Sunday, 26 March 2017

Record Store Day 2017: Just Say No

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The tail end of last week saw the arrival of the time of year when record buying (on a general level) stops being a hobby and becomes a Deal Or No Deal- style slice of marketplace propaganda. Taking place on April 22nd this year, it seems fitting that the simple seduction of Record Store Day lands at a time where information is warped into post-truth fanaticism and previous indifference is largely becoming panic-stricken Twitter-based outcries. We live in an age where distribution and consumption has never been lapped up so submissively, whether that be with regards to migration, secular aspects of funding or, indeed, how much value there is in a picture disc.

As with most things purveying the corporate side of the music industry these days, it's easy to be cynical about Record Store Day. Until just a few days ago, I was excited about the prospect of a picture disc containing rare versions of Danny Brown's 'Ain't It Funny?' and previously unreleased Goat material. Of course, there's plenty of charm in the idea of a "grand unveiling" of unheard music at the base level of intrigue that all music obsessives will be familiar with. However, the idea that this is best addressed with a zoo-like shop-based work-out rather than a streaming through Bandcamp or a specialist website like Metal Injection, for example, is where the landslide begins.

Given the fact that vinyl sales reached their highest peak for 25 years in 2016, the prices now charged by places like Rough Trade East and Rise in Bristol are expected retail manoeuvres. There's not much doubt that many of the exclusives on offer this year will be pushed to more extortionate amounts than previously. Part of this is due to the accessibility of records in places like HMV and high street super market chains, whose pernicious stocking of major label big hitters is continuously turning record buying away from devout listeners and into an itunes-style cover-all decoy.

The wider point regarding this is that, sure, there's still an enormous sense of community and camaraderie to be found when visiting independent record stores on a daily basis. But when they're turned into price-driven exhibitions, there's not much of an incentive to avoid buying original pressings of many of these records for as little as £10 on Discogs. SPOILER ALERT: Picture discs sound woeful anyway. The whole point of Mayhem's Deathcrush EP is that it sounds like it was recorded in a biscuit tin; getting that big-room vibe off a decent sound-system and being able to hold and look at the sleeve will be a far more rewarding experience anyway.

None of the arguments here are about elitism, either. I believe anybody should be allowed to buy records- It's been said 100 times over the past few years, but the resurgence of vinyl as an art-form and passion is a very fine thing. Cynical accessibility and exclusive pressings limited to a few hundred copies are two sides of the same rotten coin in this respect. On the one hand, the attempt at forcing mass appeal to line the pockets of labels like Sony and Island via sales through Tesco and Sainsbury's is devaluing that very idea of music as a passion.

On the other hand, inaccessibility shuts out fans who are generally stimulated by furthering their collections, or people who are looking to start one based on, *ahem*, sound and vision rather than trendiness. Exclusivity isn't about building a sense of community anymore; it's another example of the music industry being stolen from the people it should target. Especially when it comes to something that's largely still as devotion-based as vinyl, none of these exclusives will be as marketable as is being suggested. Record collections are about personality and should never be based on a marketing man's wet dream.

The argument about record flippers veers in and out throughout the year, as it does with ticket touts. One piece of positive news to salvage amongst the nihilism is that, as pointed out in this excellent blog by Discogs user Diognes_The_Fox last year, the value of 2015's exclusives turned over online for a price that far exceeds what people would have paid for them initially had fallen back to either list price or, indeed, just below. Undoubtedly record flippers have an unusually callous perception of music fans, but when cash grabs are reflected in marketing and promotion as seemingly worthwhile for the listener then the ball has started rolling way earlier that someone selling Radiohead's Kid A for £100+.

The best way to diffuse these people and their games is to avoid events like this "holiday" altogether. By all mean buy copies of the records that are listed, but buy them somewhere honest, either an independent retailer online (Boomkat, Juno, or Bandcamp to name just a few of the most direct) or in an independent record store ANY day of the year. And as cool as splatter-coloured vinyl is, lots of records are pressed in dynamic and aesthetically interesting ways in their original versions; pick up a copy of Deafheaven's Sunbather and you'll most likely find it slammed on fluorescent pink and yellow wax. Of course everyone is entitled to buy on RSD- as highlighted earlier, collections should be deeply personal things. But there does come a point where one has to decide which you value more: A haul ending in a rarity that ultimately means nothing after purchase, or an activity based on love and intrigue that shouldn't be allowed to become another cog in the corporate mire.

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