Record Store Day: An Epitaph For Collecting

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Oliver Rose discusses the joys of collecting music and the dying spirit of Record Store Day.

Well folks, looks like it’s that time of year again – the overcast April Saturday we’ve come to know and loathe, where music, the gift that keeps on giving, is pitched wearily against an industry that can’t resist taking. And – for one glorious day only – you too can join the fun and masquerade as money-grabbing scum from the comfort of your eBay listings dashboard. Yes! Rejoice – it’s Record Store Day. 

Now, now – in all seriousness.. 

When I was about fourteen, my hormones shaped me into a totally diehard Smiths fan. I had literally no choice in the matter – but perversely (*gasping all-round*), I liked the affliction. Now, this is neither the time or the place to celebrate my excellent, ongoing love-affair with the music of Morrissey and Johnny Marr. However, it marks a turning point in the way I consumed music. As superbly documented in the now rare-as-hen’s-teeth coffee-table book Peepholism, the artwork adorning releases by the Smiths was frankly, beautiful. Rough Trade let Morrissey have dibs on the font choices and photographs used; he also normally masterminded a B-side arrangement that involved hardline fans needing to buy both the 7” and 12” single formats in order to hear all the material. Being as I was, about a year ahead of the curve (the curve being this twee vinyl renaissance we’re now suffering through), I snapped up a lot of these old records, second-hand and at fairly reasonable prices. Subsequently, I now boast a pretty massive collection of records by the Smiths and, later, Morrissey in his solo years. No, I won’t be selling it. But do you know what? I know how I’d go about it if I was going to. The fun of collecting these records was in the chase; the late-night sniper bids in online auctions; the ecclesiastical, ark-of-the-covenant finds at car boot fairs in Kent fields on rainy Sunday mornings. A lot of them actually came from this one guy who lived near Greenwhich – my parents drove me to his house and I bought about forty records off him, and for obscenely good value too. This was some seriously cherished vinyl, all individually polythened, and handed over to me on the condition that I continued to love them as this guy had. Silly as that sounds, this guy wasn’t joking, and neither was I when I agreed and took them into my care.

The seemingly chivalrous intent of Record Store Day is very similar to my own collector’s mantra; acquiring something for nothing and enjoying the culture of what is essentially, antique collecting. Testament to this humble ambition is the fact that on its inauguration in 2007, RSD wasn’t that big a deal. It was barely reported on and the releases on offer came mostly from independent labels. I have to admit, I was pretty enthused by the whole thing when I discovered it – and I loved the way modern artists endorsed it. To begin with, the slightly more expensive special edition records from bigger labels didn’t even matter because the celebration of independence was heartwarming.

In 2016 however, I’m somewhat more cynical. This year has seen all my favourite artists churn out mouth-wateringly tantalising releases that I tell myself I’d legitimately kill to obtain. This is of course, the irrational collector inside me speaking. This year, he’s been eying-up the 12” vinyl debut of Manic Street Preacher’s A Design For Life, a coloured 7” of two unreleased tracks from the sessions for Gerard Way’s Hesitant Alien LP and a new remix EP from synth-nostalgia warriors Chvrches (full of mixes I don’t want but whose format sits neatly with my other vinyl).

BUT

(and it’s a big but, as you can see by my having paragraphed it separately in bold), this year I’ve taken a big, big step back from the whole thing, and I’m really not liking what I see.

Yesterday, and on Thursday as well, I saw some of these records popping up on eBay and, worse, the Discogs collector’s marketplace where people should, frankly, know better. Now I’ve seen this before – horrific resale prices are part and parcel of the music experience seemingly. But here, it was the timing that really got me riled. I was completely baffled by the online appearance of these records days before their extremely-limited and (allegedly) strictly-policed release. The almost certainly nefarious acquisition of these records, combined with their atrociously high prices understandably peeved me. As it happens, I can’t ever attend RSD myself – a train to London would render the already questionable expense of the shopping spree a tad unviable. But I thought of all the vinyl fans queuing in the early hours of a cold April Saturday to nab their most wanted release, and I was furious.

This, however, was short-lived, for I quickly remembered the eBayers of RSD’s past, an even worse breed of criminal bastard, committing their atrocities of greed on the front lines. Undoubtedly, they’d make a reappearance this year, infiltrate the actual event and ruining the atmosphere of the store with their grabbing, grabbing, grabbing. So much more sickening than the thieves behind the illegitimate pre-releases I found, these are the scummiest shoppers, who will steal something you want from right in front of you, before bundling it up as an extortionate online listing. Ugh. My contemplative quest for the purest evil wandering somewhat, I finally landed in the proverbial offices of major record company executives, cashing in on the resurgence of analogue with heartless objectivity, briefcases upon briefcases of limited vinyl pressings stacked up against the walls and I was done.

Today I finished cataloguing the vinyl collection that my Dad and I have built together – a combination of his thirty-or-so years collecting, and my five-or-so. It’s a behemoth of a collection, totalling around 1,200 pieces – but we love it and it’s our thing. Earlier today, I sat looking at all the spines in their boxes, and I smiled. I can remember virtually every purchase I’ve made myself; all the dads whose collections I rummaged through at boot fairs; all the bargain-bin wins from Berwick Street’s Sister Ray store. I do actually own some brand new vinyl, but even then, it’s been purchased very cheaply through Amazon – one of my latest is a superb, glossily sleeved copy of Bowie’s ★.

Thinking about RSD makes me really sad. Not only is the value of the vinyl distorted, but that exquisite search; the ephemeral chase – it’s laid entirely to waste by greed, and not just any kind either, but the type that preys on hobbyists and enthusiasts. If you love records, think very carefully about the pages of eBay listings created today, and the hundreds of empty-handed people beaten by the indifferent who profit on their disappointment. It’s the spirit of this thing that matters and right now, Record Store Day has, to quote the aptly indie one-hit wonder Robert Post, got none.