The Masthead

“I spent hours in the record store at that age,” says composer Achim Zepezauer of his musical upbringing in Robert Barry’s feature on page 10. “The guy would throw me out because, he told me, ‘You keep listening to records but you don’t buy anything!’”

It’s the same reason many of us went there in the first place – not to buy, but to see what’s happening, to dream about the possibilities of new sounds, to school ourselves to the history, or maybe just to kill time, to get out of the rain, or let the bright lights dispel the loneliness for a while. The past, present and future of the record shop is centre stage at the start of 2019 as HMV, which started selling music in the high street almost a century ago, is set to enter administration once again, as it did in 2013 before being resurrected under the sprawling British restructuring conglomerate Hilco.

The news was greeted with both nihilism and nostalgia. The former came in world-weary protestations that the days of the CD and LP were gone, without addressing the crucial question of what happens when, as Damon Krukowski says in this month’s Print Run, Spotify treats music as if it had no value. The nostalgia, meanwhile, was delivered in fond reminiscences for a fictitious golden era of socially minded big business, even though stories were circulating of shady practices like dead stock being hidden in strange corners of store rooms, or battered packages returned to distributors long after their sell-by date.

Truth be told, some of those old HMV stores were pretty thrilling, even if you were entering an experience constructed to shift more units. The bigger ones were worlds until themselves with levels and spaces that seemed to exist outside the logic of the high street. Soundtracked by crystal clear music filling massive expanses of air, they felt as much like a cutting edge sound installation as a retailer. These shops had faith in the medium: charts on the wall served as roadmaps to fresh sounds, and by employing specialists, HMV was quicker to catch onto new things like the dance 12" boom of the rave era than some independent record shops.

A key part of that shop’s appeal, one which has been much eulogised in recent pieces by older music journalists, was its physical location on the high street, which meant any newbie could walk right in and discover a new world of sound. I was one of those people too, but the high street is no bastion of equality these days, if it ever was. With the rent crisis in cities like London, many live an hour or more from the increasingly ill-defined centre, and with prices high and wages low, shopping on the high street is a privilege as much as an everyday activity.

Yet the main alternative in the popular consciousness, the pop-up shop, is not without problems. While they offer all kinds of freedoms you don’t get on the high street – The Wire is about to embark on a collaboration with Bleep at its new store in Dalston, East London, with live sets, artist discussions, talks, and much more – pop-ups rely on knowledge networks. Knowing where they are, what they do, what they’ve got, when they’re open, may require you to be in the right social circles or media feeds.

All of which means record shops of all kinds are caught in a bind. Maybe with empty units appearing on most high streets around the country, some of those bigger retailers could consider some out of the box experiments in creative capitalism. Back in the 1990s, many of the bigger UK record shops like HMV, Virgin Megastore or Tower had departments ( jazz, global, classical) given over to knowledgeable mavericks, who took the genres they were given control over and ran with them. These were like secret R&D sections in hidden corners of the building: you walked into the classical section and found Keiji Haino, or Caspar Brötzmann Massaker in the jazz section. The UK book retailer Waterstones – which was once owned by HMV – managed to bring itself back from the brink in recent years by going local, by trusting its own staff and having faith in the medium. HMV could do worse than backing vinyl, CDs, tapes and what have you to the hilt in some new locations and seeing what happens. Derek Walmsley


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The Wire is published 12 times a year by The Wire Magazine Ltd. Printed in the UK by Wyndeham Group.

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Issue 420 February 2019 £4.95 ISSN 0952-0686

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Words Jennifer Lucy Allan, Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Dan Barrow, Robert Barry, Tristan Bath, Clive Bell, Abi Bliss, Marcus Boon, Britt Brown, Nick Cain, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Lara C Cory, Julian Cowley, Alan Cummings, Erik Davis, Laina Dawes, Geeta Dayal, Katrina Dixon, Phil England, Kodwo Eshun, Josh Feola, Phil Freeman, Rory Gibb, Francis Gooding, Kurt Gottschalk, Louise Gray, James Hadfield, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Ken Hollings, Maya Kalev, David Keenan, Kek-W, Biba Kopf, Matt Krefting, Neil Kulkarni, Sam Lefebvre, Dave Mandl, Howard Mandel, Wayne Marshall, Marc Masters, Noel Meek, Bill Meyer, Aurora Mitchell, Keith Moliné, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Alex Neilson, Daniel Neofetou, Louis Pattison, Ian Penman, Emily Pothast, Edwin Pouncey, Nina Power, Chal Ravens, Tony Rettman, Simon Reynolds, Nick Richardson, Bruce Russell, Sukhdev Sandhu, Claire Sawers, Dave Segal, Peter Shapiro, Stewart Smith, Nick Southgate, Daniel Spicer, Richard Stacey, David Stubbs, Greg Tate, Richard Thomas, Dave Tompkins, David Toop, Rob Turner, Zakia Uddin, Val Wilmer, Matt Wuethrich

Images Ollie Adegboye, Guy Bolongaro, Thekla Ehling, Amy Gwatkin, Mayumi Hosokura, Sam Hutchinson, Adama Jalloh, Jean Jullien, Mark Mahaney, Molly Matalon, Becky McNeel, Kevin Orliange, Lua Ribeira, Savage Pencil, Michael Schmelling, Jake Walters