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MediaApril 13, 2016

Bum note: how Record Store Day lost its cool

Close up on hands browsing record store

This Saturday marks the return of Record Store Day, the annual international celebration of independent music retail. What started as a fun way to support your local record store has become an orgy of price-gouging and corporate greed, says Alan Perrott.

We must destroy Record Store Day to save Record Store Day. Which, frankly, is a pain in the arse. The damn thing is only nine years old after all; even younger in New Zealand. For the first year or so we could only press our noses up against the internet and follow along as the coolest shops in the world – OK, America and Britain – geared up for a one-day-only deal where they’d drop dozens of obscure titles in stupidly limited numbers. This was FOMO without the FO, because we really were missing out.

So we joined in as fast as we could, and it was great. Record Store Day became a musical gala in which local record shops, all two of them to start with in Auckland, would put on bands and DJs as us punters rifled through the new wares. It’s a rare occasion that pulls music fans of all persuasions together for a fair dinkum geek out. RSD felt like a natural dovetailing of small, independent music shops with small, independent record labels – a literal band-wagon of vinylism – and if was open to accusations of elitism and music snobbery well, too bad, don’t care.

Then, inevitably, the monster escaped and before we knew it some poor girl had drowned in a pond and the villagers were reaching for pitchforks. The corporates were taking over, as of course they would. In an era when income streams are hornswoggled by downloads and piracy an easy payday is irresistible.

And fair enough I guess – we all need to make a buck. But RSD became a story of unintended consequences, especially once those major labels began flooding the world’s record pressing capacity with any old bollocks to keep fuelling the fire. Check out some of the offerings we can look forward to this year; a 30th anniversary reissue of Europe’s The Final Countdown, an utterly redundant Monkees compilation, an Alan Patridge picture disc, and (argh) a Status Quo double album that was last reissued in 2005. Even the promised Etta James album will be making its fifth or so encore, then there’s the Justin Bieber single (on “piss yellow” vinyl) and novelty Disney turntable.

Just say no. While I appreciate they might be just the stuff to get the kidz buying records, I don’t care. Record shops are open most days, so pick another one to sell them this tat. A family day could even become an event in itself.

Close up on hands browsing record store

Meanwhile, the implicit rarity of the more unique offerings draws scalpers who bulk up the early morning queues, grab everything in reach, then dash home to throw them at TradeMe.

Still, my bleating would remain a steaming pile of “so what?” if this shitstorm of tosh wasn’t also preventing struggling independent labels from pressing new product. The plants are reportedly too busy cranking out Dire bloody Straits and Top Gun reissues no-one, especially the record stores, wants and can’t return when they don’t sell at the stupidly high prices now being demanded.

But while music fans’ goodwill is being flushed away, one crap record at a time, a backlash is gathering pace with a number of “anchor” record stores around the world now boycotting the event (and its evil US offshoot, Black Friday RSD). Even here, Real Groovy has announced they will be limiting the number of RSD releases they’ll stock this year, in part because the whole exercise seems aimed at ripping off their regular customers.

Get this though, a poll was taken in the UK of record buyers and more than 30% of them didn’t even own a turntable. What is it with the increasing fetishisation of records? Even utterly non-music stores like Starbucks, Urban Outfitters and Gap have started stocking albums without, it seems from this distance anyway, any regard for whether they sell or not. They’ve become interior design, as much of an aesthetic signifier as a just-so bushy beard, and that is total arse. There’s even an official RSD craft beer for God’s sake…

Oh well, wotcha gonna do? And, because my hypocrisy knows no bounds, I’ll still be there. I just need to moan about it before filling my boots and emptying my wallet.

Record Store Day is dead, long live Record Store Day (redux edition on coloured vinyl with extensive liners).

Keep going!