Monday, November 26, 2012

1980s MELBOURNE RECORD SHOP RUNDOWN, PART 1...

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.

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

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