Resurgence of the record shop

Relics record shop in St Andrew St, Dunedin. Photo: Fraser Thompson
Relics record shop in St Andrew St, Dunedin. Photo: Fraser Thompson
In an age of instant downloads, Fraser Thompson finds that record stores are thriving.

Twenty years ago, if you wanted music you had to leave your house, go to a record store, talk to some people, part with around $30 and return with a CD to pop in your CD player. 

But today we have near instant, near free access to most music recorded in the last couple of hundred years. So that makes record stores obsolete, right?

Well there's certainly less demand, but the few record stores left are, well, thriving. And what better proof of this than International Record Store Day?

The annual event, now in its 10th year, sees artists, labels and record stores banding together to provide music lovers with limited releases to add to their collections. Although, as I found out, record store day is about much more than just the limited releases.

In the wake of the event, I talked to Dave and Irene who run Relics, one of the dozens of record stores in New Zealand to participate, and the only one in Dunedin. Relics rose from of the ashes of Marbecks, which Dave used to manage.

"I had the opportunity to buy all the furniture out of there for next to nothing and we've been building up ever since," he explained.

Irene points out two small CD bins near the entrance.

"We literally started with those two green bins there being half full, and maybe a few crates of records."

Today they've got the biggest selection of new vinyl in the South Island, "and probably one of the biggest in the country," according to Dave. On the day I interviewed them the store was ripe with the pungent fragrance of glue from the carpet they'd just put in to extend the store further back to allow room for even more vinyl.

All around the country there are similar stories of passionate music fans running independent record stores. It's a tight community, more about sharing music than about selling records or making money. As Irene puts it: "This is something you do because you're passionate about music."

I ask what role they think record stores serve in 2018.

"We think of it as a hub, a community hub," responds Irene. "And those that love going to record stores, they really love it. I think because music is so emotive - there's some of that attachment to having found the music and then going home and experiencing it, it does keep you coming back for more."

There is definitely something to be said for being able to pick up a CD you bought 10 years ago and experience memories of time and place flooding back. It is hard to get sentimental about adding an album to your Spotify library.

Record Store Day is a celebration of all that and more, and there's plenty of people keen to celebrate.

"It was huge this year. It keeps getting bigger and bigger," says Dave.

Irene adds: "It was so awesome in here. You could see people all over the store discussing albums with each other, and bands with each other, and things they did and didn't like ... it was awesome."

So, what is next for Relics.

"Well, we seem to keep buying stuff," says Dave, laughing.

"I honestly think that people can't go online exclusive, otherwise it's no shops anymore and no town anymore.

"The alternative to having shops and physical products is just everyone buying everything on the computer and not interacting with each other."

Which, to be honest, doesn't sound too far fetched. But then you look at the resurgence of cassettes in underground communities and its clear people still crave that physical, tangible experience.

Record stores might be changing, but I don't think they're going away.

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