I Don’t Support Record Store Day, And You Shouldn’t Either


So far, 2016 has been a pretty distressing year for music fans. While many were still reeling from Lemmy Kilmister’s departure to the great gig in the sky, the passing of rock n’ roll sovereign David Bowie only seemed to heartlessly tear open a still-fresh wound in the music-loving community. While not as globally-devastating as the passing of some of rock’s greatest monarchs, the Bristol community received another shock with the closure of one of the city’s most enduring record shops, Head. Having worked at Head up until its closure, seeing it cave in to the multitudes of threats that record stores face in the modern day is just so disheartening, and it makes you question how long until they die out altogether.

Head started out its life in the Galleries in the ‘90s as a Virgin store, later becoming a Zavvi retailer, and finally re-opening independently as Head. Head is joining the waves of independent record stores closing down across the South West, such as Bath’s Raves From The Grave, which shut down in June of last year. There are a multitude of reasons behind the much-loved store’s closure, but the most prominent is merely a sign of the times. Independent entertainment retailers face even more competition now than ever before with the advent of online streaming, downloading, and piracy. While great leaps in technology have considerably improved our media culture for consumers, it’s sending independent businesses to the chopping block. As of 2014, digital revenue streams grew by 6.9 per cent to make as much money as their physical counterparts, and the numbers will do nothing but increase as the market continues to expand.

While streaming and downloading have knocked a major dent in physical record sales, retailers like HMV and Amazon can still sit comfortably atop their thrones as the UK’s leading music vendors. Corporate bigwigs are unaffected while independent businesses are left in a perpetual drought of sales, and some attempts at boosting record spendage in the indie market appear to have gone awry. Record Store Day, an annual event initially created as a call-to-arms of supporting independent music stores, has been criticised for “betraying” its original intent, and effectively doing more harm than good. Bristol’s own Howling Owl record label delivered a savage open letter which berated RSD for being “co-opted by major labels” and harming independent ones. The limited-edition releases manufactured for the event also have a much larger buying-in price from dealers, and have to be bought at “firm sale”, meaning they cannot be returned. Essentially, the event is a pure gamble for independent stores, and unfortunately Head was dealt a bad hand. Piles of unsold limited-release RSD stock gathered dust behind the counter in the months that followed last year’s event in April. Even a Black Friday sale couldn’t move half of the leftover records which Record Store Day distributors promise that fans will clamor for on release.

Record stores and entertainment retailers have a far different place in consumer culture these days. You no longer need to reserve a copy, queue up and purchase the new Adele album on release day. Everything’s completely at your fingertips online, which leads consumers to question why they’d go to the extra effort of buying a physical CD or DVD? Their existence is almost ephemeral. While record stores as a business aren’t as prevalent as in previous decades, they still act as a watering hole for like-minded music fans from all walks of life. When moving to the area a few years ago, I remember all the feelings of apprehension and anxiety that come with moving to a new city melting away upon discovering Head. It wasn’t just a record store to me. Record shops aren’t just a place where you grab the new Taylor Swift; they’re a social hub, a place of pilgrimage that represents and solidifies a sense of community in music much like the rich sonic heritage that Bristol has nurtured for years and years. Head has been one of the most rewarding, fascinating jobs I’ve ever had because of all the colourful, vibrant characters I’ve served and worked with during my time there. You can take away just as much happiness from a bright-eyed kid buying the new Adele CD than you can with a silver-haired veteran bolstering his Lou Reed collection. Therefore, my plea is simple, and one that is shared by music fans the world over: support your local record store. Not just on RSD. Not just when HMV’s out of stock. Put your money into an independent instead. When you put money into a local business, your money isn’t going toward a corporate suit’s new BMW, you’re giving back to the community. It’s a humbling feeling knowing that your money’s going towards someone’s lunch, gas bills, vet treatments for their cat, and ballet shoes for their daughter. The record store is a key social element of music culture, and we can’t allow it to die out.

There is some hope, however. While digital sales of individual albums are declining as fast as their physical counterparts in favour of streaming subscriptions, vinyl sales continue to soar, with UK sales growing by 56 per cent in the first half of 2015 alone. Though vinyl may retain the affections of dedicated music lovers, some good things must come to an end. Though it comes from a place of sadness, all the sympathies we’ve received from customers, as well as all the sincere anecdotes about how much they loved coming into the shop, are enough heartfelt evidence to show that local record stores can make a difference in the community. At the time of writing, our manager Griff, who’s worked with the store since the Virgin days, plans to have Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells to soundtrack the shop’s final closure. Though I initially thought Tom Waits’ Closing Time, or Daniel Johnston’s “Some Things Last A Long Time” would be the obvious choices, some of you music boffins out there might recognise Oldfield’s 1973 classic as the first record to be released on a Virgin label. So it’s nice to see that, at the very least, we’re not ending on a finale, but a new beginning.



Airs & The Cherry Wave React To 2015 Records, Plus Stream!

Autumn hit pretty late this year. There’s a massive oak tree that looms over my window whose colours appeared to rust almost overnight. Nature’s playing some winded game of catch-up with us right now, and it’s only just hit me how little time we have left in the year. Panto starts shortly at the theatre where I work. Scarves are working their way back into my wardrobe. Us Louder Than War staff are working on our year-end lists, a ritual which I always reluctantly partake in.

Some of my favourite records to listen to at this time of year are those with thick textures and layering. Ones that evoke the same sensations as the feeling of a cozy jumper or a warm mug of tea seated on a windowsill. While San Francisco’s Airs and Glasgow’s The Cherry Wave may be settled at completely different sides of the world, what unites them is their own brands of warm, fuzzy shoegaze, ideal for this time of the year. Both sides of their new split record sport loud, enveloping layers of melodic noise; captivating, and sometimes punishing, it’s perfect, addictive listening for watching your own leaves turn to brown.

In the true spirit of the looming year-end journalists’ tradition, I invited Adam of The Cherry Wave and Chris from Airs for their blind impressions of some of the years’ most hyped records. While you read, please enjoy a stream of the new Airs & The Cherry Wave split. Make sure to purchase it so many times that Chris can afford a flight to the UK so I can fight him personally. Happy autumnal decay, everyone.

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – This is awkward. I am culturally and critically dumb when it comes to hip-hop. I tried really hard to get into it about ten years ago but I just couldn’t. It’s completely my loss, I accept that. Drake isn’t going to change things either. Not much fun, is it? Some of it sounds like a guy rapping over a sleep hypnosis tape. It’s just boring. Sorry Drake. – Adam

Sleaford Mods – Key Markets – This is the most British thing I’ve ever heard. Sounds like a trashed Shaun Ryder ranting over Garageband loops. I’d probably like this more if I wasn’t a stupid American. – Chris

Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor – Apparently this album is heavily influenced by Muddy Waters, The Doors and The Stones. Sounds more like nu metal in a blues scale. Even Twiggy didn’t want to be a part of this trainwreck. Is it Antichrist Superstar? No, but it’s better than Born Villain. – Chris

Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon – This one’s tricky. I really like songcraft. It’s the thing that interests and concerns me most musically. This guy clearly knows which chord can come next. He knows them all. It’s just… some of it sounds like it’s from the soundtrack to Toy Story or Shrek, which is fine, unless your tune lacks the context of actually being in Toy Story or Shrek. Then it’s just a bit of a plodding, pedestrian, 70s singer-songwriter tune. It’s very melodic and everything, I just don’t like its vibes. Seems a bit false and targeted. I’m probably being a bit harsh – he obviously has love for stuff like that, so it’s coming from a genuine place. I’m just not into it. – Adam

Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion – Is this the new CHVRCHES album? This is the most vapid garbage I’ve heard in ages. Wikipedia lists like, 50 studios this was recorded at. Did the engineers just get tired of hearing this mess over and over again and pass it off to the next dude? This is the kind of thing they play in malls across suburban America. Thanks a bunch, Canada. – Chris

Deafheaven – New Bermuda – This is fine. Sounds like their last one, all in all. That’s no bad thing of course. Just makes you think that, if you really really nail what you’re trying to do on one album – which is what they did on Sunbather, that’s great – you either need to change dramatically, which is hard, or just call it a day and walk into the sunset. They’ve only got one idea really, but it’s a pretty good one. I’ll let them off this time. They’re amazing live, too. – Adam

Jamie xx – In Colour – I’m like 3 minutes into this album and it sounds like a broken air conditioner. I’m sure this took all of a day to assemble in Fruity Loops. Had to turn it off when baby’s first synth lead kicked in. The xx sucks too. – Chris 

Turnstile – Nonstop Feeling – Now this is a fucking disgrace. Drake got away with it, but ignorance won’t stop me criticising this one. I’ve listened and liked plenty of stuff like this over the years, and this is FUCKING SHIT. What is going on here? It’s godawful. Sounds like a crap Helmet, and they were hardly the best band ever. So so dull, just devoid of anything interesting. I think the early 2000s wants its guitar tone back. Terrible, stop it, leave me alone, forever. Urgh. – Adam

Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, Girl – My living room feels like the coolest coffee shop in town when this album is on. I have no idea what she’s saying but I feel sophisticated as fuck. This one is alright. – Chris

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly – Now this is much better. More ideas in the first song than in the entirety of that Drake album. It’s bright and energetic, but it’s not party hip-hop. Those two things don’t need to go hand in hand. It’s making me want to listen to what he’s saying. Highly quotable too, that’s always a prerequisite of hip-hop I like. The sound of someone who’s clearly on a roll creatively. That’s always nice to hear. – Adam

Airs & The Cherry Wave’s split record is now available to stream. Airs’ Apart is out now. The Cherry Wave’s Avalancher is available to stream and purchase now. 

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