Ah the humble record store. What a joy it is to traverse its creaky floorboards. How the eyes widen as you step back once more into the analog age. How the mind expands as you inhale its dusty air, unlike your narrowing bronchial tubes. It’s almost like returning to the womb!
Well, not really. I was in Phonica today, and my experience wasn’t utterly fantastic.
That’s not due to any failing on the part of the shop itself though. In fact it’s as good as a record store gets for me. Contrary to those all too predictable moans you see on various messageboards I found the staff to be friendly and helpful. But then I tend to believe people who talk about “snobby staff” in places like this walk around waiting to feel condescended to and probably end up being rude themselves in the process just to prove themselves right.
But what I did find, after listening to a few records, is that actually I don’t really enjoy buying records in public, or in record stores anymore. It’s overrated. Call me a recluse (did you just call me a recluse? lose the attitude!) but I feel awkward buying records in an environment where I have to ask someone to listen to each one, or pick them off the wall or whatever. I hate having to decide whether I like a record in this setting. I realised that today, I couldn’t make any decisions. I only felt indecision.
In my case, this is probably for two reasons. Firstly, because I’ve been buying stuff online for so long that I’m used to taking my time. I’ll listen to the samples over and over again for a few days and then make a decision. I used to spend a whole day on various sites listening to tracks when I did the radio show. Then after a good few hours I’d do a final list at the end and go through them (I’ll probably never have that much time again)
The second reason is that before I bought stuff online I worked in a store for 2 and a half years. When I was on the other side of the counter, I got quite used to being able to listen to records as many times as I wanted before buying them, and it was nice letting a record sit in my head for a few days before making any decision about it.
There are (and were) exceptions of course. Some stuff grabs me as soon as I put the needle down (or click “play”) Sometimes the production of a record can leap out before you ever hear how it develops melodically. Sometimes it’s just a matter of making sure it doesn’t do too much more, and you’re thinking “this is great, nothing too overt needs to happen to this, oh jesus where did that vocal come from and why etc”
But regardless of what sort of record it is, I basically realised today that I don’t enjoy record stores much anymore. They’re just pretty awkward. But I’m in no doubt that it’s my fault, not theirs.
As I get older I actually mostly hate discussing music in a social setting, except with friends who know me. For example in a new job I would never bother to explain the music I like, or put forward any kind of opinion about music, because I’d rather make friends! Sometimes I find myself almost apologising for liking techno, not because I believe it to be inferior in the slightest, but just because I know that lots of decent and good people don’t really understand it, and never will. I guess anyone who likes this music has felt like this sometimes.
A record store is slightly different, but it’s in the same ballpark. I do get that feeling of my taste being on trial. Now I’m not so naive as to blame the store for that, it’s my own insecurity. They probably don’t give a shit what I listen to. Either way, I shouldn’t care even if they do. But I do and I reckon others might too. The problem is that buying records has become something I do on my own, a private pastime the privacy of which I really enjoy.
I also dislike the feeling that somebody has to work to help me flick through tunes, and the inherent pressure to buy that comes with that. I think as long as there are record stores, that will always be a factor for some people. I know when I worked in a store I would feel mildly miffed if I helped someone a lot and then they didn’t buy anything.
It’d be interesting to hear what you guys think. I guess that the comfort of home may (for some of us) be a much nicer place to buy records. At home I can have a cup of tea, take my time, and listen to as many records as I want (plus I don’t even have to wear pants. I do though, don’t worry.) Also if a record is particularly exciting I can react to it with embarassing enthusiasm and nobody sees, instead of having to stifle all those synapse twitches into a barely perceptible head-nod.
I could go on. If I come in drunk and need to listen to a new release I’m excited about I can do so. Or if I want to hear forthcoming releases that’s an option I really love too.
So you know, I’m not for a second dismissing the record store, or criticising any specific store, but today I went to one that I think is one of the best around, I was full of enthusiasm, and in the end I didn’t really enjoy it much.
PS: One positive part of the trip was the new Brothers Vibe on Deepvibes. Unfortunately I couldn’t buy it as I realised I had no way of bringing it home without paying for an extra bag on Ryanair, but it definitely did excite me just about enough to force that barely perceptible head-nod!