Oh, hello, how are you? It's Xmas time 'round these parts, or near enough, as it almost certainly is in your 'hood, too, which means complete madness until approx. the 26th of December. You waiting for another update on Melbourne stores from the '80s/'90s? Me, too, but it hasn't happened yet. The main three are there below for you to peruse; the remaining entries, featuring stores such as Greville, Relic, Gaslight and Collector's Corner, won't be quite as extensive (or possibly quite as interesting), but I will complete them at some point in the near future. End-of-year lists? I used to be a beast for such self-indulgences and sundry list-making, but frankly, they really don't interest me anymore. I couldn't care less what others rank as the great releases of 2012, so do you care what I think? Thought not. I really liked a buncha things which came out this year - yes, living, breathing NEW RELEASES by folks such as Blank Realm, Swans, Actress, William Parker, et al - but you can read about 'em elsewhere.
One thing I'd recommend you watch is this hour-long video footage of Black Flag playing in Philadelphia on the 4th of June, 1982. It's the 5-piece line-up w/ Emil on drums and it damn near knocked my head off... and I wasn't even there! The ferocity of the performance makes its way onto the small screen and makes for pretty goddamn essential viewing. The way the band, at this point, was musically bordering the spheres of animalistic hardcore grunt and sweaty, slo-mo doom-sludge was pretty magic. I find it almost impossible to watch more than 5 minutes of live footage from just about anyone at this point in history, so destroyed is my attention span from the allures of Youtube, but I watched the whole thing in one go: a personal record. You should do the same.
Speaking of SST - we were speaking of SST, weren't we? - you may care to go to this link and listen to the dulcet tones of yours truly wax lyrical on the label and play some fave tunes for your enjoyment. You get Black Flag, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Saccharine Trust, Opal, Pell Mell, fIREHOSE, Slovenly, Saint Vitus and not a peep from Zoogz Rift and Paper Bag. I was invited onto my buddy Woody McDonald's radio show, Primary Colours, on 3RRR last Monday to pay tribute to the finest musical imprint of all time, and that I did. I think I went OK, even though, listening back, I explained to the world that Charlie Haden's son was curiously also named Charlie Haden, when in fact I meant to say Josh Haden. Got me? I blame it on nerves. Skip to the 40-minute mark of the show if you only want to hear the SST segment, enjoy, and I'll be back again soon.
Sunday, December 09, 2012
1980s/'90s MELBOURNE RECORD SHOP RUNDOWN, PART 3...For moi, there was the Holy Trinity of record stores in Melbourne during my formative years; I've already covered the first two, and that leaves Missing Link (ML). ML has a curious history, and I have an equally curious history w/ the store: I worked there on and off throughout 1999-2001 - interrupted by overseas travel and an 8-month stint of gainful & painful employment at Borders - but I shall discuss that later. For now, let's talk of the history of the shop itself.
Missing Link began life in 1971 as Archie & Jughead's, founded by Dave Pepperell and Keith Glass, as one of the first, perhaps thee first, independent music shop in Melbourne dedicated to hard-to-find imports. A bit of history is required here, and two things to consider: at the time, the Australian music biz suffered from culturally-crippling parallel importing laws. That is, if a distributor or label had the local copyright on a release, or an exclusive distribution right to it, then it was an illegal act to import it of your own accord within a certain time frame after its release. I'm a firm believer in copyright and exclusivity laws, but I'm also a believer in getting records in time (even though, working in "the biz", I know that's not often what happens). So, let's say that label "X"'s parent company in the US has just released the latest Frank Zappa record in 1971 and you wish to procure copies for your store in Melbourne (or anywhere else in the land). You have to wait for the local branch of that company to either license it locally or distribute imported copies before you can sell it. Sounds simple. What's the problem? Don't these local labels/distributors wanna make a buck and get it here pronto? You'd think so, but Australia's music scene was dominated and controlled by the kind of archaic fuddy-duddies whose taste in music likely took a screeching halt at Mantovani. Combine that with incompetence and the kind of foot-dragging mentality major record companies have personified for most of their existence, and you have consumers waiting months to hear a local edition of something even as bleedingly obvious as Exile On Main Street.
For more exotic delights of the era - whether it was the Grateful Dead, Miles Davis or the Kinks - the wait could be even longer. Major-label oddities like Moby Grape and Love, you'd probably wait a dog's age for the local company to get their shit together. As for the even more exotic items of the day, such as free jazz, krautrock and "avant-garde" music of many stripes, the release might never get any distribution, and if so, it would be through a back-shed indie whose fill rate and ordering consistency may be questionable. Regarding Europeans curios, particulary of the avant-prog variety, there was also the legendary "Daniel", an Austrian emigre with highly questionable social/political views (I won't go into here in fear of a libel suit), who ran a stall in a downstairs market on Swanson street at the time and sold such items for the "heads", but more on him later.
I did say there were two things to consider, so I'll quickly mention the second: in an interview I heard on the radio last year w/ Pepperell, he was saying that the standard procedure for record stores back in the day was to register the store, open an account w/ all the local record companies and they would decide what to stock in the store. You had "X" amount of money to spend, and they would nominate the releases they would sell to you. If that business practice strikes you as fairly absurd and fascistic, you may be correct. And thus there came to be Archie & Jughead's...
Both Glass and Pepperell deserve their own entries: there is simply too much to say in a brief spiel as this (and one which isn't even supposed to be about them). Keith Glass has his own Wikipedia entry, and you can browse it here. Suffice to say, as an actor (in Hair!), singer, producer, DJ, label and retail owner, his CV spreads far and wide. I've never actually met him (he's lived in the US for a number of years), although I'm friends with his daughter, Daisy, but Pepperell is a different story. He's a larger than life motormouth who, similarly, has done a lot since he sold the store 30-odd years ago, as a journalist and music retail manager, and I'll certainly never forget his visit to Missing Link on the shop's 30th anniversary in 2001. For an hour, he regalled us w/ stories of the first few years of the store. In short, from the first day it opened, they knew they were onto a good thing: there were hundreds, maybe thousands of music-starved freaks who needed an outlet like Archie & Jugheads in their lives. The music trucked out the door. How did they evade prosecution? That's something you best ask them. I'm not sure as to whether they did at some stage, but the store kept on going regardless.
In 1977, with punk the new thing in town, the store changed its name to Missing Link, and accordingly changed its focus to the emerging local punk boom and the glut (a good glut, mind you) of overseas punk and indie records being released. In 1978, the Missing Link the label was started and would release significant discs by the Go-Betweens, Birthday Party and Laughing Clowns, as well as license popular titles by the Flying Lizards (who went top 20 with "Money"), Dead Kennedys (who also hit the charts w/ several releases) and the Residents. In the early '80s, the shop was sold to Nigel Rennard (who also owned Greville Records at the time and toured the Dead Kennedys in 1983) and I guess that's where I should really begin...
I first went to the store in 1985. At that stage it was located in Port Phillip arcade just off Flinders Lane in the city. Once again, I went there to buy a Sex Pistols record. I'm not sure how I knew of the store's existence - I don't recall them advertising in print or radio - but somehow I stumbled upon it and, along w/ Exposure Records, it appeared to me as a mecca of strangeness. There were racks upon racks of records by bands I'd never heard of, and two scary-looking people behind the counter. The two in question were Debbie "Dinosaur" Nettlelingham (who had a popular show on 3RRR) and Steve "Pig" Morgan (he later being at Au-go-go and Greville: you'll notice his name popping up a bit). I walked up to the counter in my school uniform w/ a copy of "God Save The Queen" (it was all I could afford), exchanged goods and money and was, at the end of the transaction, delivered the line from Debbie, "There ya go, tough guy". I heard Steve laugh in the background. Certain memories from your youth stand out, and that slightly humiliating experience is one of them. Frank at Exposure was always a perfect gentleman; ML introduced me to the world of snotty indie-store retail workers. You're gonna miss them when they're gone.
I went there a few more times to pick up similar items over the next 6 months, though some time around late 1985 or early '86 it moved up the road (a mere 30 metres or so on Flinders Lane), and for the life of me, I couldn't find it. It wasn't until late 1986 that I rediscovered it and bought items such as Damaged and the Dead Kennedys' Bedtime For Democracy (the week of release: a big deal for a 14-year-old putz). By 1987, my musical interests had outgrown strictly hardcore, and ML was a good outlet for the cool and obnoxious scuzz-rock being released: Sonic Youth's Sister and the Butthole Surfers' Locust Abortion Technician, both licensed locally by Au-go-go, but two records I purchased from ML, for whatever reason. Steve Morgan's musical obsessions at the time were in the Swans/Buttholes/Sonic Youth camp, as well as an On-U Sound/dub fixation, and the store reflected it. When I bought Sister I got the response, "Album of the year, mate, album of the year". It's that type of thrilling dialogue at an impressionable age which sticks in your craw.
From now on, things get a little murky. I was saying this to my friend Edgar Lee just the other day, a gentleman who worked (mostly part-time: he has a long and illustrious career in the public service) in the store from 1984 until it shut a couple of years ago: I don't recall visiting the shop a whole lot between the years 1988-1990. Steve moved to Au-go-go in 1988, a store which became much more of a reflection of my musical interests, and for me ML seemed, well, a bit bloody passe. I was likely wrong in my assessment of it, but its HC/punk focus, or at least that's how I saw it, seemed out of step w/ the good things which were happening in the here and now, which was primarily focussed on labels like SST, Homestead, Sub Pop, Touch & Go and Dischord. ML probably stocked all that stuff, too, but for me Au-go-go was the shop w/ an impeccable range of goodies and its competition was laid to waste.
One important relationship which ML had for a number of years throughout the late '80s/'early '90s was w/ its employee, Karen Leng. Karen had already been on TV as a "reporter" on the youth-oriented Saturday-morning music/culture show, The Factory, on ABC (which actually wasn't that bad: you can see GOD performing live on The Factory here), but she also had a 3RRR radio show on Friday mornings called Station To Station, which specialised in American independent music. Most of the new releases were borrowed from ML, and she advertised it as such. I would often have art class on a Friday morning, and if possible I would take control of the stereo in the classroom and listen to as much of the program as I could. It seems strange, in hindsight, that I was ever allowed to do such a thing, or that my teacher and classmates tolerated the racket emmitting from the speakers, but I recall doing such a thing quite a few times w/out being hounded from the class like a heretic. Sometimes, I'd even get my mum to tape the show for me, bless her. Station To Station was a revelation: every week I'd hear new platters by Fugazi, Wipers, Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr., Swans, Slint, Laughing Hyenas, Bongwater, Killdozer, et-fucking-cetera. Where can you buy these records? Missing Link. And where did I go? Well, half the time, probably Au-go-go, but I certainly appreciated the education.
Martin Lewis started managing the store around 1990, and by 1991 the shop had started to change again. The previous year, Edgar had managed it and put a strong focus on hip-hop. Seems like a strange choice, but I guess one must hark back to the days when hip-hop (it'll always be "rap music" to me) was considered an incredibly exciting musical prospect by white music nerds. I recently had to tell him that that was possibly why I hardly walked through its doors that year. Ha! Sorry, Eddie. Scott Harper, local nice guy/crust-grind king who played in bands, ran a label, booked shows, etc. was also working there by '91, and the shop started to partly focus on the emerging (or fully emerged) grind scene centred on the Earache/Napalm Death family tree. I liked some of that stuff at the time, but not enough to purchase any of it outside of a couple of Godflesh discs. At the least, you could sense the store had a focus: with Edgar working there and co-running the Dr. Jim's label (home of hot bands of the day such as Peril, Dumb & the Ugly, Slub, etc., as well as the ever-popular Christbait and Blood Duster), there was a knowledge that if it was really noisy, fast and weird, ML would probably have it. Also, the store was hep to a lot of Shimmy Disc and K Records items (both of which I dug a whole lot ca. 1991-1992), stocked the likes of Maximum Rock & Roll and Flipside like clockwork, and I was still in there more often than most psychiatrists would deem healthy. In a very real sense, it had a perfect symbiotic relationship w/ Au-go-go, w/ neither of them crossing over too much.
For a few years, it also had Extreme Aggression almost directly across the road, a store owned by the notorious "Daniel" I mentioned earlier in the piece, which was dedicated to grind/death metal. He had previously operated Pipe Imports as a record store in a small arcade about 30 metres from ML for, so far as I know, 15 years or more. In the '70s it was all kraut/punk/industrial music, but as the '80s progressed he went from HC to thrash/speed/death metal and then onto grind and eventually black metal. Pipe was tiny - roughly the size of a small kitchen - but it had an interesting mix. Whilst as a teen I had no interest in the Kreator picture discs he'd hang on the wall, the SPK and Throbbing Gristle albums he'd stock intrigued me. Daniel also owned and operated the distribution service known as Modern Invasion, who were distributing Earache and other such labels at the time. Considering how big that scene was here at the dawn of the '90s, one would assume he'd make a killing, but the store shut down (jogging my memory) within a couple of years and he went back to full-time wholesale.
That brings us to 1993, the supposed cut-off point for this series. Not here... Early that year, I dropped off copies of the first issue of Year Zero to ML. To be honest, I wrote a lot of it when I was drunk and I didn't expect anyone to buy it, let alone read it, but was surprised when I went back a week later to see that the half-a-dozen copies I'd left the previous week had apparently all sold. I enquired at the counter about sales, and Martin raised his eyebrows and said, So you're the guy who does Year Zero? He knew me as a regular customer, but not by name. I was kind of taken back by his response, fearing that maybe he wanted to punch me out for something I'd written (I suspected that, if people actually read it, it might upset some people from the local music scene), but then he just smiled and said that it had caused some interesting discussions in the shop and that he really liked it and wanted more to sell. Huh. That perked me up until the shit hit the fan a few weeks later and I started having my name dragged through the mud by some street-press columnists and fanzines (notably Mailman: a zine which seems to've been solely published to tell me to eat shit). Really, this is all old news and probably not interesting to anyone but my own self-obsessed self, but it happened, by golly, it happened. When I came back a month or so later to check on sales, Martin chatted to me at the counter, telling me that all the people calling me a jackass were useless and that I stuck my neck out for something which needed to be said. When I felt like I was being abused from all sides, I needed to hear that. From that point on, perhaps in a juvenile way, I considered ML as an ally of sorts, and a good place to hang out. Is this all getting too weird? Thought so.
The '90s trotted on as years do... and suddenly it was 1999. In January of that year, I was hanging out w/ Edgar and Martin at a pub, seeing some band, and Martin told me that there was a vacancy for part-time work on the weekends at Missing Link. He then asked if I was interested. I was working full-time as it was, but was keen on giving it a shot, if only to put it down as workplace experience I could put in my CV, and I figured it'd be fun and the extra cash wouldn't hurt. We were all pretty drunk that night, but I recall Martin pulling me aside and giving me "the speech". It went a little like this: Dave, Missing Link is an iconic store. To work in such a shop is a privileged position. Every second kid who walks in the shop wants to work there, but you got it. You can now be a gatekeeper, a tastemaker, you can change lives, maaan!! Now that's only a paraphrase and perhaps an exaggeration for effect, but the basic point was made: working at Missing Link wasn't to be taken lightly. Laugh now, but before the internet started wiping out indie record stores like the plague, it did mean something special. And I never abused that privilege: I was one polite motherfucker, courteous to the pleasant and moronic alike.
I worked there alternate weekends for about 3 months, then went to the US for about a similar period and then came back to no job. I asked Martin about work. He told me a co-worker had gone overseas for a couple of months and I could fill in the hours. All went well, working usually 4 days a week, until the co-worker came back from overseas and I was cut back to approximately a day or two a week. I needed full-time work, Borders offered it, and there I was for 8 long, long months. After 8 months working there, I'd been brought to the brink of insanity, and I happened to be in Missing Link on a day off work, slightly intoxicated after having seen a midday session of The Filth & The Fury at the Kino cinema (yes, as in literally intoxicated. This period is the genesis of what some friends cruelly refer to as my "Charlie Sheen years"). Dianne Rennard, the store's co-owner (Nigel's sister), asked me how things were at Borders. I told her the truth: it was awful. She told me Martin had just resigned to work in the IT field and that if I wanted to work back there full-time, a job was available. I took it, resigned from Borders the next day and started back at ML in a fortnight's time.
Working in the store just over a decade ago was certainly a different time for music retail. I saw the daily figures and Missing Link was doing very well indeed. The biggest weekly hurdle was the phenomenal rent (even for that shoebox), but not only were times good, they were consistently good. Retail these days is up and down like a yo-yo - you can have a disastrous Saturday for seemingly no good reason, and then make a killing on a traditionally dud day like a Tuesday - but back then, each day could be predicted like it was a science: Monday was busy because everyone was back at work or uni/school and felt like beating the blues with a purchase; Tuesday was the quietest, a day which meant nothing to most, as if they were holding off until mid week; Wednesday was busy as people came into the store to pick up the street press and often bought something whilst they were in there; on Thursday, people were getting ready for the weekend and felt like procuring goodies to treat themselves; Friday, people would buy stuff to play on the weekend; Saturday was always full of cashed-up school kids and people from out of town (especially a Geelong HC posse who'd buy up big every week) and you were usually run off your feet; and on Sunday, the store was only open from 12-5, and people would make enough of the abbreviated time to make it worth your while being open. That was the pattern week in, week out, and it rarely deviated. And as a sidenote, please remember that ca. 1999-2001, the Australian dollar was bordering on becoming a Third World currency: it hovered around the 50-cent (US) mark for that entire time, making some of the store's wares very expensive. At one particularly dire stage, when the dollar was at around 46 cents, there were a lot of $35-40 CDs in the shop, with even a number of single-CD imports going for $45 and above. And ya know what? They sold.
I had a fun time there, met lots of nice folks, many of which I'm still friends with today, and even felt a sense of pride in curating a shit-hot range of avant-jazz titles the shop stocked (and sold!), but by September 2001 I was bored and felt some sort of imminent, premature midlife crisis on the horizon: I can't be turning 30 next January whilst working in a punk rock music store. In hindsight that sense of panic seems completely ridiculous; after all, why not spend your whole damn life working in a punk rock music store?, but I wanted out and did exactly that.
In 2003 or '4, ML was moved to a big basement premises on Bourke Street, as it had been making a killing from the "punk boom" of the tough-guy HC/Epitaph/pop-punk/emo vein (none of which thrilled many of the employees, but when we were riding its coat tails and it was keeping the store nicely afloat, we weren't ones to judge) and needed a bigger space. I always loved the cramped, dark atmosphere of the old Flinders Lane address, and never really cosied to the Bourke Street store. Too big, too bright; for me, it lacked a certain warmth. Things were pretty hot there at ML for a few years onwards as they had the right staff who could focus strong sales on certain titles the store would get behind and push, and there was still a nice gap they could fill, musically speaking, for genres and styles of music which weren't being covered well elsewhere (stoner/doom, grind, noise, contemporary HC, etc.). Scotti from Au-go-go had moved there in 2002 and kickstarted its mailorder business into a serious proposition, and it felt like there was a strong scene surrounding the store which drew customers into its web. Everyone who worked there - and boy, for a year or two there were a lot of them: too many, in my opinion - was involved in bands, labels or zines in some way. There was a sense of reciprocation w/ its customers: you help us out and we'll support what you're doing. There were also some righteous instore performances during this period, such as US punkers Rambo and Eddy Current Suppression Ring. ML the label was even reignited, releasing some good and not-so-good punk/noise/grind discs. Later on, it got to the point of self-indulgence: the counter would be full of CDs, records, tapes and fanzines on display, nearly all of them promoting something a staff member was involved in. At the risk of rubbing a few old friends the wrong way, I don't think that sends the right message to customers, bordering on a cliqueish mentality.
And there begat the strength of the internet and everything went tits up. It was fun while it lasted. Again, I could point fingers and hypothesise about what went wrong, but I won't do it in this public forum. In the late '00s, Collector's Corner came to share retail space with ML - literally - as an attempt by both stores to combine their talents and halve the crippling rent. In a fairly short time, ML started really struggling for various reasons, and Nigel basically closed up shop for his side of the business late last year. Collector's Corner still retains the ML moniker and remains an impressive shop dealing mainly in vinyl for all strains of sound (although they've lost a lot of their local garage/punk market to others, I'd hazard a guess) - it's semi-officially [who knows?!] known as Collector's Corner-Missing Link - but in reality, Missing Link doesn't really exist anymore. You still reading this? Good. The end.
Monday, December 03, 2012
1980s/'90s MELBOURNE RECORD SHOP RUNDOWN, PART 2...For myself, and probably for many others, there was no greater record store in the land circa the late '80s/early '90s than Au-Go-Go. I first discovered the store in 1987, soon after it opened in its first location at the end of a dingy-looking arcade (actually, more of a hallway, as there was nothing else down there) in Little Collins Street in the city. It was like a hidden treasure chest. There was no store frontage, and was tucked away to a point where you had to know it was there. You wouldn't just stumble upon it. Again, it was a daunting experience: the shop was pretty small (although I'm told that the back area was quite large, housing stock for distribution/export), was cluttered with vinyl both on the racks and on the floor, workers were in and out all the time and everyone seemed so busy and, uh, important. Wow, there's Leapin' Larry L, 3RRR "comic celebrity", behind the counter! At the time, Dave "Dog Meat" Laing and Max Crawdaddy (another well-known 3RRR dude) were working there - and I knew who they were - although I didn't know what they looked like. It was a hive of activity, enough to do a shy and retiring 15-year-old music nerd's head in, truth be told, but luckily the first employee I encountered and engaged with was Bevan Roberts, a New Zealand emigre and serious collector who'd landed a job there after a brief career as a civil engineer. Bevan is still a good friend, a complete music maniac and renaissance man who went on to co-run the Death Valley and Afterburn labels with Scotti (more on him later), manage Polyester Records and Sister Ray in Fitzroy, then had a number of years back at Greville before starting up Dragonfly Discs in the city with Matty Whittle (ex-GOD and former Au-Go-Go employee), a budget-oriented outlet which closed a couple of years back. But I'm getting ahead of myself here...
Au-go-go, as you may know, started off life as a record label in the post-punk era, notably releasing records by the Scientists and the Moodists, among many others. Bruce Milne and Philip Morland were the originators, although Morland left in the early '80s and (perhaps wisely) exited the music biz. Coincidentally, Philip had his own office for his filing business next to mine in 2004 when I was renting a small storage space as a place of work, and we became friends the moment music was brought up and he told me his history. Philip: one day, when we meet again, I will give you back your Essendon Airport LP and fanzines you leant me. Au-go-go branched out into distribution, mailorder and export, and by 1987 the time was right for Au-go-go the store.
In 1988, the shop moved to bigger premises, a two-story building not far away on Little Bourke Street which became a goddamn mecca for music junkies. I'm told the building used to house a gun shop. Upstairs was secondhand and collectibles, and downstairs was new stock, t-shirts, fanzines, etc. By then, the label had had a major indie hit w/ GOD's "My Pal", licensed happenin' titles by Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers and Big Black and would soon go onto sell a bucketload of Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr. LPs (and later on it would do very well w/ the Meanies, Magic Dirt, Spiderbait, Jon Spencer, et al). "Grunge" and its associated brethren (the SST/Touch & Go crowd) was a strong focus of the store, as well as the hot domestic music of the day (Hard-Ons, Bored!, feedtime, King Snake Roost, the kinda stuff covered in B-Side, etc.)... or maybe they were just my focus. Like their "sister" store in Sydney, Waterfront Records, Au-go-go had its finger firmly on the pulse of the best underground rock & roll of the era, but Au-go-go was also eclectic and likely covered a lot of good music I was completely oblivious to at the time.
Without pissing in anyone's pocket, for me, what set the store apart was the quality of the staff: lifers such as Bevan (a guy who'd always note what I was buying and make recommendations of other discs I'd dig); Irish transplant Dom Molumby (Australia's biggest VU devotee, bar none, and so much more besides); resident comedian, ex-Missing Linker and future Greville employee Steve "Pig" Morgan, who was also managing Ollie Olsen's No at the time and was known for photographing every second gig in town; Glenn Terry, who went on to found the hardcore-collector-oriented Vicious Sloth outlet 20-odd years ago; Scotti Campbell (commonly known at the time as "Scotti from Au-go-go" or "Scotti from Resistant Harmony", as no one ever knew his surname: the guy is a goddamn saint, always encouraging me in my pursuits, collaborating on projects and basically being the kind of selfless, committed mofo the world needs more of); and later, people such as ex-Perth vet, Pat Monaghan (ex-Dada dude who's been at Basement Discs the past decade); Synaesthesia avant-monkey/demi-god, Mark Harwood, who flew the flag in the upstairs secondhand dept. for a while; Richie Ramone (future Tote co-owner, along w/ Bruce Milne, and now proud owner of Homeless Records); Matty Whittle, who ran the mailorder division for years; Tom Larnach-Jones (Trifekta Records label), an old Shock workmate of mine who worked there in the late '90s... but again, I'm going outside of my allotted time frame of 1985-'93.
Purchases? I had but many. I recall acquiring mind-benders such as Double Nickels On The Dime, the Meat Puppets' first 3 LPs, Milo Goes To College, Thug, Badgwearer, Half Japanese, Swans, Wipers, Die Kreuzen, Twin Infinitives, My Dad Is Dead, Pere Ubu, Naked City, Chrome and many others from Au-go-go. Forced Exposure? My first exposure was via Au-go-go. There's one piece of the puzzle I haven't mentioned yet: there was actually an Au-go-go store in Geelong in the early '80s (a seaside regional city 50 km from Melbourne, if your grasp of Victorian geography is lacking), I'm told, though I never visited them, and from (and I'm jogging my memory here) roughly 1990-'92 there was a second Au-go-go outlet, situated in Malvern. Malvern is an unbelievably dull, very wealthy suburb in the inner eastern suburbs, a place of lush trees, large mansions and wide streets where absolutely nothing ever happens. I'm still not sure why Bruce and co. (he was running the biz w/ his partner, Greta Moon, at the time) decided that opening such a store in a squaresville burg like Malvern was a bright idea, but it obviously wasn't. Hey, I didn't mind it being there - it was relatively easy for me to pass through on the way home from uni or work, and if I was mooching a ride off someone, it was much cheaper and easier than trying to find a park in the city - but the good people of Malvern just didn't understand. I recall talking to an employee at the time, and they said their biggest problem was the inordinate number of people walking through the door looking for John Farnham CDs. Au-go-go just wasn't the store for them. I still recall - like I said last time: I have an amazing memory for the things in life which don't really matter - buying Die Kreuzen's Century Days there in mid 1990 and Chrome's Half Machine Lip Moves/Alien Soundtracks CD a couple of months later - so even if the store could be considered a failure from a financial/cultural point of view, it did provide some crucially important services to yours truly.
Now that I'm almost grown up, have a real job, a mortgage and a family, I rarely frequent record stores. I simply don't have the time, and I learnt very early on that there's nothing kids find more boring than accompanying a parent whilst they shop for something they're totally not interested in. It drives them nuts, and when they're driven nuts, it's contagious. But certainly back in the pre-'net world (and likely still now: I don't mean to imply that this relationship doesn't still exist today for many) visiting fave record stores was a goddamn primary focus of one's life. I visited Au-go-go weekly for many years. During the summer of 1991 I worked a temp job in the accounts department of a life insurance company for extra cash over the break. The money was great, the work sucked. Visiting Au-go-go every day at lunchtime, as it was just a block from the office, gave me a sense of liberation from the zombified atmosphere of my dunderhead work colleagues, and coincidentally, I blew a small fortune in the store that season. Why didn't I just ask someone there about a job? Because I was a schmuck.
One thing which has changed in the past 20 years of independent record stores is their ability, if the release in question is right up their alley, to sell vast quantities of key releases. It's not out of the question that an indie music outlet can still sell decent quantities of certain titles, but when the bricks & mortar store was the only outlet one could procure much-desired releases from, a shop could sell hundreds of copies of the hits of the day. Mudhoney, The Hard-Ons, Bored!: these kinds of bands trucked out the door in the hundreds. Suicidal Tendencies' Join The Army, not so much so. When it was released in 1987 there was much anticipation upon its release - hell, I loved the first album and I wanted to hear it - so Bruce specially ordered 200 copies from Virgin at a good price, expecting to race through them in no time. Thing is, the consensus on the album was that it sucked (and did it ever), and Au-go-go was stuck with a mountain of the thing, stinking up its bargain bin like a pair of dirty socks for a long time thereafter. You win some, you lose some. In mid 1992, the store suddenly had a few racks full of imports going cheap, and it was a bounty. I was informed that a store in Canada had gone under and Bruce had bought the stock. Yo La Tengo, My Dad Is Dead, The Scene Is Now, Mofungo, even the original pressing of Simply Saucer's Cyborgs Revisited: all brand new and all going out the door at dirt-cheap prices. Out came the vultures...
There were also the live instore performances to consider. I'd like to consider them, except, to be honest, I can't recall that many memorable ones. The problem with instores, I've found as both a consumer and someone who's been behind the counter, is that, whilst it may happen to bring in many people to the store (or at least hopefully it will) - people who may or may not purchase something whilst they're there - it can also halt trade whilst the instore performance is taking place. Case in point being when the Geelong Fugazi-worshippers, Food, played there in, what, 1993 or so? They had a disc on the Au-go-go label, so there's certainly no reason why they shouldn't have played there, but I didn't wanna see them. I just wanted to buy some records and, err, probably the latest issue of Maximum Rock & Roll. But I couldn't because the employees had placed sheets over all the racks to prevent theft. I wound up leaving, going down the road and buying something at Missing Link instead. The point of this story? There is none, none at all.
The store and label haven't existed for nearly a decade. Bruce Milne sold his half of the business in the late '90s and it was subsequently owned solely by Greta Moon: soon thereafter, things started sliding. It's not up to me to say who did what wrong, but I can only assume that, at least financially, it wasn't getting the love it needed. During the late '90s, Missing Link, which was just down the road, was booming by having rode the wave of the "punk revival" and being the sole focus of the hardcore scene, but Au-go-go was stumbling badly, not having the available funds to get new releases on time or at all, and a vicious cycle like that is a hard one to recover from. In its last few years it moved down the laneway to the second floor of a building, and its loss of street-level space only made matters worse. Its last few years were a pretty depressing experience for all involved, and I visited it infrequently, knowing that, the occasional secondhand acquisition aside, I wasn't likely to find it much different from the past half-dozen times I'd passed through its door. When Scotti left in 2002 to work at Missing Link, I knew it was all over. He'd been there since 1988, and wouldn't leave if he hadn't seen the writing clearly on the wall.
As early as 2003, downloading and other factors started to affect music retailers, and compounded with their other financial problems, the store couldn't go any further and called it a day. At the risk of sounding callous, or even mean, I'm not being dishonest when I say that few people mourned the passing of the store when it finally shut. Or maybe it was just me who didn't mourn its passing. It'd been running on empty for a few years and it was almost like a dying horse whom you were glad to see put out of its misery. Not the best way to go, but the music business is one of the cruelest businesses of them all. Greta is, I'm told by several people, actually training to be a neuropsychiatrist these days, and is still involved in the wine business - one of the most unexpected and successful mid-life career changes I've ever heard of - Bruce still has his fingers in several pies and deals in rare and secondhand records and other ex-staffers seem to be doing OK. Somebody forgot to ever take down their web site (it hasn't been updated since it shut!), and you can relive the memories right here.