The coolest little record store in the world ( Record Store Day)
I was born and raised in Leuven, a small-ish college town in Belgium. Back then music was available only on vinyl, and record stores were the only place you could get music.
Record stores fell into two categories: mainstream and independent. This was a clear distinction, a line drawn in the sand. You were one or the other. Each had their own specific clientele.
‘Mainstream’ stores sold schlock like Elton John. Glossy posters on the wall, Madonna blaring out of the speakers, drab neon lights. Clerks with button down shirts and hair parted in the middle. Most looked like they didn’t even LIKE music. I avoided these stores like the plague.
But Independent record stores were COOL. Leuven had one independent store; I don’t remember its name, but I remember everything else. Graffiti and stickers on the walls, painted weird colors. Black, purple, orange! The clerks looked like me, co-conspirators in the fight against everything bland, stupid, and corporate. Posters of hip bands . Bands ‘mainstream’ stores hadn’t even HEARD of. This store didn’t stock Madonna’s latest. For that you went to the others.
The store also had books, zines, hand stenciled cassettes, stuff so cool and obscure that flipping through the bins made you feel like a treasure hunter. I remember the first punk zine I ever bought. Black and white Xeroxed pages stapled together, a grab bag of collages, grainy photographs, typewritten copy. It looked like crap, and yet unbelievably cool. A slap in the face of everything safe, pretentious, stifling. It wasn’t ‘artistic’ or ‘professional’. But it was REAL. It became my bible, a window into a whole different style, a different esthetic, a different way to LIVE. It talked about bands from London, New York, Berlin. Crazy dangerous far way places. The Ramones. Lydia Lunch. Sham69. Subway Sect.
Of course there was only one place to actually hear all those weird bands: the store itself. On the turntables in the back, you could listen to any record, as long as you wanted. I spent hours there after school, and most of my meager allowance.
I think it’s safe to say that independent record stores were the incubators of the independent music scene as we know it. They were a secondary market, a readymade audience for anything that was too weird, obscure or ramshackle to be taken seriously by the majors. Without independent stores indie labels would have had no outlet for their product, as many of the mainstream stores refused to stock it. Eventually independent stores themselves started organizing local shows for touring bands, thus completing the circle.
Leuven’s one and only independent record store had a lasting impact on me. I discovered another world, of music that was strange, gripping, and made you feel alive. Free from the small mindedness around me that made me feel like an alien dropped from outer space into the most boring place on earth. Without that store, I may have never made the move of pursuing music as a career. Years later I’d end up living in New York City and playing at some of the legendary venues I’d read about, like CBGBs.
The store is long gone. I have no idea what’s in its place. But I’ll never forget it, or the thrill of being induced into a different world and culture, and feeling like you belonged to a special clique of people ‘in the know’. Here’s to that store, and all the ones like it, those that are gone, those that are here, and those that will be here. Without them the world would be a much duller place.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.