Why Does Anyone Actually, Really, Truly Care About Record Store Day?

Why Does Anyone Actually, Really, Truly Care About Record Store Day?

What is it about the event that gets people totally mad?
20 April 2017, 10:58am

There are lots of things you could care about in life. You can care about veganism, social services budget cuts, or the future of the European left. You can care about Lena Dunham, Romanian agricultural reform, or contemporary poetry. If so inclined, you can pretty much care about anything. Except for one thing. There is one thing I am utterly convinced no one actually, really, truly cares about: Record Store Day.

The year was 2007, and a group of record shop clerks inspired by Free Comic Book Day—an initiative that, yep, sees free comic books doled out to anyone who covets such things—decided that what the world needed was a day set aside to celebrate the idiosyncrasies of record shops the world over.

Now this, in its original form, is a relatively admirable idea. After all, anything we can do as conscientious citizens of late-capitalism that promotes the importance of prioritising independent retailers over corporate monoliths is worthy of praise, right? Right. Buy your books from a shit-stinking basement, your vegetables from a corner shop that opens out onto the A2, and your records from blokes who'd really rather you weren't flicking through their wares. Simple.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. Record Store Day stopped being about fostering a sense of community between buyers and sellers, and turned into a kind of hulking commercial beast, funded by the evil mechanisms that make up the music industry. The vinyl revival happened and then stopped and then happened again, in a cycle that will repeat until there is nothing left of Earth but a gatefold reissue of Tusk by Fleetwood Mac. The major labels cottoned on, and Record Store Day became an excuse to sell tat to audiences seemingly incredibly responsive to said tat. This, if we're being honest, is neither particularly good nor harrowingly bad. It is just something that happened.

For some reason though, RSD winds people up. People think about it and their temples start to throb and they have to go and stand outside for a good few minutes really thinking about their breathing patterns, and for others, it is a source of almost orgasmically genuine pleasure. To understand why that is, and why something which requires about as much mental space as Sainsbury's setting a permanent 49 pence price lock on broccoli, we have to try and empathise with those strange souls who wander through life feeling some type of way about Record Store Day.

RSD is a way of selling vinyl. Vinyl has to be pressed at special pressing plants. There are less than 200 of these plants in the world, but last year over three million records were sold in the UK alone, and the result of this upsurge in demand is a production bottleneck. Smaller labels—labels that have traditionally stuck with vinyl through thick and thin—experience longer wait times for their product, and RSD, so the naysayers say, plays a massive role in this. The argument goes that for every "No Diggity" reissue, Red Hot Chili Peppers single, or Africa shaped version of "Africa" by Toto that get sent to the plants, the world has to wait a bit longer for another anonymous techno 12" that'll do nothing but clutter up a record shop for a bit before finding itself wedged firmly into a landfill pile, slowly rotting amongst all the other music that's needlessly and senselessly been pressed onto plastic.

The difficulty is that for many, many people, vinyl is the best and most important thing in the whole wide world and cannot ever, ever be besmirched in any capacity at all. Vinyl, we're supposed to believe, be it as fans of Aphex Twin, the Allman Brothers, or Arvo Part, is simultaneously the only real way to receive music and also some kind of cult object to be hoarded, admired, and lionized out of all proportion.

All of which means that vinyl has found itself transformed from mere method of distribution to a sacred item which holds an immense sense of importance—we must treasure each and every record in the world like it was a recently unearthed chunk of a hitherto undiscovered pyramid rather than just another scratched-to-buggery copy of Thriller.

When we feel that the Other is encroaching on what we hold dear—be it nice beer, the lesser read works of a difficult midcentury European novelist, or just plain old vinyl—we get defensive, annoyed, desperate to prove that our enjoyment is more deserved than the johnny-come-latelies who only started drinking IPA after they read about it in the Metro. Liking records has, over the years, become something that someone can base an entire personality around, and those, oddly enough, can be quite hard to shake off. Perhaps it's this sense of personal allegiance that explains why RSD inspires anger in a certain kind of people.

In our world, vinyl is has become associated with a kind of snaggle-toothed elitism we could quite happily and readily do without. In theory, and it is a theory largely borne out in reality, too, the format with which a DJ presents an audience should be the least interesting thing about the performance. Vinyl, that sacrosanct slab of plastic, has such mystique that all-vinyl events are heralded with the fervour of miracles being performed, and the ability to pull off miracles, as we all know, should remain in the right hands.

For the bulging-veined anti-RSD brigade, the fear is that the democratization of a medium leads to it being possessed by the great unwashed, who presumably won't give a flying fuck about the supposed importance the music they like. Or at least won't give a flying fuck in the way they are supposed to. Which is to suppose that music is an unbearably important and serious thing and not just something to distract from our own internal witterings.

And, yes, that kind of piousness is unbearable and terrible and threatens to ruin music forever, but honestly, it's just Record Store Day. How can you you actually, really, truly care about it?

Josh is on Twitter