some kind (a method to madness never hurt anyone except Lady Macbeth), a solid bargain bin and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. Calgary has a few surviving music retailers with Heritage Posters & Music, Hot Wax and Sloth Records but I went to three stores I’ve never been to: Inner Sleeve in Marda Loop, Recordland in Inglewood and Melodiya on 17th Ave S.W.
10:00am: I lined up for half an hour outside in a mild Calgary blizzard waiting to get inside Marda Loop’s Inner Sleeve which boasted exclusive Record Store Day limited releases and 25% off all stock before noon. A small but welcoming store, Inner Sleeve specializes in used and collector item vinyl heavy on American and British artists. The Record Store Day releases are picked through quickly, and the crowd quietly but excitedly buzzes as people pick up albums and chat about music. One employee comments on the docile mayhem, “It’s really nice to see people come out and spend their money, it’s never this busy in here,” says Roman Josef.
12:30pm: When I die and go to heaven, Recordland will be where I will wander at night. Owned by father and son, Armand and Eraz Cohen, this store is a dusty maze of music where used vinyl, CDs, and cassette tapes are packed into every crevice of the large store. I’ve heard legends of this place but I was blown away by the massive and comprehensive selection, (funny to see Jessica Simpson and Sufjan Stevens sharing a shelf). Packed-to-the-ceiling bookshelves line the walls and are everywhere, creating aisles and dead ends that one can easily get lost in. It’s either exciting or exhausting, infuriating or invigorating, depending on your endurance and your hunger for a hunt. If the thought of discovering a rare or favourite record single makes your pants tight, a room in the back houses thousands of unsorted singles. Bring your wallet and cancel any plans. Milling through shelves of music, climbing on grates and ladders, or getting lost in the labyrinth collection is part of the fun at Recordland. Their new release section is weak but like Eraz says, “We’re not a music retailer…we don’t have any special sales today and we didn’t put out an ad in the Herald like the other record stores.” Armand adds, “We’ve been here 30 years, we don’t need to put out an ad, people will come. They know about us.” These two guys were more than helpful, chatting in between answering the phone and Eraz was on hand to help me find anything I was looking for. With the most extensive collection in Calgary, Recordland needs neither introduction nor advertising. It’s a great place to find older stuff; I left with two Joanna Newsom releases I’ve been looking for, a hard-to-find Rock Plaza Central album but my best find was a compilation called This Is Us: Songs From Where You Live featuring a recorded cover of “Islands in the Stream” by Feist and the Constantines. There is literally something for everyone at Recordland and it is definitely my new music destination.
3:30pm: Our last stop was Melodiya; you have to enter through the neighbouring hip Phoenix comic book store to enter the even hipper Melodiya. Full of young folks who were born well after vinyl’s glory days, Melodiya offers new releases, almost exclusively vinyl stock with an indie-heavy lean. You can find new and old indie vinyl releases here as well pop, rock and an impressive blues and jazz sections. The store operates similarly to ex 17 Avenue comrade Megatunes but lacks the notable selection and record store wisdom that Megatunes was known and praised for. But I was impressed by Melodiya’s used bargain section where I picked up some nice Dire Straits, Talking Heads, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan. With their cooler-than-you staff and abundance of contemporary vinyl, Melodiya reeks of that aforementioned retro-rock aura but hey, if it gets people interested in buying music or exploring their local record store, no judgement here.
This recent revival of vinyl is good news for record labels that were hit hardest by today’s digital dominance. Labels have taken advantage of this consumer trend, continuing to manufacture new releases on vinyl but now including a digital download. This addition alone could put the final nail in the compact disc coffin and thrust vinyl back to the forefront of the physical music market. The difference between vinyl’s heyday and its current popularity is that the benefits have been elevated to cultural contributions and symbolism while their utility may be downplayed but still revered. Collectors and audiophiles swear by the warmth and nuance a piece of vinyl can offer but whether vinyl’s resurgence will be led by its analog quality or by its retro-rock aura remains to be determined.