When Soho's Black Market records shut, very unexpectedly, back in February, London didn't just lose a record shop. It lost another institution, another site of communion. It was another end of an era, in an era when ends roll round with depressing regularity.
BM Soho was a record shop like record shops are, or more pertinently were, meant to be; dark, cramped, lined with everything you wanted and a tonne of things you never knew you desired till you saw them up there on the walls, down there in the crates. Opened in 1988 Black Market, as it was then, catered to a crowd interested in house and techno and later became a mecca for the nascent D&B scene, beloved by DJs, producers and punters alike.
"The final decision to close BM Soho had been taken without my knowledge and consent" Goldie McGoldrick tells us, "so it was a devastating shock to me as much as it was to everyone else.The financial and business decisions had not been mine in the last couple of years and my so called investor/partner made that call. In essence he got cold feet even though the shop was performing well.
McGoldrick, known to most of London's army of devout vinyl buyers simply as Goldie, was the involved with Black Market until the day its doors didn't open for trading. I, and I imagine the story is similar for a handful of people London wide, had actually nipped into BM the day before it vanished. I was on my way to another record shop in the area and popped in to check out the new releases, have a nosey at the gear downstairs, and to ask about the general state of play in the business. Goldie was the man I was directed towards. Little did I, or seemingly he, know that we wouldn't get a chance to have a chat amongst the racks.
Turning up to a shop completely emptied of stock was "soul wrenching," Goldie says. As sentimental as we can all get about records, in situations like these it's important to remember that music transmutes into sellable assets and monetary data for accountants to mull over. "It left me furious. I hadn't been given the chance to explore options to keep the store open. There were issues with the landlord, but nothing that couldn't be resolved."
The closure of the shop is another concrete example of Soho mutating from a swinging enclave or smut, sight, and sound into another 'anywhere' in the coalition's increasingly anodyne city. This city is a place we still refer to as London even when everything that made London London is bulldozed — literally and metaphorically — to make way for another identikit high street littered with flats no one can afford to live in, street food vendors you can't afford to eat from and pubs you wouldn't want to drink in even if you could afford to. BM's prime location — it remained on in the same spot in D'Arblay Street for its whole life — was always going to come back to haunt it when the Boris-approved big boys of the private markets got involved.
Sadly our current economic climate isn't one where possibilities take preference to direct saving. Or spending. This process, of the elimination of any kind of discernable difference, results in that which exists at the edges of culture being forced ever-further-outwards.
The continued success of Record Store Day — the annual celebration of that uneasy waltz between commerce and communality — is proof that that record shops can still act as hubs of potential and as a force for good. When they're given the chance. When they aren't, we all lose out. As Goldie puts it, "all that experience and history vanishes in an instant."
BM's history — co-founded by D&B legend Nicky Blackmarket and forever associated with the genre — was made by the customers as much as it was the stock. Goldie recounts the likes of Moodymann, Masters at Work, Kerri Chandler and Ron Trent popping in regularly when they were in London. He thinks of UK house luminary Mr G as "our most treasured regular." In opposition to some record shops which favour high-minded snootiness over actual engagement with the customer, BM Soho prided itself on what Goldie calls the "friendly vibe" within the store. That isn't easily replicated.
Soho's upheaval — Madame Jojos has gone forever, Sister Ray halved in size and buggered off to Shoreditch — seems to be an attempt at stamping out individuality in an area known for it's strong connection to the arts. What was once a seedy, teeming site of interpersonal exploration is increasingly becoming space for gourmet burger outlets and the kind of coffee shops that charge you four quid for a flat white with a straight face.
As Alex Proud put it in a Telegraph editorial last year, "If you want a vision of the future for Soho, imagine a property developer shaking hands with a banker in a Michelin-starred restaurant forever." Another light has gone off in Soho, and London, permanently. Still, there'll probably be somewhere great to stuff our fat fucking faces with gluttonous slop imported from America in it's place soon. Rejoice, rejoice.