I am a proper vinyl junkie. I own four different versions of ‘The Perfect Prescription’ by Spaceman 3. I have an initial pressing of Albert Ayler’s debut album, ‘Spiritual Unity’. After a two-year search I have obtained a mint copy of ‘Love Backed by Force’ by The Tronics. One day I hope to own an original version of ‘Tigermilk’ by Belle and Sebastian – and if you don’t know what “an original copy” constitutes then I would question how much of a fan you really are. In short, I have a problem.
I also remember where I was when a visiting friend told me how a new local record store, Kristina Records, was opening five minutes from my house and invited me to the launch party, and I remember how disappointed I was when they didn’t sell any records at said launch party. I now have a bag of records on hold behind the counter and this problem doesn’t look like it’s getting better any time soon.
The new shop on Kingsland Road, Dalston, London, was big news. Firstly, I’d get my fix much easier; secondly, who the fuck opens a record store these days? I may have a problem, but I fully expect that people younger than me think that paying for music is about as out-dated as the telegram, dial-up internet and paper.
I always thought it was simple economics. The young me used to go record shopping and split my meagre earnings between records, gig tickets and drink. Drink always lost, but if I were young now, I’d download for free, go to the gig and get drunk. It’d be amazing. Turns out, as with most things in life, I was completely wrong.
It’s the big shops that are going down the toilet. In two years time, HMV won’t sell music and Virgin Megastore, Zaavi (remember them?) and Tower Records are all gone from our high streets. Beneath that, however, a thriving store scene is starting to emerge once more. “Last year was the first year in ages that there were more shops than there were the year before,” says Jason Spinks, part of the trio that founded Kristina Records.
Spinks, James Thornington and Jack Rollo bonded over a shared vision of what a music fan would look for in a store today. It wouldn’t be shifting a thousand copies of the latest release in a first week sales surge and it wouldn’t be hours spent hunting for a bargain in a dusty shop either.
“We’re finding that vinyl buying is becoming a bit more niche and we want to provide somewhere for that,” says Jason. “We don’t have a lot of stock on sale at any one time, we keep the quality high.”
“As an artefact, a piece of vinyl is something quite exciting,” adds Jack Rollo. “It’s a pleasurable thing to own and use. I think indie shops used to be driven by a strong network of distributors, but it’s much more important now to think about our taste, be particular about the artists we stock and build relationships with the labels and artists. The Internet is a great thing, but if you don’t know what to put in the search box you still need guides to say, “hey this is good” and push things they really like.”
“I want recommendations. I want people to say ‘if you like this, you’ll like this,’” says James Thornington. “I want to know what people think is good.”
Jack: “There’s a lot of good independent product out there. Lots of small labels doing small things they really believe in and that’s what’s good about this climate. They’re doing things because they really want to, not because there’s a quick buck in it. The records feel good, they look good and it means more. They feel genuine love for the music they’re making and that their friends are making”
Jason: “It’s more than just selling records.”
What the Kristina’s guys are saying is nothing new. There was always this scene that wanted recommendations and saw record shopping as a place to meet people, hang out and discover new sounds. What’s surprising, however, is, instead of cutting back, as everyone else in the music industry has to, indie shops appear to be growing. Rough Trade are embarking on global projects and there are new indie shops in Brixton and New Cross. I wouldn’t call it a renaissance – we’re not about to enter the golden era as envisaged by The Minutemen of “a label in every town, a shop on every street, a band on every block” – but with the death of the CD, mainstream shops are now ignoring record buyers. As there are still people who want the experience, it leaves a gap between the fans and the mainstream that places like Kristina Records are happy to fill.
When I ask what people are buying, Jack replies: “What we’re finding is we’re not selling lots of the record shop staples – the Beatles the Stones etc. – we’re selling more interesting offbeat stuff instead”.
“Lots of old world music, Mississippi stuff, it’s quite surprising,” adds James.
“The internet means the kids are more informed and they know about records it took me years to find out about,” says Jack. “We’ve got kids starting up bands that sound like Chrome because it’s been on a blog somewhere and that’s just completely different.”
As I stand there chatting away, new faces wander in and start to browse. I recognise fellow people with a record problem, their faces lighting up as they realise that finally a decent record shop might exist near where they actually live. Dalston is well known as a nightspot and the rents are going up, but this is still one part of London where people who live and work as artists can still just about afford to exist. But is Kristina an exception or could this happen anywhere?
“Something is happening in certain areas,” says Jason.
“I think if there were more it would be brilliant,” adds Jack, “but it is quite tough. Anywhere there’s a scene though, I think it could happen.”
The store is also planning more in-store shows, club nights and thinks it would be “great” to release a record themselves, but right now they’re just focused on the day-to-day, as is always the case when you start a new business. They’re getting there, though.
When the bi-annual “death of the music industry” articles come round, it’s always the shops I fear for most. They are the backbone that everything decent about music as a self-sustaining art is built upon. All the stuff that gets pushed aside by cynical A&R and overworked journalists can find a home on the shop floor. An artist rejected by every label in town has a space where they can do it themselves and build a following just by convincing one shop employee to stock a record.
What I’ve always found great about record shops is their potential to become hubs where conversations on the shop floor can spin off into a thousand projects. Labels, nights, bands, shows; they can all start on the record shop floor, become successful and then end up back at the record shop on the shelves, becoming the trigger for another new conversation and another new cycle all over again.
Jack, Jason and James have made one small step, here’s to a thousand others.
THREE TO CHECK OUT AND ONE YOU’LL NEVER FIND AT KRISTINA RECORDS
Three to check out: The new Maria Minerva (Not Not Fun Records), ‘Emma’s House’ by The Field Mice, or anything on Sarah Records, and Felt’s ‘Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty’.
One you’ll never find: ‘No Palez’ by Paul Young.
Three to check out: Inga Copeland EP, anything on the LIES label, Moodyman’s ‘Silent Introductions’.
One you’ll never find: David Guetta
Three to check out: ‘Give Me Love: Songs Of The Brokenhearted, Baghdad, 1925-1929’, Fred Mcdowell’s ‘The Alan Lomax Recordings’, ‘White Mice’ by White Mice.
One you’ll never find: Everything’s being re-appraised all the time. I’d never put anyone’s taste down.