Vinyl and the Art of Community
THE title might confuse those who…
are expecting a mash-up of a record and the established video game/film franchise, Resident Evil. Although the pun has no connection with anything gory or gaming: I wanted to look at the way record shops, and the best out there, are promoting a sense of community and conversation. In fact; the first word in the title refers to Resident. Whether you name the store ‘Resident’, ‘Resident Records’ or ‘Resident Music’ – it is a must-visit for anyone with even a passing interest in music. I will mention other record shops but for me, tantalisingly close to Brighton; I make the trip down to Kensington Gardens, Brighton to get myself into the place. Recently, in a feature conducted by VR; Resident was deemed the seventy-sixth record shop in the world – not too shabby when you consider the sheer wealth of alternatives around the globe. Before I offer my own thoughts; I’ll provide exposition from the piece:
“What’s the story? Resident is a record shop that proves you don’t need gimmicks, flash marketing or an “angle” to be a great record shop. Doing the basics better than most, Resident opened its door in 2004, the brain child of Derry Watkins & Natasha Youngs, who first met stacking the CD shelves of the local Virgin Our Price where they worked.
Now husband and wife (what better indication of the shop’s love for music could you want?), the pair set about drafting a more independent alternative in the city, evolving to stock a huge selection of genre- and generation-less new music, catalogue titles and tickets to local gigs, some of which take place in the shop itself.
Located on North Laine, the shop doubled in size in 2015 as Resident moved in next door too, expanding its vinyl offering which is now staffed by 12 employees who also help oversee informative newsletters, a vibrant online shop and the end of year ‘Resident Annual’, collecting the best new albums from the last twelve months.
In short, Resident is about as prime an example of independent spirit that you’ll find, a shop that reflects and represents the best of the town it inhabits”.
The North Laine-appointed store, looking at it from the outside, is perfectly situated in one of Brighton’s thriving side-streets. Off the commercial and rather ordinary high-street chains – and rising homelessness, too – one finds a cleanliness, character and colour when traversing the legendary Laines. It is rather fortuitous, for me and many, Resident is located directly opposite another of Brighton’s treasure troves: the majestic, I-could-easily-blow-a-year’s-wages-in-ten-minutes-flat-mate, Snoopers Paradise.
I always, rather neridshly, find myself singing Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise when nearing the shop – and I haven’t been committed, yet! – and it is somewhere I could quite happily bankrupt myself in. One enters a Narnia of bric-a-brac and vintage clothing: old records and 1940s/1950s homeware – a veritable bounty of bygone treats and must-have wonder. When one staggers out, blinded by an empty wallet and multitude of seducing images, there is Resident waiting across the way – one wonders whether that was a cunning tactical move when it was opened! Once one is through the doors of the city’s best music shop – and one of the world’s finest, as we have seen – you are in the presence of people who really know what they are doing. There are few peripheries and baubles adorning the walls (a lot of record shops tend to paper the walls with posters, memorabilia and crap; it distracts the punter from the business of buying) and the colour-scheme is tasteful and calming. One sees a mixture of whites, blacks and paler greens – you can tell I’m a bloke because I cannot find a word to describe the gradations and shades of colour (even though black and white are not true colours). The store is arranged so the C.D.s are in the right-hand area (as you walk in) and the serving area/tills are in front – one has plenty of space to roam and browse in a large and welcoming environment. Since its expansion a couple of years back; it has allowed the shop to do what it does best: provide the most comprehensive selection of vinyl this side of the M25.
Nick Cave has been heard yelling down “Resident is the best fuck*ng record shop in Britain!” I am not sure whether that is fabled or reliable intel but I can well see it. The man lives nearby and knows his vinyl! That should be proof and testament enough – the fact of the world’s greatest-living songwriters gives it his loud, expletive-ridden seal of commendation! Rather than write a passion-piece about my favourite record shop: instead, a look at how Resident, and other brands, manages to bring people in through a number of different methods. Of course, there is the sense of selection and availability. When I go into shops like Resident; not only do I find the album I was going in there for – there are those weird and wonderful L.P.s and long-forgotten rarities. They do 7” singles and far-out records – catering for those who like it rare, whacked-out or away-from-the-mainstream.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ashley Laurence
There is, in essence, an emphasis on quality and refinement. One will not see crappy Pop albums and naff 1980s Hair Metal festering the shelves there! I love local record shops but find they rely too heavily on the second-hand offerings of their clientele. When one gets in the shop, they are cramped and struggle to move down the aisles. They should hire osteopaths and chiropractors because, after ten minutes of flexing, bending and clambering – one's bones and skeletal composition is compromised and traumatised. I have never been in Resident during an in-store or signing. I can imagine there is a bit of a squeeze but, during the week/weekend, one can time it so they can move around without behind violated. The sort of people who go to record shops are serious music-lovers and not your casual browsers. They want a space they feel comfortable in and are not forced to hurry along and move out the way. It is great the Brighton hotspot has doubled since its opening. I have not been for a few years but I definitely notice the difference.
PHOTO CREDIT: Pixabay
The sheer sense of space is one of the reasons it has such a loyal fanbase. As I said; the selection is immense. I have, in the past few months, armed myself with some terrific records and, in one case, spent more than I was intending to! One of the criticisms of shops like Resident is the fact the produce is so expensive! Vinyl needs to appeal to new generations but is it feasible when the average album can run you close to twenty quid – in many cases, one can shell over twenty-five quid or more for a single album. If one goes to Resident’s homepage or visits their Facebook page - then you can keep informed of all the latest happenings and developments.
IN THIS PHOTO: Wolf Alice
I shall return to the issue of cost and economy but one of the best things about Resident, and all good record shops, is the way they bring artists and people together. Despite a convivial and calm atmosphere; it can be quite sterile and studious flicking through stacks of immaculate vinyl. One needs something engaging and interactive every now and then. Kelela’s new album, Take Me Apart is Resident’s Album of the Day so, if you want to snap that up, you can. Whilst there; have a look at what is coming up – the staff are very approachable and happy to discuss things happening in the shop. I was kicking myself I missed the recent – and much-discussed – in-store from Wolf Alice. The live performance from artists is a reason Resident is so well-regarded. The band’s just-released gem, Visions of a Life, has gained spectacular reviews and could well top the end-of-year lists in a couple of months. The fact they have managed to craft something so essential and visionary on their second attempt shows they are one of our best bands.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Having them in your store is an honour and I wondered how their sound came across in a relatively modest space – listen to their album and there is plenty of howling strings, bombast and moshpit-worthy thrashes. I saw photos from the gig and Ellie (Rowsell) and chaps, at points, were sat on the counters playing. It was very ‘cosy’ but, from the reviews, they turned in a blinding set. The North London quartet is one of many who are/will walking/walk through the doors. There are some other sets happening before the end of the year; so it is definitely worth following the store when you can. What impresses me about record shops like Resident is the fact they have a passion for live music and discussion. I find streaming is too impersonal and one does not really discuss their downloaded album with someone on the Internet.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Music is becoming more processed and faceless as the years tick by: ensuring we have traditional record shops expanding is an encouraging antidote to the rise and ruination of digitisation. I go into record shops and feel there is a real, instant mini-community. Customers shoot the breeze with others – even if they have not met – and, considering few of us randomly converse with people on the street, we can walk into a record shop and guarantee we connect with another human being. It is a shame there is not (even more) room for Resident as, building on that, they could craft something that mixes a café/salon but has the records at its heart. Maybe that sounds corporate and unwieldy but I would be happy to sit in the store – buying, of course – and engage with others in a more relaxed and seated setting. I don’t know about the logistics but I am pleased record shops, the best out there, make you feel open and lacking inhibitions.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
The idea of an eighteenth-century-style coffee shop – where noblemen and the common could debate poetry, politics and the proletariat – are long-dead but, as we get sucked into the yellowed jaws of the machine…record shops are one of the final bastions of cultural conversation and musical discourse. Sure; gigs are where we can do the same but how many shops/coffee shops will you frequent and be able to discuss music and live gigs – without feeling as exposed as if you had your nipples swinging in someone’s face?! I have been to stores like Rough Trade East and Flashback Records and get the same impression: people do not cloister themselves and balkanise; there is that desire to link-up with passing trade and provide their own insights into records we should own. It is a unique setting that needs to survive – now more than ever before!
IN THIS PHOTO: Rough Trade East (London)
All Age Records and Casbah Records provide different-sized settings and their own flair. If you are in the capital; check them all out and get involved. I worry the idea of a traditional, old-fashioned (if that is fair?!) record shop will be a dying breed. If we want to see the form out of captivity and preserved for decades to come: rent prices need evaluating and these small businesses require a guarantee of guardianship and security. That will not happen under the Conservative government but if/when Labour get in; one expects them to tackle these issues and ensure the high-street’s best record shops do not fall prey to scrupulous landlords and the perils of gentrification. The finest record shops around the country are those where rent is manageable and the flow of customers is steady – a slight tear in that delicate fabric could see their hoardings boarded and the doors closed forever.
I am worried the best record shops around are no safer than your average shop. It is a depressing thought but, rather than stress about fiduciary ideals, let us promulgate the multifaceted joys of the humble record stores. If the likes of Resident are able to have empirical ambitions – doubling in size is something few retail outlets can boast! – whilst retaining modesty and the comforting position they hold in Brighton (nestled among a string of wonderful shops and businesses) then that is the best of both worlds. The fact they, and their vinyl neighbours, are mixing the finest shopping experience with live gigs and in-store events mean the record store is preserving its multifunctional, community-based ethos. That is hard to do in a modern-age: space is limited and people are relying on the Internet for sociability and ‘human’ connection. Perhaps I am naïve thinking record shops could grow into a one-stop place for conversation, music and performance – essentially, turning them into live venues and café-type settings; disintermediate the big businesses and utilise the space they have. Venues are threatened and fewer music-based options are visible on the streets.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Maccabees played an intimate gig at Resident back in 2015/PHOTO CREDIT: Ashley Laurence
The fact Resident has been awarded honours and virtual decoration may seem soporific to those not familiar with the wonders of records. Those who know their music, and realise how capricious and fragile the industry is right now, are eager to champion their local record stores and ensure their future is beyond contention. For me, the best record shops are a place one can indulge their passions and discover brand-new and older music. You can have a chat with a fellow shopper and talk to the staff about the week’s releases – and those rare gems other, mainstream music shops do not stock. If we devalue the relevance of record shops then we are threatening the physicality and human touch that is inoculated and purged from the current climate – where we want our music streamed, downloaded and available right in front of our (square) eyes.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sound Matters
The special population of (passionate) music-lovers know wherefore I speak and can, I hope, relate to the nuances and functionality of record shops. They are more than mere places one can buy records: they are habitats one can feel a sense of belonging in; a bespoke arena where one does not feel a tit when they argue which Kate Bush album is the best (The Kick Inside, of course!). On top of this, if you are in the right place at the right time – if anyone has a time machine so I can see Wolf Alice?! – you can witness a great in-store that will remain in the hippocampus for years to come. These are sacred and quintessential pleasures that we all need and should…
NEVER let go of!