Being an unsigned artist is difficult. You put your music online, force it into the inbox of everyone who has ever had a byline on The 405, maybe incessantly tweet a few journalists, and spend a whole day pleading with strangers on YouTube to “give an unsigned sixteen year-old a chance”.
This approach rarely works. Sadly a lot of people don’t care that our planet is fucked - rarely do they find an interest in the new EP from David, a Counting Crows influenced singer-songwriter from Bedfordshire. Instead, the best way to get people to listen to your music - which you’ll understand if you’ve ever been subjected to a rockabilly busker on the tube - is to force it on the public when they have no choice.
Co-Op may have been aware of this fact - or they may have wanted to save money on PRS cheques - because earlier this week they replaced all the music in their shops with unsigned and independent artists.
This is great, I thought. Co-op could be the next great bastion of unsigned music, the new Quietus but with added bacon and reduced scotch eggs. Unfortunately though, a few days into the scheme and employees started complaining Rihanna had been replaced with, what we can only assume, was a #normcore duo making Twin Peaks inspired post-ringtone synthesised black metal.
“The new cooperative radio unsigned artists initiative is absolutely diabolical”, one said. “Not even hipsters would listen to this rubbish”, said another.
Employees demanded a return to chart music, presumably threatening to strike unless the local branch continued to play Clean Bandit once an hour. Finally - as NME reported this morning - Co-op had enough, threw the tote bag in, and decided to put Keisza back on the stereo.
This made us sad. It was bad enough that it was only Wednesday. But it was even worse that the unsigned paracosm we had imagined, a world in which shoppers could ponder between use-by-dates while enjoying some Balearic indie, had been destroyed.
We couldn’t believe what we were reading. So, because it’s always best to witness things with your own eyes (hold tight everyone who reported the fake Coolio story last week), we hit up Co-op to see if they were playing The Rentals’ younger siblings or “Bette Davis Eyes”.
The first stop was the green section. Sure - we were here for the music. But, as anyone who has ever been to the independent label market will tell you, music is also about browsing products for hours without actually buying anything.
This reduced section was comforting. Earlier in the year the chairman of Co-op’s bank was found guilty for possession of crystal meth, ketamine, and cocaine; it’s nice to know he can come here and clear his passages with some reduced value trimmed asparagus spears.
We continued around the shop, hoping to spot remnants of the previous day's uproar.
They had tote bags which were too small for me to needlessly carry around any of my vinyls in. In the rack they looked like they said “100% Organic Colon”. Was this deliberate sabotage by disgruntled employees? Probably not, no.
It was clear something had happened, though. For one, the fridge had no Red Stripe. Was this a result of an in-store we hadn’t been invited to? Or had they swiftly cleared out the official independent music drink in response to the backlash? We cannot confirm either.
I walked around the shop, filling my arms with various grades of reduced pork and brie that I wouldn’t be able to use in a stroganoff, when a song entered my ears. Luckily, I am a music connoisseur and I had come prepared.
I whipped out my phone and Shazamed it.
Guess who it was? It was Kylie Minogue.
The NME hadn’t lied, then. Normality had been restored in the world of the Co-operative.
A visual representation of the "young lad" taken from stock images
But were people really that angry? The Co-op Facebook page included a comment from one disgruntled worker that said - “if it doesn’t change am nt cuming bk on Monday don’t wona listen 2 even shitter music when am at work alday everyday” - yet everyone in the shop seemed pretty happy.
We approached a young lad - who wouldn’t let us take a photo because, IDK, he signed a contract or something - and he told us “I don’t really mind what they play”. Okay then, cool.
We continued walking around the shop, looking at mousses, and attempting to be real journalists by “keeping an ear to the ground” when we bumped into a case of Diet Coke and knocked it on the floor.
This was quickly mopped up with a retired Red Bull transporter, the fucking sell-outs, before the manager approached us. He wanted to know why we were walking around his shop angering Diet Coke cans and posing for photos with vermicelli and and we wanted to know what he thought about the great Co-op Music Controversy of 2014.
I asked him: “Hello, what do you think about Co-op playing music by unsigned artists?”
He replied: “I’m sorry, there isn’t room for bands to play in here”.
I wasn’t sure he understood the question. I told him I liked the acoustics in the charcuterie section. He promptly told us to leave the store.
I sat outside for a while, feeling dejected. My mildly warm fried chicken baguette was probably the worst lunch in recent memory, my Co-op music dream had definitely been obliterated, and I was somehow going to have to turn this into an article when I returned to the office.
In a last ditch attempt to do something useful - and because the ferns were exacerbating her hayfever - I sent Josie to go and ask customers some questions.
I can’t be sure but maybe people thought Josie was from the Church Of Latter Day Saints because, as you can see from this motion blur, they rushed past, ignoring her polite advances.
This woman had "somewhere important to be" (yeah, right) but gave us a quick five seconds to say they were playing "Sk8er Boi" inside.
And finally, we had one guy who actually stopped to tell us that Fun’s “We Are Young” might have subconsciously influenced his purchases. “I went in to buy shoe polish but came out with a sandwich!” He also had some clotted cream. I personally wouldn’t rub clotted cream into nubuck but each to their own/ it takes all sorts to make a world etc.
Then it was time to leave. The manager told us that not only could we not take photos inside his shop, but we couldn’t take any outside, either.
It was the end of our journey, and the end of Co-op’s indie dreams. Frankly, we’re relieved, but I bet Huw Stephens is gutted.