What’s Left of the Spin Zone

Celebrating Record Store Day in the face of a darkening horizon.

For me, it started with a Budget Tapes & Records in a rundown Tacoma strip mall. Around the age of 10 or 11, I started riding my bike there nearly every day. Much of the time I simply stared in awe at the selection, slowly flipping through the stacks alphabetically and trying to guess what something would sound like based on the cover art. I remember having a particularly freaky relationship with the cover of the Dead Kennedys' Plastic Surgery Disasters. The photo on the front depicts the horrifically emaciated hand of an African child resting in the palm of an adult Caucasian. I had no idea that it was a very famous, award-winning photo by British photographer Mike Wells of a starving boy and a missionary, taken in Uganda's Karamoja district in 1980. I just knew I was both repelled and fascinated by the shocking image, and I loved that it generated so many questions. Who were these people in the photo? Was it even real? Would the music sound like the apocalypse (indeed, I was not far off in that regard)? Was the band making some sort of statement about the injustice of poverty, or were they just trying to shock me (probably a bit of both)? And who the hell was this Jello fellow? (I theorized he was some sort of angry, mentally unstable clown—again, not terribly off the mark). The point of all this is that my first record store wasn't just a physical place to eventually blow my allowance money and begin the lifelong process of collecting vinyl; it was where my curiosity about the mysteries of music really took hold. Fostering a naturally inquisitive state is critical for falling in love with anything, and my time trolling the stacks in that little store laid the groundwork that turned me into a radio DJ and music journalist may years later. Much is made about the occasionally snobby demeanor of record clerks, but for every set of rolling eyes I've encountered, I've had hundreds of exchanges with like-minded superfans who simply live to turn people on to new music. It is this human selling point that drove a coalition of retail organizations to coordinate last Saturday's Record Store Day. Indie stores from Seattle to London hosted zillions of high-profile in-store performances, with everyone from the Kills to Metallica showing up to celebrate. Björk, naturally, chose the opportunity to premier her new 3-D "Wanderlust" video at multiple locations, while Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer decided to paint in her underwear at a Cambridge, Mass., store. Clerks everywhere rang up significant discounts on stock and gave out armloads of impressive swag, including limited-edition 7-inches from Destroyer and Tapes and Tapes and a live Clash EP. It's great recognition for mom-and-pop music retailers, and the atmosphere was quite celebratory (I couldn't even get into the Donnas' in-store at Amoeba in Los Angeles, where I was staying), but the day's dark undercurrent was the struggle that many of those retailers are waging to keep their doors open. Nearly 1,500 independent record stores have closed in the last five years, and that number continues to grow. And though it would seem Seattle has held its ground rather well—with three prominent indie stores each with multiple locations—we haven't been exempt from our share of damage. "There have been five closures in the last six months, including Electric Heavyland on 45th, Jive Time on Capitol Hill, the Fremont branch of Sonic Boom, the Landing on Roosevelt, Rubato on Greenlake," says Easy Street Records owner Matt Vaughan (the Southcenter location of Silver Platters is also rumored to be shutting down next month). Vaughan, who offered a 20% discount on all his stock and hosted performances by Jesse Sykes and Mark Pickerel at his Queen Anne location last Saturday, thinks some of the closures are due not to the preponderance of downloading or the demise of the music industry as we know it, but to simple market saturation. "Between Easy Street, Sonic Boom, and Silver Platters, there are three indie retail coalitions being represented [Coalition of Independent Music Stores, Alliance of Independent Media Stores, and Music Monitor]. This is the only market in the country that has all three, and it does make us a bit more competitive than I'd like," he admits. "The challenges that record retail have faced will only breed innovation and make for a better record-store environment, but most stores won't survive. Seattle record stores have cannibalized themselves a bit as a group." rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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