Since its launch in 2008, Record Store Day (RSD) has been the most important date on the vinyl-lover’s calendar. This year’s event, on 21st April, will see thousands of independent record stores around the world (including almost 250 in the UK) unite to celebrate the resurgence of vinyl and to universally dismiss the idea that it’s just a passing fad. The grand idea was germinated in the USA the year before its inception, after a brainstorming session by record store proprietors in Baltimore. Special vinyl releases are made exclusively for the day and many shops and cities host artist performances to mark the occasion. For independent bands, it’s an invaluable opportunity to connect with the tight-knit community of indie stores across the country/world and to provide something unique for the slow-but-steadily rising number of vinyl consumers.
Alas, as with many grassroots movements it grew and grew to the point where it was inevitably co-opted by larger interests. Cue major label interference and assimilation. Their need to have fingers in all the pies has led to a monumental shift in the core output. This year, there are 500 vinyl releases on RSD, but not by 500 independent bands on indie labels staying true to the cause. Instead we have a list dominated by often pointless reissues from yester-decade including: Abba’s ‘Summer Night City’ and ‘Nellie The Elephant’ by the Toy Dolls (seriously!); four Bowie releases; Madonna, Dylan, Fleetwood Mac; AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ on cassette tape; and an album by rock’n’roll trailblazer, Shakin’ Stevens. Trust the major labels to turn a noble idea into a nostalgic circle-jerk.
A cursory comparative glance at the list of releases over the past eight years starkly illustrates how the majors have hijacked RSD and effectively squeezed out the cottage industry labels and artists. The event has also been criticised for catering to record collectors rather than music fans, delaying the release of non-affiliated records and enforcing conditions that can make things difficult for certain stores.
BBE (Barely Breaking Even) Records and imprint vinyl-only label Alim Music are hosting a RSD launch party in London tomorrow afternoon, celebrating exclusive early releases from The Herbaliser, Jay Dee and Will.i.am's 'Lay Me Down' feat. Terry Baxter.
Andrew Horne has been co-running DIY punk/indie label, Specialist Subject Records, for a decade. Now based in Bristol, he also recently opened a small record shop in the city, so is well aware of all the pitfalls. “Over the years, Record Store Day has been used by major labels and large indies as a way to cash in on unnecessary expensive reissues, lacklustre live versions and novelty picture discs. These hundreds of extra releases can clog up pressing plants which can leave smaller labels waiting months for their own new releases. There's pressure for shops to stock them and, as it's all nonreturnable, you'll often see them sitting in shops for years after the excitement of the day is over, and it can be a burden rather than a blessing to some shops if they get it wrong.”
But, despite all the rumblings, Record Store Day is still a great opportunity to remind the music-loving public that there is an increasingly sizeable young community that see vinyl as the ultimate, tangible listening experience (Shakin’ Stevens fans notwithstanding). And it’s these younger record buyers who will determine the parameters of the vinyl revival, driven by an urge to feel connected to the music as a physical product rather than as an endless stream of noncommital, digital possibilities.
Andrew certainly remains upbeat. “Obviously, the intention behind RSD is a noble one. Small record shops do need support if you want them to exist and our experience working with the organisers has been nothing but supportive. It's a great excuse for shops to run events and boost their takings. Ultimately, it's down to customers to decide what deserves their support. I'd love to see a Record Store Day where people buy new albums by bands that have put their heart into it rather than an overpriced RSD exclusive. Hopefully, I'll be pleasantly surprised on the day.”
Check out the full list of UK Record Store Day exclusive releases here.
RSD Exclusive: Ulrika Spacek - Suggestive Listening EP. Released by Tough Love Records. Available at all UK independent stores. Manufactured by DMS. For more information on vinyl pressing please get in touch or check out our vinyl section.