Last Thursday I spun records at State Park in Cambridge – and the night saw me spinning an eclectic mix of deep soul, funk, hip hop, and indie. This all vinyl set is over four hours long with 70+ tracks and is now available via mixcloud. Let it guide you into your week.
Late last year I was able to spend a couple of weeks in London. As I’ve stated in the past, shopping for vinyl in Europe is a dream, an expensive dream albeit, but a dream none-the-less. Every shop you enter is stacked with non-American releases (everything’s an import) and the selection’s vastly different than what you’re used to in the States.
With some modest research my friend Kevin and I made our way to Rough Trade West, which is located in Notting Hill, and let the streets lead us around a non-lazy afternoon that found the wax to be plentiful, the pints proper, and conversation delightful.
Portobello Road Market
As we got off the Tube and started walking towards Rough Trade we were greeted – totally by luck – with the Saturday Portobello Road Market, a closed off street filled with throngs of tourists, hustlers, and locals. There were bazaar’s, pubs, and shops lining the streets with open air vendor’s selling everything from food, clothes, antiques, and yes….records.
The prices varied here, but I was able to pick up and barter for a killer copy of I-Roy’s 1973 UK press of Hell And Sorrow as well as an original 1977 Italian first press of Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols – records and pressings you just don’t run across in the States. A main goal heading into London was to get as much reggae as I could. Outside of Jamaica, and maybe even more so – there’s no better place to get reggae on vinyl than the UK. Punk, Indie, and Garage were also on my list – so before we even hit Rough Trade I was off to a great start. I’ll say records were priced a little high on the street until you got further down the road and past the food vendors – where the true locals were selling. Some of the vendors were pretty crass, and to be frank, total assholes (particularly one dude I tried to buy a Hawkwind record from, first & only time I’ve been called a “wanker”) – but other vendor’s were friendly & willing to come down from their tourist high prices if they sniffed out you were a true collector.
Rough Trade West
After traipsing down Portobello we finally got to Rough Trade West, and I have to say, I was disappointed upon entering. The smallish room was jammed with new records and when traveling internationally I’m strictly on the used record tip. Thankfully I noticed there was an equally sized downstairs filled exclusively with used records. Crisis averted.
I dove right into the reggae section which was bigger than most back in the States, but not necessarily huge. The Indie, Rock, and Garage sections had the more impressive selections. The prices weren’t cheap, but the vibe in the basement was good. The lady behind the counter recognized I was wearing a Bleecker Street Records T-Shirt and we immediately started talking record nerd with each other. Upon hearing I was from Cambridge, MA she informed me that her Husband incessantly wears a T-Shirt they got some 20 years ago when visiting the States from In Your Ear Records, one of my home turf stores. This was my favorite part of Rough Trade, swapping stories of past digs with this lady behind the counter. It’s akin to fisherman telling big fish stories, and as we wrapped up she pushed us on our way further down Portobello to Honest Jon’s, after we (of course) stopped for a proper pint.
Honest Jon’s is a quaint shop located towards the end of the Portobello Market that features music of different genres from across the globe. I discovered that Honest Jon’s is also a Record Label of the same name which happens to be co-run by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) – not bad pedigree for a record shop/label. This is where I began to quench my thirst for reggae, as I picked up a Delroy Wilson LP as well as a Studio One Sales Sampler from 1979. Prices were reasonable and I was very thankful to pick up a “London Is The Place For Me” record directly from the source. These excellent complications are put out by Honest Jon’s and feature music composed by Caribbean immigrants in a variety of styles – Calypso, Jazz, Mento, and Highlife – all composed and often centered around London life – absolutely killer comps. After leaving Honest Jon’s we had another pint and meandered off the Portobello path in & got further lost in the Notting Hill afternoon.
As we explored the streets we tripped into, by either destiny or luck, Sarm West Studios – a world renown studio which was created by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. Sarm has recorded the likes of Led Zeppelin, Queen, & Rolling Stones – all British Rock Royalty. We went inside and chatted with the friendly fellah behind the desk and he informed us that Bob Marley not only recorded there, but lived in the Studio for about a year – which is no coincidence as we were entering what appeared to be the Jamaican section of Notting Hill. Still thirsting for reggae I asked if he knew of any good shops – he smiled slyly, and directed us to People’s Sound – which was only two blocks away – safe to say – I was about to get all I could drink.
I walked into People’s Sound to find no one behind the counter and a copious amount of incense floating in the air – however, as I 360’d around the small shop I realized I was 100% surrounded by Reggae, Dub, and Dancehall records – my prayers had been answered. A red eyed Rasta eventually came out to see my shaggy haired stupid grinned face and we were off from there.
I handed him my reggae 45 wantlist – which he was impressed with, but the only one he found in the bowels of the shop was Max Romeo – It Sipple Out Deh, which I was 100% fine with, because I was about to be exposed to a hell of a lot more. We then sat at the counter chatting as he played me 45 after 45 of incredible roots reggae as I plucked what I especially liked while learning a helluva lot from this lifted sage. A week later, when my Wife met me in London this is the only shop I went back to, and is one I’ll go to any and every time I’m in the City. Most shop’s in the US have reggae section’s with maybe 20 records or so, but this was an ENTIRE shop – talk about drinking from a blunted fire hose. Beautiful, beautiful shop. Positive vibrations, yeah.
Music / Soul & Dance Exchange
After leaving the high of People’s Sound we backtracked towards the Tube and hit a Pub we earmarked on our way to Portobello. My bags of wax were starting to weigh heavy so after a few pints we decided to be proper tourists and just explore the other side of the neighborhood, but of course, before we got too far we ran into Music / Soul & Dance Exchange, and the dig (thankfully) continued.
This was actually two record stores in one, The Music & Video Exchange on the first floor and The Soul & Dance Exchange on the second floor. I was on the hunt for Althea and Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking all day, and of course, it was found in this last shop upstairs, I was overjoyed and scared the employees as a blurted out a too exuberant yelp. Both floors had an incredible mix of new and hard to find used records – and this shop, while facing the stiffest of competition, ended up being my favorite of the trip for three reasons:
- Pure Volume – On both floors there were a lot of records, 45 and LP, the most of any store we stopped in.
- Divergence of Selection – Downstairs had all the rock, pop, garage, indie, psych, you could want – and upstairs had an equally impressive selection of Hip Hop, Dance, Soul, Funk, African, and Electronic. If you’re a collector you’d be guaranteed to find something you’ve been searching for here.
- Price – On top of the quality and quantity the prices were by far the most reasonable of the day – and with the British Pound lapping the US Dollar this was a more than welcome sight.
We spent another good hour here, left with bags straining to stay in tact, and went across the street to (wait for it…..) another Pub. It was a beyond successful dig – such a cool, unique, and interesting neighborhood – one most recommended if in London and looking to get your fingers dirty and mind clean.
Last Wednesday I had the fortune to spin vinyl at State Park Bar in Cambridge. State Park is the Sister restaurant to the highly revered and loved Hungry Mother – and is quickly becoming one of many reasons you should spend more time in Kendall Square.
Located on the same block as West Bridge, Friendly Toast, & Cambridge Brewing Company – State Park offers a sophisticated & laid back vibe that’s disguised as a dive bar. This said, the food, cocktails, and staff exhume the opposite of dive – and pump out A+ Southern inspired dishes, drinks, & charm that leave mouths happy and hearts content.
The scene offered the perfect compliment to the music featured on Visions of the Unexcused, making for a fit that was seamless, ideal, & preferred. I spun a set that included favorites from Garage, Indie, African, Funk, and Hip Hop – many that can be heard on previous podcasts – and as the tunes echoed throughout the bar – smiling ears and eyes couldn’t deny the symmetry between music and location.
As a cherry on top we had a New England staple, which also doubles as a favorite, Narragansett Beer, be a generous sponsor, providing the Unexcused Faithful (that’s you!) with some drinks sans charge in support of our Visions. This is hopefully the first of many nights we get lost together- and I hope we find each other with the music next time around.
Like Hemingway used to, I find myself writing while standing up. There’s numerous health studies that support this, but my reasons are different. I’m standing solely because my Macbook’s flanked directly next to my turntable. I digitize recently purchased records as I write, work, and idle shiftlessly about the internet. I stand because despite the technology that rules my life I’m still a slave to the analog.
I’ve known about Neil Young’s Pono project for awhile, and seeing it launch last week made the possible seem real. Do I think Pono is the end all be all for the future of music? No way. When I was Music Director at 90.9 WONY in 2001 I was told that SONY’s Mini-Disc was the future. Still, any technology that can improve the listening experience is going to grab my attention, and Moore’s Law be damned, despite these advancements of technology, Vinyl is still the King of quality.
Some dude named Edison “kick-started” the phonograph in 1878 and since then Vinyl’s met and conquered each competitor that’s stepped into the auditory ring. Reel-to Reel, 8-Track, Cassette, CD, Mini-Disc, and even the almighty MP3 have not been able to replicate or improve upon the quality of Vinyl. Listening to records is not a mobile activity however, and that’s what technology has brought us over the past Century – ease of use and portability, but NOT improved quality.
This ease of use has come at a cost, as the overall quality of what people are listening to has been compromised, compressed, and cheapened – and this holds especially true with the MP3. My “day job” for the past decade has been working with large media companies to maximize the quality of their digital media files, and anytime you sample down from the original source you’re losing quality. This degradation is necessary though, because the emphasis of technology has become portability, or more specifically, and now we’re getting to elephant in the digital room, mobile phones. In order for media to work properly on a smart phone in 2014 you’ll need to significantly degrade the quality of the source file – and this fact is universally true for both audio & video.
What’s interesting to me is that the average consumer will watch a video on their phone without complaint – knowingly accepting that the quality isn’t a tenth as good as what they’d put up with in their living room. What saddens me is that this same consumer will listen to an MP3 on their phone as well as in their Living Room and think nothing of it. The truth is that a similar gap in quality lies between the MP3 on your phone and the record on your turntable. It’s like going from HD to bunny ears, and there’s now an entire generation that doesn’t even know that gap exists.
This is what intrigues me so much about Pono. I have zero Faith that the format will become the medium of choice for this era of digital music. But I do have hope that it’ll make enough of a dent to shift the conversation some. The cost of Storage per Gigabyte has plummeted from over $10 per GB in 2000 to under $0.10 today. The MP3 did great things for helping music infiltrate all parts of our lives, however, we don’t need the MP3 anymore, it’s antiquated, cheap, and subpar for our HD lives.
In the end I think Pono will sing truest to the Audiophile Community, but it’s time for the general public, and especially this new Generation, to take its ear muffs off. I know I can’t be the only one to stand (literally) a slave to good sounding music, and if Neil and Pono can help shift the consumer back to quality over quantity, I’m all ears.
I couldn’t find Uncle Tupelo’s excellent cover of The Soft Boys classic “I Wanna Destroy You” anywhere on the web. So decided to record it off of my 7″ copy and share with the World. This is an Honor Roll worthy cover – and a convergence of a lot of great things. The video’s me on a typical night at home. Drinking a ‘Gansett. Watching the Celtics. And listening to Music.
Recommended If You Like: Television, Post-Jangle, Rock and Roll, Jay Farrar
I decided to make a video teaser for Episode #57 which will be dropped within the week. The teaser comprises of a series of cell phone shots of me listening to and recording my 45 collection – which is what Vinyl Daze will comprise of; select music digitized from my 7″ collection, surface noise and all. Get an early taste below as I wax nostalgic with Cian Nugent providing the beautiful burn of a soundtrack.
I love music, disproportionately so, and as part of my passion I blog, podcast, make music, go to shows, buy merch, and collect vinyl. My Netflix queue is exclusively music documentaries while my iTunes library has its metadata organized with the anal retentiveness of a rock and roll librarian. I catalog each new record I buy onto Discogs and purchase records from independent labels and distributors on a near daily basis. In short, I’m a hopeless music freak.
You’d think I’d be in Record Store Day’s wheelhouse, and admittedly I was for awhile. Over the years I’d wake up early and stand in lines of various sizes hoping to snag “exclusive” collectables. I didn’t go this year because I already spent all of my money for the week on…well, records. Virtually every day is “Records Store Day” for me, and sure there were still parts of me that wanted to go, but the whole experience has slowly turned sour for me.
The Music Industry has been very good at learning how to exploit its consumers. Be it from cheaply produced live albums in the 70’s or “Greatest Hits” records with one or two “new” tracks in the 90’s – and unfortunately, I think something with great intention, Record Store Day, is being gentrified. I’m all for Record Stores getting added attention, as they’re integral to the culture of music, but RSD now reeks with all the things I dislike in consumerism, it’s become Black Friday for Hipsters.
Record Store Day is a cash and grab event. There’s no real community where people actually talk and learn about music, it’s more or less a bunch of seagulls fighting over an abandoned bag of chips on the beach. I’m sure I sound like an alcoholic talking about St. Patty’s Day, but it sure does seem like a lot of tourists are “digging” on Record Store Day.
The record releases are becoming more gimmicky and reek of the old tricks already used in the 70’s and 90’s. Think about it, Jack White’s Blunderbuss sold 33,000 copies in 2012, making it the highest selling vinyl of the year. He’s the most popular act that sells vinyl, and he only sold 33,000 copies. So when you’re being sold “limited” pressing of 1,000 or even 3,000 records how limited are they really?
Again, I love the idea of Record Store Day, and think these independently owned hubs are so very important for so many reasons, I just think they deserve the same amount of love for the other 364 days.