Friday, September 6, 2013

Retail Therapy 1: Digging Through The Bins Of The Distant Past

So I’ve been indulging in quite a lot nostalgia recently, and one of the things I’ve been thinking about is the way I consume music and how much has changed over the past 30-odd years. How I source it, what form it takes, and when I listen to it. These days everything is accessible online to the extent that I no longer need to leave the house – or even my rather luxurious armchair here at the everythingsgonegreen mansion – to find exactly what I want, when I want it.

35 years ago, when I first started buying music regularly, such a notion would have been considered out of this world. And while it is all very convenient nowadays, the sense of adventure I used to associate with discovering and tracking down new music has largely been lost. It just isn’t the same as it used to be.

As I’ve touched on previously, I spent a large portion of my youth cruising what used to be known as “record shops”. A lot of hours, and a lot of record shops. You might have even called it a pastime, if I hadn’t been so professionally thorough and anally obsessive about it. Hell, you might even say it was one of the few things in life I’ve truly excelled at. Friday nights and Saturday mornings were an especially productive period for me. I loved it.

It wasn’t always about the new product or even buying it, it was the ritual, the browsing, the digging, and the compiling of a mental wish-list (of sorts). I still do it occasionally, but my options have become very limited in recent years, and even in a city as large as Wellington, you can now count the dwindling number of specialist record stores on one hand.

My central city work location means that if I want to “browse” music during lunch breaks – the after work browse is just no longer an option – to peruse actual physical product, as opposed to the online equivalent, the chain store JB HiFi is the only genuinely close-at-hand option. JB has a good range of stuff and some great bargain bin pricing, but the shop has no soul, no feelgood factor, no sense that the music is even important. It all feels a bit sterile, a jack-of-all product, post-Foodcourt option for the masses.


When I get really clever, or remotely organised, I’ll jump on a crosstown bus and head up Cuba Street to Slow Boat, or around the corner to Rough Peel … but it always feels rushed, a little fraught … so many bins, so little time. I guess it all depends on just how hungry I might be. Both of those shops have an expertise and credibility not found at any chain store and I really ought to make the effort more frequently.

There’s also Evil Genius on Adelaide Road, out in Berhampore, and as refreshing as it is to know that an independent record store is surviving out there in the suburbs – beyond those of the Mall variety – it just isn’t an option for me on any occasional, let alone regular, basis. Huge kudos to the Evil Genius guys for taking that on.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about a few of the key music shops I grew up with – relics from the distant and not so distant past – and I thought it would be fun over the next few weeks to document a few thoughts on some of the very best I’ve encountered during my prime record digging years. Specific shops, mostly in Wellington, and a couple in Scotland. Why they were important to me, the key purchases, and whether that shop was about the vinyl, the tape, or the CD. Basically a blurb on why that particular shop was special, and I’ll take a short journey across the formats as they’ve evolved.

So I thought I’d cover five key shops at the rate of one or so per week, over the next month or so; let’s call it an exercise in extremely self-indulgent virtual retail therapy.

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