I love searching out record shops when I visit somewhere. I had a great couple of hours in Rome a few years ago at Radiation Records. The guys in the shop were helpful enough to call a cab from me to get back from the suburbs to city centre, once I was done plundering their stock.
The recent trip to New York was a mixed bag. I dropped by Bleecker Street records in Greenwich Village (no longer on Bleecker Street rather confusingly). It felt ossified and stagnant. The basement was dedicated to show tunes and soundtracks. The ground floor was mostly bargain basement 80s rock with a few mono sixties albums on the wall. I spent about fifteen minutes there, turned on my heels and left.
We headed over to Brooklyn on our last day in the city, expecting Hipsterville. There were a few man buns but the reputation for its Nathan Barley-esque silliness seemed a tad excessive compared to Hoxton or Shoreditch with no penny farthings to be seen. I paid a visit to the huge offshoot of London’s Rough Trade. It’s an impressive space but was pretty quiet at lunchtime and the stock was unsurprisingly very similar to the Brick Lane store.
As an aside we did find a rather good bookshop, Spoonbill and Sugartown, in which I could have made a serious dent in my baggage allowance but limited myself to one book:
It’s a fascinating read, describing how crime, law enforcement and architecture interact. I’ve just finished a section on Los Angeles which had a spate of bank robberies in the eighties and nineties, with as many as 28 robberies in a day and it was mostly due to a) a significant number of banks being at the bottom of freeway slip roads (so it was like stopping for petrol) and b) banks deciding it would be cheaper not to employ security guards and passively rely on the LAPD for security. I may come back to the book in a later post.
The best record shop was unfortunately a rather sad experience. I first visited Other Music almost twenty years ago. It was where I bought my original copy of “Heartbreaker” by Ryan Adams (blog post here). It is in Lower Manhattan on East 4th and Lafayette but not for long as it closes at the end of June 2016.
It has survived the downturn in record sales following the rise of the internet and the global financial crisis, outliving HMV and Tower Records in New York. Business though has halved ($3.1m down to $1.5m) since it opened whilst rents have doubled ($6000 per month to $12000 per month). The resurgence of vinyl has helped offset the rise of streaming (60% of Other Music’s business is now vinyl, up from 20% in 2001) but the music buying scene has moved across the East River to Brooklyn with cheaper rents and more concentrated customer group. They’re now competing with places like Urban Outfitters who offer clothes and homeware alongside music and the Brooklyn stores offering coffee and pastries. Owner Chris Madell said recently:
“From the very beginning, we’ve always been a record store, it’s about people coming in here and getting lost in music, in new releases. We just never wanted to reinvent or dilute it as something else. For better or worse.”
I ignored the logic though and bought three CDs (for ease of transport) of things that I hadn’t known I wanted, two of which I had heard in store. I got great help and advice from the staff who clearly were upset about the prospect of their store closing and the uncertainty about their own personal futures.
The shop was absolutely rammed full of people and buzzing. The woman stood next to me was chatting to sales staff about how she used to see David Bowie in the store (he lived around the corner on Lafayette Street). Everyone was expressing sadness at the passing of the store. It really was a bitter sweet experience.
The shop closed at the end of June. The last day was celebrated in a similar way to a New Orleans funeral. They also had a concert featuring Yoko Ono, Yo La Tengo (personal favourites of mine) and Sharon Von Etten amongst others. The New York Times even ran a feature.
MSNBC also did a wee film:
Here’s the three albums that I picked up. New York will be sadder place for Other Music’s passing.
Various Artists – “Space Echo – The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed!”
This LP starts with a fantastic story, which sounds pretty far fetched but I hope it is true.
In 1968, a cargo ship set sail from Baltimore, heading to Rio De Janeiro for a music industry conference. Loaded to the gunwales with musical instruments including in particular the latest synthesisers from Korg, Moog and Rhodes amongst others. It never made it to Rio though. It ran aground in Cape Verde. The curious islanders opened the containers and started experimenting with the keyboards, after they had been distributed to those places on the island that had electricity. This introduced a modern sound into the traditional music of the island.
The island was at the intersection of shipping routes between the Americas, Europe and Africa. It therefore had a rich and varied background of music with the trade routes contributing their influences. The sleeve notes are fantastic with the label (Analog Africa) tracking down and interviewing many of the original participants, despite the majority of the material dating from the 70’s and 80’s.
The title does the album a slight disservice. The sound is generally as spaced out or dubby as it suggests but it certainly is electric and covers a wide range of styles. “That Day” by Fany Harvest starts as a slow blues before becoming an uptempo dance floor filler with some stunning guitar work. “Mino Di Mama” by Quirico Do Canto uses the stash of keyboards to drive the melody along.
The track that convinced me to buy the compilation was “Pó d’Terra” by João Cirilo which features a magnificent guitar introduction by Paulino Vieria. If anyone could be considered the godfather of the scene it was Vieria who the producer and arranger of much of the material.
Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald present Borderland: Transport
The second album is some wonderful sleek electronica from two ground breaking veterans. Juan Atkins, along with Derrick May and Kevin Sanderson, is one of three originators of Detroit techno. This particularly string of electronica took Kraftwerk’s melodic themes and added a more danceable rhythm combined with a science fiction influence. I had a compilation of album of their classic stuff on the React label which I played to death. Atkins performed under a number of pseudonyms, most famously Model 500.
In 2013, he joined up with Moritz Von Oswald. Von Oswald was a key figure in Berlin’s techno scene, in particular the minimal sound of the Basic Channel label, started in 1990s. The label only kicked around for a couple of years but was hugely influential drawing also on Jamaican dub production techniques. The pair released a first album called “Borderland”, which I really enjoyed. They released “Transport” as a follow up this year.
Some might say that their output is monotonous but I like to think it finds a groove and just works it. This is going to sound like it is being damned with faint praise but it is perfect background music, something which is often undervalued. It is rich, nothing jars too much but there is a sense of momentum. If you liked the British electronic music of Underworld and the Chemical Brothers, as well as New Order, I think that you would enjoy this.
Here’s “Riod” which was also released as a single alongside the LP.
Bixiga 70 – “III”
The third selection was Bixiga 70’s “III”. This is the band’s third album and was playing when I walked into Other Music on that hot sunny afternoon. Released on Germany’s Glitterbeat records (which I had blogged about previously here), the band are Brazilian but are not necessarily instantly identifiable as coming from the home of Bossa and Samba. There is a distinct Caribbean and African influence with the electric guitar to the fore, along with a blazing horn section.
Coincidentally, here’s a short film of their recent visit to New York. They played London and Glastonbury at the end of June but unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to see them. They look fantastic live so definitely next time.