I’m not sure when Record Store Day transformed from being an OK and fairly harmless idea into a scorn producing irritant to everyone who does actually buy from record stores on a regular basis, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest it probably coincided with the major labels suddenly sniffing out yet another way to once again sell us the same old shit. I know that sounds harsh, and in many ways taking pot shots at RSD has become a modern equivalent of kicking a kitten. Isn’t it supposed to be all lovely and friendly and good and cool? How can we be so evil, how can we attack something that was created to help and pay homage to the very thing we all love?
Aside from the fact that there is an inherent danger in anything that appears, by nature of its purpose, to be above criticism, Record Store Day always seems less about the stores themselves and far more about the ephemera; the Justin Bieber picture disks, the repackaged Roxy Music B-sides, the limited edition silk pressed sleeves by some graphics collective so cool and underground no one has ever heard of them – even the graphics collective themselves don’t know who they are. I know, I know, it’s a strange place to be when you’re dismissing the music as something incidental to the shenanigans, right? But the fact is that many, if not actually most, of the RSD exclusive releases are a mix of curios, off-cuts and all manner of wonk. Occasionally you’ll get a bonda-fide banger making its way through all the obstacles. Lobster Theremin’s release of Richard Harrow’s Acid Hammer for RSD last year was a great release; it was a genuine moment of scruffy underground acid chaos that snapped and kicked and bucked with some wicked, cheeky grooves. Its a record that gets plenty of play around here, but it is still an exception.
I don’t want to go into all of the drawbacks of RSD, the cost to the shops, the way it wrecks the release schedules of small, independent labels because of the way pressing plants are press ganged by the big players who smell an opportunity to shift some Pink Floyd bollocks once again. There are far better informed pieces out there at the moment which break down all of these serious issues blow by blow. Go and read some of them. They are as frank as they are scary.
What’s interesting, though, is the way in which a lot of this is beginning to be circumvented. Many record shops are starting to do their own thing, using the date as a celebration of their own role in their communities, giving floorspace for various acts to do their thing, and making a proper party out of it. Stores like Rubadub, Idle Hands and others are using the occasion for their own needs and in their own ways, and marking RSD in ways that pay little heed to an increasingly corporate agenda. They are celebrating exactly what Record Store Day should be about, whilst completely ignoring what Record Store Day actually is.
Nah, I’m not going to slate Record Store Day. Mostly it doesn’t feel like it’s aimed at freaks and oddballs like us anyway. Records Stores don’t tend to need special events to get us inside. They remain special places of magic to many of us, even though we should have long ago reached the point where we should be spending out spare time in sensible shops buying sensible things for sensible reasons. Deep down I still like the idea, especially in the grass-roots form which is slowly taking shape. And one of these days I might actually buy something on Record Store Day – just like I do on the other 364 days of the year. That’s if they have any Justin Bieber picture disks left by the time I get there, that is.