Saturday April 20, 2013
Marking Record Store Day
By N. RAMA LOHAN
Today is Record Store Day, and while the world celebrates in sonic synergy, Malaysia’s still looking for the party.
THERE’S an almost inexplicable joy and thrill to walking into a music store and buying a bunch of music titles. Forget downloading music, seriously ... it just isn’t the same. If you’re a serious music enthusiast, you’ll know there’s always that tactile sensation of holding a record, CD or cassette in your hand. It feels tangible, it feels real – everything from the smell, the artwork and the often sprawling liner notes.
Poring over rows and rows of records or CDs is barely a chore, particularly if it means you find that one desirable title among hundreds of negligible ones. And enjoying the posters and music paraphernalia on the walls and display areas is part and parcel of the entire process. What an experience.
But let’s back the stylus up to the first groove, shall we ...
When people reminisce, they often describe a period in time from long ago as being like yesterday, but 1984 was really a long time ago, and it definitely was not yesterday, last week nor last month. It was back in the plastic age of music (synths ruled supreme, remember?) that I became a record buyer. Well, it was cassettes back then, though.
When the school bus dropped my brother and I off at school in the afternoon (I was in Standard 3 and he in Form 1), the first thing we’d do was peruse the new pirated cassettes (this is no advocation of buying illegal goods) on the shelves of the music store opposite the town bus station in Ipoh, Perak. The rage album back then (for us, anyway) was Alphaville’s Forever Young.
If I recall correctly, we bought that same album three times – we wore the first copy down; the second was stolen; so we bought a third copy. A cassette was RM2.90, and with the modest allowance we had back then, that meant a few good weeks of starving, but it was always worth it.
My two brothers were instrumental in getting me into the music-buying habit. My eldest brother was always mainstream, while my second continues his trek in seeking eclectic music to this day, so I had the advantage of embracing the best of both worlds and have become the wiser for it.
Back then, we were still pooling our resources to buy cassettes, but in 1988, I bought the first cassette with my own money – it was Europe’s Out Of This World album. I’m not sure if it was the music that was great or the fact that the princely sum of RM10 went into its purchase, but the fact that I bought a used CD of the album a few years ago might suggest the former.
When the 1990s were in full bloom, the CD revolution took over and cassettes were slowly but surely relegated to the history books. My purchases then included a mix of the alternative bands of the time and classic rock titles. Given the meagre salary I was earning then, it’s astounding the number of CDs I accumulated, but that was just it about being bitten by the music bug – if you liked or were curious about a title, you’d have sleepless nights right up to the time it finally became yours. I had many sleepless nights, I assure you, induced particularly by the paranoia that someone else would pick that copy up.
I recall losing out on a Mick Ronson (David Bowie’s guitarist in the early 1970s) compilation I’d spotted at the sprawling CD Rama store in Wisma Atria in Petaling Jaya, Selangor in the mid 1990s. A few years later, I would find out that a colleague (at that time) had bought it. I wanted to punch his lights out, but he was fortunate that I got my own not long after that.
Towards the tail end of the 1990s, I was seduced by a new “vice” – vinyl LPs, which, not surprisingly, was the first medium I listened to. Joining The Star’s AudioFile section meant there was no escape from the jaws of perennial purchases of music software. I bought LPs by the armloads at AV shows and later, found a neat little store in my hometown Ipoh, to my finances’ dismay.
I’d walk in with a wad of cash and return with a carton of titles ... some used, and some sealed copies dating back to the early 1980s and 1970s.
Today is Record Store Day, an event celebrated the world over, and in particular, the United States, where it began earnestly in 2007 to acknowledge the role independent record stores have played in getting music to the listening audience. Though vinyl records may be the focus, Record Store Day – which is celebrated on the third week of April annually – also accepts other music formats.
The day principally recognises standalone stores and not multinational or online outlets (Amazon, CD Baby etc), whose business model comprises 50% music retail. Also part of the criteria is the need for 70% of the store’s ownership be located in its state of operation.
Special titles have been prepared for participating Record Store Day outlets, where record buyers can get the first listen to new tunes by their favourite artistes. Among the limited run specials are a white seven-inch vinyl of David Bowie’s recently-released The Stars Are Out Tonight and a reissue of Drive-In Saturday on picture disc, from 1973’s Aladdin Sane. Also included are seven-inch releases by Pink Floyd and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds.
None of them will be sold or made available in Malaysian record stores. At a glance, you can already see official Record Store Day celebrations in Singapore and Jakarta, with record shops (and some music labels) there making a point to buzz up this special day for music fans. If anything, there will be an unofficial Record Store Day celebration at Joe’s Macc vinyl store at Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya this weekend. It’s a small start, but at least, somebody remembered.
Thankfully, records are still championed here in Malaysia, even if in niche form, from secondhand stores to CD outlets stocking up on limited quantities of new releases. A ravenous following still proliferates for the format, and music-buying in general, but the volume shifted is simply nowhere near what it used to be.
Our nation marks so many different days in a year as momentous occasions, yet, Record Store Day isn’t one of them. It comes down to a deep-rooted malaise that the arts will never be whole-heartedly appreciated here, which is why music has always been flippantly treated as dispensable.
As for the record labels, the tragedy of incessant new single downloads and compilations will continue, with barely a thought spent for Record Store Day.
Buying music software isn’t just a culture – to some, it’s almost a religion.