The Vinyl Issue: Record Store Day

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On April 18, Record Store Day will remind more people than ever of the visceral thrill of dropping a needle. UK co-ordinator and Death Waltz Records boss Spencer Hickman starts the countdown.

My favourite memory of Record Store Day?” echoes Spencer Hickman. “Probably when it really kicked off in 2011. That year, it went ballistic. We had a queue of 900 people round the block at the Rough Trade East shop in London. Chilly Gonzales was playing and we’d got his grand piano in, but we couldn’t actually get any fans into the shop because it was gridlocked. So we took them all round the back, and we found Chilly leaning up against the wall, taking a wee, in his bathrobe, because he’d only just got up. And he’s saying hello to all these people, like, ‘I don’t care.’ It was just one of those funny moments of chaos.”

You don’t get that sort of experience at the iTunes Store. And perhaps that’s the appeal of Record Store Day. Having helmed the UK leg of the event since 2007, Hickman has watched the nation refamiliarise itself with the visceral thrills of music consumption, whether that’s the brush of fingertips over a limited-edition seven-inch, the crush of the crowd at an instore gig, or the still-damp handshake of a Canadian pianist. “The first year, only six stores were involved and there was no product,” he says. “Now it gets people excited. There are more limited-edition releases, more bands playing instore. We’ve had the website crash from the sheer volume of people checking out the list of limited-edition vinyl.”

As for the stereotype of the vinyl fan as an elderly elitist, Hickman is quick to refute it. “There’s a huge amount of young kids that have discovered this format. Back in the 90s, record shops may have been that dusty realm, with a grumpy guy behind the counter, but they’re not like that now. They’re dynamic. If it was just old men buying records, Adele and Jack White wouldn’t have had the bestselling vinyl records of the year. There’s a huge demographic. I’ve just come back from Japan. In eight days, we visited 97 record shops – and it definitely wasn’t just blokes.”

Hickman has more heartening statistics up his sleeve. “Vinyl is still a niche market,” he says, “but it’s the ninth year in a row that it’s grown, and last year, sales in the UK topped a million. Five years ago, when I was doing interviews for Record Store Day, people would say, ‘Oh, vinyl is just a fad.’ But it’s not. Pressing plants are under huge pressure because of the backlog. Y’know, URP in the States just invested in 10 new presses to meet demand. GZ in Prague are running their presses 24 hours a day. And it’s still growing. It’s that tangible, physical thing. We’re all collectors, at the end of the day.

“The biggest threat to record shops,” concludes Hickman, “is the media. The traditional media love to say the record industry is going down the shitter, that no one is buying records, that it’s all finished. We’ve fought that negativity for years. There is this perception that the industry is on its knees. It’s not really true. I mean, the industry is in massive change and turmoil. But then, it always has been, y’know…?”

FANTASTIC PLASTIC: Spencer on his top five limited-edition Record Store Day Releases

**Blur **

**Fool’s Day **(2010)

“I’m not a particular fan of Blur, but it was just such a massive thing. Y’know, this was their first recorded music in years, and they released it for Record Store Day, which was incredible. The buzz that created… it was a pretty big deal.”

**Ray Parker Jr. **

Ghostbusters (2014)

“I bought this one last year: it’s a 10-inch glow-in-the-dark record with the Ghostbusters logo. Why? Just because it’s fun and it’s slightly different. My record label is a soundtrack label, so that was right up my street anyway…”

**The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends ** (2012)

“Any Flaming Lips release is always amazing, because they really go to town, but I loved the one where they put their own blood in the record. Last year they released four albums, and if you put them on four different stereos and played them at the same time, it created a new song. They totally get it.”

Misfits** / **The Lemonheads

**Skulls ** (2013)

“You get these split seven-inches with two artists performing the same song. They always look so beautiful, they’re really fun and you get things coming together that nobody would think of. Misfits fans are pretty rabid, and they wouldn’t necessarily go out and buy a Lemonheads record.”

Joy Division

**An Ideal For Living ** (2014)

“Just because I’m a big fan. Joy Division are my favourite band. It was a really rare reissue. It had been remastered, repackaged. It looked great, sounded great. Record Store Day means different things to different people. To me, it’s a chance to buy things that maybe wouldn’t be reissued at any other time.”