Monday, November 26, 2012


This post has been directly inspired - no, let's just admit it: it's ripping off - by a recent entry from Jay Hinman's Hedonist Jive blog. His post in question is here. What I would like to do is share w/ you, dear readers, some of my experiences and impressions of the primo independent music retailers in Melbourne circa 1985-1993. Why these years? Well, I'll start in 1985 because that's when I began seriously frequenting indie music stores and buying their wares, and I'll cut it off at 1993 for no particular reason other than that's the year I turned 21, was selling my own fanzine to the stores in question and my relationship w/ these store folk changed from mere gormless consumer to active trader and even friend of many a retailer.

I should state a caveat here: as you read on, you will notice that I am still currently friends w/ many people I speak of. It is in fact my job to speak to some of these people on a regular basis, although I only began such a job description a decade back (exactly a decade ago this week, in fact). Got me? So, don't expect too much controversy. All of these people are still alive and well: I'm not here to titilate you w/ salacious gossip; I'm simply here to relay some stories and inform some young(er) whippersnappers of what life was like before the internet struck us all down w/ terminal onset autism.

However, let me add this: this is not meant as an excercise in misty-eyed nostalgia, mourning the "golden age" of the record store. For one thing, and I've been reliably informed several times by friends who oughta know: despite the stories you hear of the death of the record store and the impending doom of "the biz" as we know it (both of which are largely true on a worldwide scale), Melbourne has enjoyed quite a huge renaissance and resurgance of record stores the past 5 years and actually holds the current record of the highest number of music outlets per head of population in the world. Most of the newer stores are only dealing in vinyl - both new & used - but they're still flying the flag for the bricks & mortar outlet, that special meeting place where socially-challenged folks such as myself, all those years ago, congregated and came to the realisation that they weren't the only freak in town. Has the customer/shop relationship changed? It certainly has. The store owner is no longer the gatekeeper to another world, although I'd like to think that a good store can still be used as a filter which cuts out all the extraneous material and instead creates a unique focus on what it deems worthy. These are personality-focussed stores owned & operated by seasoned tastemakers, and in my opinion they're the only ones which will survive in the long run.

Let us begin in 1985... the first "cool" store I began hanging out at was Exposure Records in Kew. I first went there a couple of times the year prior, although 1985 would mark the first year I actually bought anything there: it was the Sex Pistols/New York Dolls Before The Storm bootleg. It makes me laugh when I think back to this, although I'm sure many of you share similar experiences, but visiting a "strange" music store, as I viewed Exposure when I was 12/13, was one hell of an intimidating and scary experience. I only learnt many years later what a mild-mannered gent its owner was, but at the time, dorkily standing there in my school uniform asking about which Dead Kennedys record to buy, I was a bag of sweat and nerves. Exposure was, as stated, situated on Cotham Road near its intersection with Glenferrie Road in the posh, leafy confines of Kew. It hardly rates as a minefield of bohemia - Kew is strictly whitebread, upper/middle-class and hopelessly square - but it's also easy to access from both the outer east (Ringwood/Nunawading) and the inner city, and was a popular stop-off for people on the way home from work or high school (such as was the case for me: it's right near a major junction close to many of the state's private[!] schools). Other than Exposure, there was absolutely no other interesting retail outlet in the immediate area, believe me. It was a destination point for many, and after-school hangout for who were often dubbed at the time as "private-school punx" *cough*.

Exposure was started in 1978 by Peter Bakowski, somewhat of a legend in the poetry circles down here, a softly-spoken gentleman with an absolutely awesome knowledge of music who later worked at Gaslight for many years and now runs the jazz section at the renowned, classical-focussed Thomas' store in the city. The exact date I don't know, but a few years later it was sold to one Frank Falvo; he later went onto start Shock Records w/ David Williams and Andrew McGhee, and made a lot of money running their export division until it went under a couple of years ago (a victim of the downturn in music sales and the strong Australian dollar). Life can be strange: when I was 13, I was shopping at Frank's store; when I was 23, I was working for Frank at Shock; and by the time I was 30, I was living down the street from him (and still do: he's about 75 metres from me). But anyway! Exposure was a really great shop back in its hey-day: Frank kept the stock tight & interesting, w/ an eclectic range of goods. Unlike many other indie stores who flew the shabby-chic flag, it was also very neat, clean and tidy. I'd often see Frank in there fastidiously vacuuming the carpet, something I got a feeling other outlets didn't do too often. I purchased some crucial platters by the Dead Kennedys (Plastic Surgey Distasters), Black Flag (Nervous Breakdown, TV Party), Bad Brains (Rock For Light), Circle Jerks (Group Sex), Minor Threat (Salad Days), Husker Du (Land Speed Record, Everything Falls Apart) and Cramps (a real fave of his) discs there early in the piece - he had a pretty good "hardcore/punk" section - and I also bought all my Flipper records there, both 7"s and LPs, throughout 1986/'87, but he was (and is) also a big fan of '60s punk of the Nuggets/Back From The Grave variety, Suicide, NY Dolls and other east coast punkers, as well as "incredibly strange music" a la Morricone/Baxter/Denny, and such sections were stocked tastefully. Australian punk/Detroit rock & roll was also firing at the time, and I laid my hands on early 7"s by The Hard-Ons, Lime Spiders and the Psychotic Turnbuckles (!!) within its confines when I was but a 14-year-old spud. I also used to buy my issues of B-Side, Maximum Rock & Roll and Flipside at Exposure: he had his fingers on the pulse.

In 1988 or '9 - maybe even later - Frank sold the store to Jason Reynolds, owner/operator of Summershine Records. Jason's taste in music was much more centred on the English/shoegaze/indie-pop side of things, and it was reflected in its range, and hence it became of less interest to me. To regurgitate past rants, I was in absolute contempt of UK indie music back in the day and all its NME/Melody Maker hype-of-the-week BS (and still am!), and by then Au-go-go, who were much more in tune w/ my Yankified taste in post-HC rock of the SST/Homestead/Touch & Go gene pool, became my main focus. Still, you remember the little things: in 1991 I bought Fugazi's Steady Diet Of Nothing at Exposure a week before it was available anywhere else, as Jason had struck some sort of special deal w/ Dischord, and around that period I also purchased from the store two lifelong faves: Unrest's Imperial ffrr and The Scene Is Now's Tonight We Ride (the latter from the bargain bin... and I reissued the damn thing!). I really do have a brilliant memory for the things in life which don't really matter.

In 1993, Jason sold Exposure to work at Shock as a label manager. He'd left by the time I started there in 1995, moving to the US to work at Sub Pop. He sold the store to two gentlemen who were, unfortunately, staggeringly clueless. Their names escape me, but one was roughly 50, whilst the younger one I'd guess to have been in his late 20s. They didn't stand a chance. They'd bought the name, good will and stock from Reynolds and relocated to Swan Street, Richmond, a few kilometres closer to the city. Richmond was all a-buzz at the time, and the store was near the "legendary" (actually, it is) Great Britain Hotel, the focus for rock & roll in Melbourne at the time, but these guys just couldn't get anything right. Not only did they not know that a lot of the stock they'd purchased was essentially "dead", to use the parlance, but they didn't even have their heads around the concept of consignment stock. I knew when they gave me cash up front for my fanzine - as opposed to the consignment model which every other local store frustratingly but wisely insisted on - that they were marked for a short ride. They were. I think they barely lasted 6 months before they closed up shop. That was the end of Exposure. For a lot of folks it seems a distant memory, but I now raise my glass in respect to Exposure Records' critically important role in educating and molding the slightly less socially-challenged individual you are reading this very moment.


Coming soon: Greville Records, Au-Go-Go, Collector's Corner, Missing Link, Gaslight and Relic Records...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Nostalgia for music one was never even into at the time? That's an odd concept, yet certainly not unthinkable. Galaxie 500 are one such example. In this regard, I would peg them alongside the likes of My Bloody Valentine. Not sonically, mind you (though there's definite similarities), though the original time frame that these bands were "hot" - approximately 1989-'91 - my musical head was elsewhere. SST, Die Kreuzen, Wipers, Bored!, Helios Creed, Fugazi - whatever - I was still in the midst of a post-hardcore/SST hangover, and I needed music w/ grit. Galaxie 500 didn't make the grade. Too mannered, maybe too collegiate, and worst of all, they were critics' darlings in Ol' Blighty. Hell, I even thought they were English for a day or two. They were merely from Boston via New York... and attended Harvard ferchrissakes! I'm also a recovering Anglophobe - did I mention that? But all of this isn't to imply that I disliked 'em. Being a Kramerphile, the fact that he - Kramer, that is - happened to produce all of their albums didn't hurt. There's also that kickass version of The Rutles' "Cheese & Onions" on the Shimmy-Disc comp', Rutles Highway Revisited, possibly the best track on that estimable compilation of songs. And "Blue Thunder", the single off their second album, 1989's On Fire, got some heavy rotation on the video-clip TV program, Rage, at the time: and I did indeed like that song a great deal. It's got that warm 'n' fuzzy Kramer production, like everything was wrapped in warm blankets in the studio, and it's even got a bit o' blazing sax c/o Tin Huey's Ralph Carney. The album itself was licensed to Festival down here, so it got a semi-push from all involved (or the best a quasi-major could do down here pre-"alt-rock revolution" when they were probably staffed by clueless incompetents and under the helm of management who likely didn't even know the band existed), but it was all for nought. Galaxie 500's US label, Rough Trade, went under right around the release of their third and last LP, 1990's This Is Our Music, and the band called it quits when singer-guitarist Dean Wareham (an En Zed transplant!) left the group. That left the duo of Damon Krukowski on skins and Naomi Yang on bass and vocals. They went off on their own w/ two members of the great Massechussetts psych outfit, Crystalized Movements, to form Magic Hour, as well as having released a number of stripped back, melodic and often deeply psychedelic records as Damon & Naomi. Dean Wareham went on to form Luna, a band who were kind of a big indie deal down here in the '90s but never budged me an inch. But back to Galaxie 500. I bought their 3 albums on CD about 3 or 4 years ago. Why? The urge just hit me. They were there, they were cheap and something in the back of my mind had me thinking I mighta missed out on something the first time 'round. The conversion is belatedly complete. The band released the three LPs between the years 1988, 1989 and 1990 - Today, On Fire and This Is Our Music - and they're pretty near perfect. As has been said before, whilst the rest of Underground Amerika was trying to be the Stooges, Galaxie 500 eschewed the macho "rock swagger" (it had to be said) that HC had wrought across the land (I'm actually talking "grunge") and created a very ephemeral, dreamy music. You might even take a deep breath and call it feminine. They had more in common w/ the shoegaze set from across the Atlantic (one of the reason I briefly mistook them for Limeys at the time) than Mudhoney, and now that flared tempers have settled, Galaxie 500 are a band I can enjoy w/ aplomb. The three LPs don't really differ from each other much at all. In fact, production techniques aside (the 3rd is slightly less murky), they're fairly interchangeable. The sound is pure Moe Tucker tom/snare tribal beats, Sterling Morrison strum and Wareham's boyish, slightly atonal vocals. Wareham didn't always hit the right notes, but in a Jonathon Richman/Daniel Johnston scheme of things: that hardly matters. The band doesn't work w/ singles, not because there aren't strong individual tracks (the debut, "Tugboat", "Blue Thunder" and their reconfigured cover of Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste" are highlights), but because it's the overall feel of the long-players which weave their magic. As with The Feelies, who were actually a big-league band in my head ca. 1991, Galaxie 500 were most certainly one of the best VU-damaged bands of their day. Listening to their discs 20+ years later is confirmation of that. Their catalogue is in print, easily attainable and I suggest you attain it w/ ease.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Until recently, I had a couple of boxes in the spare room gathering dust. These boxes contained books - "punk books", to be exact. The books are now on a shelf. There's nothing like having a library of punk books at your disposal. This internet thing is pretty handy, but flicking through the pages of an old tome of yore and having flashbacks to the days when not every morsel of information was at your beck and call somehow makes that bit of information that more precious. There was a time when the book known as Hardcore California was perhaps the reference point for all things in regards to early west coast punk rock. Originally published in 1983 by Last Gasp Press, it has, so far as I know, remained in print ever since (it's certainly still in print as I write this). I was given a copy by my parents for Xmas, 1986. They knew damn well I wanted the thing. I'd been eyeballing a copy of it at Minotaur Books (a well-known outlet in Melbourne dealing in "cult culture" [my term, sorry] of many breeds for over three decades), and made it known that the expensive (at the time) coffee-table book was something I not only wanted, but needed.
There were few, if any, other widely available books at the time which documented the crucial early period of west coast punk and new wave. "New wave" still makes me cringe - it makes me think of session musos in skinny ties - so I'd prefer to use the term "new music". As Claude Bessy said: new wave don't mean shit. But if anything, Hardcore California showed that Bessy was right. The book almost entirely ignores the forgotten skinny-tie bands, but instead shows how punk created a diaspora of many differing styles beneath its umbrella. You get neo-rockabilly, goth, power pop, cow-punk, synth-wave, paisley underground, noise and, yes, punk and hardcore, but there is precious little page space wasted on transient new wavers.
Put together by Peter Belsito and Bob Davis, two names who don't often figure in the history books of Californian punk rock, these older art-scene vets (Bob Davis was the sound engineer for Laurie Anderson), despite their pedigree as art-scene vets, somehow manage to get it right: the energy, the music, the ideas, the personalities. Consisting mainly of high-quality photos by the likes of Glen E. Friedman, Ed Colver and F-Stop Fitzgerald, as well as album cover and flyer reproductions, all put together with brief descriptions of the bands, scenesters, burn-outs, desperados and legends which made up the two main scenes - the book is divided into Los Angeles and San Francisco - the combination of texts and images is near-faultless. What are the faults? I've been flicking through it the last 45 minutes, and I can't seem to pick any obvious ones.
 The book gives you a clear indication of the unique musical flavours of both cities: the post-glam meeting point called the Masque, the centrepiece of LA's musical renaissance in the late '70s; the birth of Slash and Flipside; the onslaught of suburban hardcore as Black Flag, the Adolescents and the Circle Jerks' fan base left its city confines and the musical fallout that followed: everything from Redd Kross to 45 Grave to the Dream Syndicate and the Gun Club and the Blasters to the embryonic Bangles. And that's (obviously) just LA. San Fran always struck me as slightly older, art-damaged and drug-affected. There was a heavy dose of all three elements in LA, too, but San Fran's music always appeared to be more self-conscious, a description which doesn't lessen the greatness of its main protagonists: Residents, Avengers, Sleepers, Crime, Flipper, Dead Kennedys, Chrome, the Target Video gang (an important piece of the puzzle in the VHS/Beta/pre-internet days), Survival Research Labratories, Search & Destroy-RE/Search, et al. The SF HC scene started slipping by '83, as imitators like Bad Posture and Code Of Honour started making a dent, but thus ends Hardcore California.
At a time when the punk rock scenes of New York and London were considered almost exclusive owners of the punk copyright, Hardcore California laid out a map to a state's music scene which was not only much better than either city's contributions to "the new music", but one which encapsulated the suburban, bourgeois alienation I felt as a teen (*sniff*). The preface states the case: "This is a book about people who did it themselves. Kids who established their own sub-culture and created a recognisable style and musical sound to identify it... They took what they needed from these previous movements and drew momentum from their contemporaries in New York and England. But, the Californian hybrid takes youth's traditional stance of defiance into the eighties with a renewed sense of desperation." If you don't already have it, you need it.
PS - my copy of We Got Power: Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980s Southern California is in the mail.