While initially founded as a celebration of independent outlets and independent releases, it wasn’t long before major record labels starting co-opting the buzz to launch new music from their roster of household names
Record Store Day in the UAE: the releases you should pick up
The fickle purchasing power at the heart of Record Store Day’s contradictory core is all spelt out in the name. Taking place on Saturday, the annual celebration has played a pivotal role in inspiring new customers to visit their besieged community record shops – but it is just a single “day”, leaving sceptics to ponder how shop owners are meant to prosper for the other 364 days of the year.
First launched in 2007 by a plucky group of American independent retailers inspired by the success of Free Comic Book Day, a year later the Record Store Day company was formed, soon spawning sister organisations across the world. Every year since, on one Saturday in April, hundreds of thousands of music fans have descended on record retailers, marking the occasion with unlikely in-store live sets, signing sessions and related fanfare.
At Dubai’s Flipside DXB, footfall is expected to be bolstered for five hours of live DJ sets from local names including Cyril Reaidy, Frezidante, Essarai and founder Shadi Megallaa, plus an unannounced special guest. While not an official “participating store” affiliated with the US founders, the event will be broadcast live via Facebook.
“As a record shop owner, every day is Record Store Day for us – just like every day is Mother’s Day and every day is Father’s Day,” says Megallaa. “When you love someone, every day should be Valentine’s Day. The best thing about Record Store Day is the community aspect of it.”
For too many fans, it is precisely this community aspect that is under threat as a result of modern-day consumption methods. While initially founded as a celebration of independent outlets and independent releases, it wasn’t long before the big boys came out to play, with all the major record labels co-opting the buzz to launch new music from their roster of household names – and in the process robbing indie acts of the headlines and shelf space the day was meant to promote.
Record Store Day (RSD) has fallen victim to its own success.
For example, Florence and the Machine recently announced their first original, non-soundtrack single in three years, Sky Full of Song, conveniently releasing on RSD, while Australian indie songwriter Courtney Barnett will be teasing her anticipated second album Tell Me How You Really Feel, set for May 18, with the double A-side City Looks Pretty / Sunday Roast.
Click to listen to Florence and the Machine's Sky Full of Song:
There is certainly a sense of oversaturation in the list of 500 releases queued for an official RSD release, in the United Kingdom alone – up from an estimated 10 titles in 2008 – and announced six weeks in advance, allowing listeners to plan and budget.
Because instead of hanging out with nerds in musty basement stores, High Fidelity-style – surely the point of Record Store Day – these die-hards will queue up in the cold from 6am, with RSD releases limited to a few thousand copies. And most often buyers are risking frostbite to fork out for music they already know, and likely already own, in one form or another.
Because now is the time that rare audio mixes, outtakes, live recordings and remixes get dusted off for extra dough, invariably pressed exclusively to vinyl for the first time – the annual Record Store Day craze growing hand-in-hand with the well-documented vinyl revival.
One of the most publicised releases of this year’s haul comes from Led Zeppelin, whose members mark a 50th anniversary with the release of a cute yellow seven-inch single containing unreleased mixes of familiar songs (Rock and Roll / Friends), and David Bowie, who from beyond the grave will release a 12-inch, home demo version of smash Let’s Dance (already on Spotify) and a white-coloured Bowie Now compilation disc, previously only released for promotional purposes.
Observers might wonder if either release would have seen the light of day were the notoriously vigilant musician still alive today.
Of regional interest may be a coloured vinyl pressing of Omar Souleyman’s To Syria, With Love (Remixes), the album that brought the former Syrian wedding singer international renown, remixed by electronic scene-makers including Simian Mobile Disco and DJ Seinfeld.
Click to listen to Omar Souleyman's Ya Bnayya (Bad Royale Remix):
“As a record collector, Record Store Day is a good time to get some limited edition releases, even though a lot of releases are very gimmicky and more often than not pressed on coloured vinyl, which some would argue is inferior to black vinyl,” says Megallaa, a UAE-raised Egyptian who is also behind the local Ark to Ashes label imprint.
“As a record label owner, I really dislike RSD due to the fact that all these major labels take over most of the pressing plants, and it’s a lot harder for a small independent label to press records in the months leading up to RSD.”
A sense of kitsch is often inevitable. This year’s Record Store Day ambassadors Run the Jewels’ release Stay Gold comes with a gold box designed to house your growing collection of their works. Come Saturday, Madonna completists will be able to buy a repressed Japanese version of The First Album, printed as a full picture disk and with multilingual lyrics, while Pink Floyd fans can dig deep for a rare mono version of the band’s psychedelic 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Other curios out this year include the first cassette version of Wu-Tang Clan’s debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) since the format crashed and died.
A milestone anniversary offers a timely hook to reprint DJ-friendly seven-inch singles of familiar floor fillers, with two Jamaican classics, Chaka Demus & Pliers’ Tease Me and Shaggy’s Oh Carolina, both enjoying a 25th birthday pressing.
While old records in new sleeves or undetectably different audio mixes are likely to excite only crusty audiophiles, more aesthetic worth comes in specially culled live releases – which include a third Bowie release, the three-LP box set Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), recorded over three nights at Earls Court, shortly after the existing LP Stage. Most worthwhile might be the 20th anniversary TV performance Nas made of his classic album Illmatic, backed by America’s National Symphony Orchestra, now gaining release on double vinyl as Illmatic: Live From The Kennedy Center.
Likely to get the hipster vote is the newly compiled Live at the BBC from Bobbie Gentry – the pioneering country singer who sold millions of records before disappearing without trace in the early 1980s. Elsewhere, The Kills release Live at Electric Lady Studios, recorded at an intimate, invite-only concert to mark the duo’s 15th anniversary, while one of Rage Against the Machine’s final shows, Live at the Democratic National Convention 2000, is up for release. Devoted indie fans will dig deep for double live sets from Wilco (Live at the Troubadour 11/12/96) and the National (Boxer; Live in Brussels).
And then, in a handful of cases, there is notable new music worth celebrating. The Cure are not only re-releasing their dated, dancefloor-focused, 1990 remix LP Mixed Up – but unveiling a sequel, Torn Down, a 16-track double LP featuring fresh remixes by frontman Robert Smith himself. Meanwhile, Sufjan Stevens collects his three songs from the film soundtrack Call Me By Your Name onto the ten-inch Mystery of Love EP, named after the Oscar-nominated title track, while the two singles released by musical odd couple Brian Eno and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields will be paired as a double A-side (The Weight of History / Only Once Away My Son).
Investing most time and talent into the day might be Rag’n’Bone Man, RSD’s official 2018 UK ambassador. The Human hitmaker – who recently performed at Dubai Opera – is rising to the occasion by unveiling two brand new original songs, Don’t Set The World On Fire and George Has Got A Friend, recorded direct to vinyl. The chances of being able to own this prized single are beyond slim, with the 1,500 copies printed likely to be snapped up in moments. But sit tight – you can bet someone will have ripped the tunes to the world wide web by lunchtime.
Flipside DXB hosts a Record Store Day event at its home in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, from 3pm on Saturday, April 21. Watch the live stream at www.facebook.com/TheFlipSideDXB.