Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happy Record Store Day, Vancouver! (Saturday April 16th!)

Neptoon Records

There's a delightful documentary that all music fans need to see, called I Need That Record!: The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store. It paints a rather grim picture of the state of the American record store, from a few years back, when a lot of stores in the US were closing in the wake of the economic meltdown (from which, parenthetically, Canada was largely spared due to our separate and different banking system, not the economic policies of the Harper government, which, if it had its druthers, would have chained us to our neocon/ deregulatory/ piratization-lovin' southern neighbours long ago; it is a fuckin' offensive JOKE that the Conservatives want to paint themselves as our economic saviours in their current campaign - one which Canadians will hopefully see through). Interview subjects (in I Need That Record!) range from the obvious and essential (Thurston Moore, Ian Mackaye, Mike Watt), the somewhat inspired (a testy but delightful Glenn Branca) to the utterly brilliant - like Noam Chomsky, who draws parallels between the state of music sales (indy stores vs. big boxes) with the historical situation, from his own memory, of the days of the Mom'n'Pop grocery store, waxing anecdotal about the role of such stores in maintaining a sense of neighbourhood community, long lost in the supermarket. Throughout, the film is absolutely saturated with love for "record store culture," filled with warm stories of the importance of record stores in music fans' development (and daily life). It's perhaps just a wee bit dated, taking in the advent of file-sharing and retaliatory record industry lawsuits, but not the near-total death of the CD as a saleable item or the resurgence of vinyl seen in the last couple of years... but this in itself is interesting, since it shows us how fast things have been changing...

Most interesting, though, for me, is the contrast between the picture painted in the 'States - where so many community-lifeblood record stores have apparently closed - and the one in Vancouver (which isn't even mentioned in the film), because anyone from this town who sees this movie will come out of it amazed at how WELL this city is doing, record-store wise. It's easy to take where you're from for granted, but - honestly, folks, until I saw this film, I never realized we had it so good. Where many towns in the US are lucky to be left with one or two record stores, our city - omitting thrift stores, the HMV big box, the guys with the cool tables at the flea market, the used record conventions, or stores like Carson Books and Records or Albion Books that have record selections, but also sell other things - OUR CITY boasts at least thirteen independent shops primarily oriented to the sale of music, each with vinyl selections: Audiopile, Beatstreet, Dandelion, Highlife World Music, Neptoon, Otis Music, Red Cat Records, Scrape Records, Scratch Records, Sikora's Classical, Vinyl Records, Zoo Zhop, and Zulu. (And fuck, for all I know, I've forgotten a couple: sorry, if so!). Online searches further reveal more distant places I've never even heard of, like Krazy Bob's, out in Langley; or others that I'd thought had gone out of business, but had merely changed address (Apollo Music, now at 2260 Tyner in Port Coquitlam!). If there are other cities in North America that are doing better, in terms of sheer quantity of vinyl, I'd love to know about it (a friend assures me that Austin, Texas, hotbed of funky American culture, has all of two surviving shops).

Having realized that Vancouver is so well-off, vinyl-wise, has got me all excited to celebrate Record Store Day here - an event which I almost completely ignored last year, picking up a few of those special releases like the Fela Kuti 10" and the two Joe Strummer reissues only after the initial hubbub had faded (by the way, there's still some o' those Fela 10" kicking around Audiopile, and those Strummers seem to be everywhere still, even tho' Global A-Go-Go is arguably Strummer's greatest musical achievement, at least in terms of expressing his vision of a true "world" musical culture... maybe it wasn't actually a limited edition, tho'?). JJ of (new vinyl retailer and metal specialists) Scrape Records opined that since Record Store Day is primarily keyed to the US and UK markets, a lot of special releases don't even make it to Canada, which is sometimes frustrating (he's hoping the store will get the new, one-sided Opeth 7" and the Mastodon/ ZZ Top split of "Just Got Paid," which is a pretty inspired idea for a single. I mean, I had the Rapeman cover of that song... but Mastodon?). Even if not all the Record Store Day records make it here, there's a lot going on, throughout the day. Many stores will have sales, and many of the larger ones will have free in-stores. Free in-stores, you say? Yep. Red Cat, nicely settled into their expansive new location (and still the proud owners of the coolest new neon sign in the city, above), will have music starting at 1:00, with performances by Blind Horses, Dead Ghosts, Mode Moderne, Hard Feelings, Loscil (w. Jason Zumpano) and, at 6:00, terrific local freeform psych-folk artists Von Bingen, who have a recent vinyl release of their own. Zulu - whose recent Lou Barlow in-store kicked heavy ass on the Sebadoh gig later that night! - will be hosting evening performances by Kelowna's Yukon Blonde and No Gold (see poster, above).

Scratch Records will have a whole afternoon's worth of free performances - see the blackboard photo! - at the adjoining Interurban Gallery, and Keith tells me he'll be hauling in a ton of stuff from his garage (tho' not necessarily garage rock...) to sell on the cheap, with all regular stock at 30% off (does no one else but me care that he still has a few copies of Rocket Redux, by Rocket From the Tombs, on sale on vinyl?). Free shows will last until the evening, when, starting at 10, there'll be a paid record release gig for the B-Lines, energetic pop-punk spazzes fronted by Scratch manager Ryan Dyck, with Sex Church and Idle Times opening.

Ryan says of the new B-Lines record: "It took us a long time to get it done, but we're really happy with how it turned out - it sounds a lot heavier than our first 7 inch, but not in annoying cheesy hardcore way." It can be bought online here; see the B-Lines play at the last show at the previous incarnation of the Cobalt, here).

The B-Lines play Calgary, photo by Arif Ansari

If you're like me, however - a mere out-of-towner without a car who barely knows a lot of these bands and just wants to pick a cool location to settle down and shop/listen to live music for the whole day, with apologies to all the stores I love that I mentioned above, and incitements to all of you to pick the location that most appeals to your musical needs, regardless of what I am about to say below... THIS year (IMHO), you prolly want to check out Neptoon, who are also celebrating their 30th anniversary, making them (by a narrow margin) the oldest independent record dealer in Vancouver. They've got the most bands scheduled (muthafuckin' fourteen of 'em!) of anyone in the city, and from the looks of the boxes of records that store manager Ben Frith was opening when I spoke to him on Monday, they may well have the largest selection of special releases. Ben tells me that the store received all fifteen out of the fifteen copies of the one record he ordered that *I* am most excited by - I won't tell you which, lest I work against myself, since there are only 1000 of them out there! And the bands playing....

(Left, above: Gnash Rambler bassist Regina Michaelis peruses a record at Carson Books and Records, 3425 W. Broadway, photo by Allan MacInnis. That store still has a LOT of cool blues and folk titles that the owner bought off a collector last year - including some that aren't priced yet! I mean... I scored some rare Charley Patton and Gary Davis stuff and the 10" of "Mole in the Ground" by Bascam Lamar Lunsford there... That Leadbelly up there is at Tim's, too... jes' saying).

The Tranzmitors, photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Vancouver mod revivalists The Tranzmitors play the Neptoon in-store, for instance - and it's always an amazing live show from them, they are one sincerely energetic rock band. Neptoon recording artists The Beladeans, also with a fun, passionate new CD out, will play. Stonesy local blues rockers The Pool Hall Gospel, with St. Adrian Mack on drums, will perform. (Former Nerve Magazine fans, writers, and so forth will also want to be there for Bleeding Horse Express, which also boasts a familiar face). Former Black Flag singer Ron Reyes will have his new band, Piggy, in the lineup, fronted by (Pointed Sticks' bassist) Tony Bardach's daughter, Alexa, and also featuring Lisafurr Lloyd (like Alexa, of the East Vamps) and two members (one present, one ex) of the Little Guitar Army on keyboards on drums (yes, folks - Doug Smith has left the LGA!). Garage rockers The Fiends play, too! The remaining list is pretty huge - including Yung Mums, Blondewich, Captain Dust, Red Cedar, Petroleum Bi-Product, Meandrics, The Excitations, Hospital Blonde, and the DB Buxton band - a list so long it overwhelms my desire to track down Myspace links for each; you can find more info, including links for most of the bands, on the Neptoon site. Music starts at 11AM, doors at 10, and I'll be lining up at 9 to guarantee a shot at my own coveted special releases and a reasonable view...

As for specific record store day releases, Ben, while flipping through the vinyl - including exclusive Arthur Russell wax ("last year's Arthur Russell was one of the first things to fly off the shelf") and more - described one particularly fun project from the band Fucked Up, pictured below -

Ben holds up the Fucked Up release, photo by Allan MacInnis

"The way it was kinda described to me is that their new album coming up is a concept album based on all these bands that they made up. So they went and actually recorded what those bands would sound like. They've got all kinds of guests on there - A.C. Newman is a guest, Danko Jones does one of the songs... It's a pretty wild looking album - it doesn't say anywhere that it's Fucked Up, and it looks like a South American compilation thing or something! I'm really curious about it - it looks pretty cool." Ben informs me that there's 145 different releases on order - from the Whore Moaning EP to the Bad Brains' "Pay To Cum" 7" reissue. "It's ridiculous - it should be pretty intense!"

There are also a bunch of really cool releases on the Neptoon label that one might do well to note, though they're not Record Store Day specials. My buddy Blake had pointed out - since he and I share connections to Maple Ridge - that a terrific garage rock band was founded here (when it was still called Haney, back in 1965 - three years before I was born!). Not all of the Northwest Company's singles have been ripped for Youtube, but "Hard to Cry" has; it, "Get Away from it All," and "Eight Hour Day" all appear on the 2008 History of Vancouver Rock Vol. 4 compilation that Neptoon put out, also featuring local legends like Mock Duck and The (pre-Chilliwack) Collectors - a comp that is out of print, now, I believe, but still available at the shop in both CD and vinyl formats. For those who want more, however, there's actually a full CD devoted to the Northwest Company, also on Neptoon. There's even another former Maple Ridge band that have been the subject of a reissue by Neptoon, which Neptoon founder Rob Frith pointed out to me - a band I'd never heard of previously, called The Nocturnals!

"It's probably my favourite reissue we did," Rob tells me, plucking it from the shelf and passing it over. "I'd been bugging them for years, because - about 25 years ago, they had a reunion party at their house; and I'd put out some of their stuff on a compilation before, and so they invited myself and some friends to this party, where they played all this unreleased stuff that they had on tape. And it sounded unbelievable, it sounded so good! I was like - 'why didn't somebody release it?' And they had books and books of photos, and 8mm films of the band, all this stuff, and I thought - 'man, I've never seen a band that was so organized, and kept all this stuff, had it archived." (They even had their own van, too!) "Anyways, every five years, I'd phone them up and said, we ought to do this compilation, you've got all this stuff! So one day I get a call, saying, 'We have a reunion concert at the end of the month and I want to put the CD out.' I said, 'Well, gee, that doesn't give me a lot of time, if you want me to do it,' but we put the whole thing together in less than a month, including all their eight millimeter films - transferring them and editing them and putting a DVD in as well. I got the whole band into the studio - Don Xaliman's studio, actually - and I had them do a commentary over the footage, since it's all silent. So that's on there as well. I was pretty happy about that!"

Speaking of Don Xaliman, what's the link between Neptoon and his band, the (Hawkwind-related local prog/psych/ art-rock band) the Melodic Energy Commission (two-thirds of whom I speak to here)? The CD versions of their uber-rare privately pressed first two albums, Stranger in Mystery and Migration of the Snails ("what a great record - I still play that record," Rob says) turn up at Neptoon more than elsewhere. "I know them - my wife actually played in a band with the Theremin player, George McDonald. They were in a band in the late '60's together," the name of which Rob didn't recall at the time. (This was also in Maple Ridge, too, by the way; and no, that band never recorded). Rob got to know the band separately from his wife, however. "There was a connection, and I think I brought the album home and my wife says - 'That's George McDonald!'"

Neptoon also has connections with bill bissett, whose Mandan Massacre CD also turns up at Neptoon more than elsewhere, and local avant garde jazz/ visual arts legend (and memoirist) Al Neil, whose fucked up but fascinating Boot and Fog - featuring a version of "Over the Rainbow" that evokes nothing so much as a massive and not entirely benign drug experience - is constantly in stock, sealed, with the 7" inside. "One of the fellows who used to work here, one of his uncles played with Al Neil," Rob explains, "Plus I know Greg Simpson, the drummer - he played with Al Neil. We sorta know these guys, and because we know them, they bring their records here." Neptoon even has connections with the New Creation, since Rob Frith was one of the people Ty Scammell spun his original vinyl copy of Troubled for; plus Chris Towers of that band watches Rockinitis, the cable-access TV show that Rob is a regular guest on, which runs Monday and Tuesday nights on Shaw. "My favourite show is probably the Zombies show," Rob tells me, when topics turn to Rockinitis. "We did a show about them, and interviewed the singer and got him to do an ID for us, saying, 'you're watching Rob and Michael on Rockinitis.' I did the same thing with the Yardbirds, which hasn't played yet - I interviewed the drummer, Jim McCarty. He's the original drummer, he's like the constant through the whole thing."

Andrew WK and Nardwuar at a Neptoon instore a couple o' years ago, photo Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission!

Anyhow, happy 30th year, Neptoon! (There's lots else I won't be getting to, including the Poppy Family connection, other Neptoon releases and future plans... you'll just have to research it yourself, dear readers). And as for my readers - with all this free stuff going on, and so many cool records descending from Record Store Heaven onto our very healthy, very rich vinyl community, there's no reason for ANYONE who loves music in THIS city to stay home and not have fun on Saturday. Even if you're broke, folks - firm up your will not to buy anything and go see some free live shows! We live in a blessed environment, for music freaks, and this Saturday is a great time to get out there and show your appreciation!

Happy Record Store Day, Vancouver!

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