Most people who have spent any part of their teenage years invested in a subculture have a soft-place in their heart for the mythology of record stores. I say mythology because, I, like most of my peers, have pursued the love for the grime of alternative music through compact discs, iPods, and the internet, all while record stores become increasingly nonexistent.
When I walked into Rough Trade East in the Brick Lane in London, I felt like I was getting a true sense of what Record Stores originally embodied. In this old warehouse, which was probably once a textile factory, there are old video games, a live band, cute girls who grew up listening to Millencolin running the counter, coffee, comics, skateboards, and immense amounts of music. I felt like I was seeing an endangered species in the wilderness.
Now I don’t want to point a finger at the internet since I love it like a firstborn son, but the new venues for consuming music can be found almost exclusively online, where the more awesome amenities of a place like Rough Trade aren’t technologically possible. The Internet does provide the possible cute alternative looking girls to flirt with, but this could also be just a clever disguise for a retired vacuum cleaner salesman from Wisconsin. Rough Trade may be a beacon for kids with colorful shoes and skinny jeans, but so is MySpace, so as we approach a time where the easiest way to consume music is by not even leaving your house, Rough Trade and it’s cohorts seem to be defying odds.
Since the beginning of this little article, I’ve been trying to think of a proper analogy for what record stores seem to represent in a time when not only do most people not even own record players, but could get everything they could possibly want or need online. I came up with two. The first analogy involves animatronix. I’m not going to tell you about this one because I have a word limit and the whole explanation is confusing and not all that accurate of an analogy. The second analogy about how I feel about record stores and specifically Rough Trade in London (which, if you’ve understandably forgotten, is the point of this article) involves the future and flying cars; a promise we’re yet to receive.
Let’s say that it’s the year 2110, and we’re about 20 years into the age of flying cars, and each of them are filled with toys and assets far more interesting than any Philip K. Dick novel could have ever predicted. The fuel sources are very tiny nuclear reactors. The cabins have built in teleportation devices, oxygen chambers, and full four-dimensional movement (the fourth dimension being time of course). Since robots will be a common tool at this point, all cars will be equipped with a talking GPS robot that can and will have he ability to hold elaborate conversations with you when you are on long road trips. These cars will be staggering in their epic supremacy. Unfortunately, because the world’s kings are worried about the possibilities of having a nuclear reactor as the main fuel source inside the new flying automobiles, in the future, no one really owns their cars, but rather checks them out online and has them delivered. Either you drive it yourself to wherever it is that you are going, or the pilot who brought you the car acts as your chauffeur and takes you where you need to go. It’s a complicated system that I can’t be bothered describing to you because of the word limit.
Despite the fact that the new flying cars are no longer considered the wave of the future, but rather the standard, there are still small boutique car dealerships that lend out cars from the past century. These cars are about the same price as the flying cars (if not more), and are still required to be driven on highways, which at this point, aren’t in great shape since there is no longer a necessity to constantly repave them. Also, you still need a proper land-automobile driving license, which you can only find on eBay or at local flea markets and salvation armies. Yet, interesting youth hang out at these land-car boutiques and talk over coffee about anarchy, nihilism, and how the best car that Chevrolet ever produced was the 1973 El Caminos even though it was more experimental than the 1970 Chevelle.
The flying cars are clearly the easiest and most functional means of getting from A to B quickly, but the old Camrys that you can rent from Carl’s Land-Car Emporium and Café down the street from the church of Kraftwerk have character, which sometimes means more than the efficiency and ease of the flying cars. After all, you don’t see kids with skinny jeans and glow in the dark David bowie shirts hanging out at the flying car dealerships like you do at the Carl’s, and it’s certain that you won’t be able to flirt with the cute punk rock girl from behind the counter, since only robots hang out at the flying car drop off. Even though it’s the future and robots will have been liberated, it will still be a little weird and socially unacceptable to flirt with them.
Just in case you missed it, flying cars are like MP3’s and Carl’s Land-Car Emporium and Café is like Rough Trade East in London.
Rough Trade is not only a cool store for buying music and drinking tea, but is also an important part of a culture that could be slipping away with the arrival of the digital age. Granted, the digital age may not actually be killing anything and in some ways, making the scene better, but there’s no doubt that technology makes it more complicated. Sometimes, it just feels better to do it the simple way. It can get exhausting having to always adjust to the times. Sometimes it is just so much more exciting hearing the sound of a faulty and rusted engine instead of a perfect platinum body as it flies four dimensionally. Sometimes it feels better to have to look at every individual album as you thumb through artists alphabetically.
Rough Trade East
Old Truman Brewery
91 Brick Lane London
T: 0207 392 7788
By: Ben Majoy