Art and Music      


From the wreck of the record biz

HALLER:   "No more! No more records!" 

They can't keep the destruction line going fast enough, these three women and the 11-year-old boy with the hammer. He drives it down into a box, smashing unsold European import punk vinyl which the ladies have separated from the card sleeves. Groan they may, but I pile up another 60 or so garage rock albums and 12-inch techno rarities. 

The hammer comes down. The clock ticks away.

I'm witnessing the bitter end of the record business, the last hours of downfall in a warehouse that once saw a torrid flow of independent music of all genres. By midnight, I'll have helped smash thousands of pieces of vinyl, mostly by ‘90s grunge and punk outfits. OK, I've also helped the bankrupt owner salvage shed-loads of great albums. 

When the warehouse owner claims back the space tomorrow, he's going to stare blankly at some 10,000 CDs there was no time to shift. Most of the labels who were contacted about their unsold stock just said "trash it."

It feels like Fahrenheit 451. There's something wrong about all this.  Anton Diffring is going to come through the door and ask where we're hiding the books. "In there!" There’s a metre-high pile of paper in what used to be the boss's office. The eleven-year-old runs at it and throws himself savagely on top of it, before getting back to his hammer.

"Hey, I haven't got this one," he cries.

He's collecting one copy of every record he has to destroy, bless him. 

"Have you got a record deck for this vinyl," I ask him.

He has. Double blessed.

A huge German Shepherd in the corner starts barking madly. She's snapped back into silence by her owner, one of the women helpers. No one feels good about destroying records. But if you save 100 copies to sell, and the rest fall into the hands of someone who will put them on eBay, you shoot yourself in the foot. It's downfall reasoning now; you never thought like this when music actually sold.

And over a few days of sifting, I've seen so many of the different ways people tried to sell records. The endless free stickers, postcards, t-shirts, promo clips, demos with earnest letters (many still unopened after years), press releases, from the minimal to the arse-licking, fortunes in gimmicks, coloured vinyl, digipacks, didgeridoodgeripacks,...and names that go round in your brain like so many numbers, from (at random reach) The Guanabatz to the Penniless People of Bulgaria. There was so much effort behind them all. 

And now it's all over for all of them. Go play live. I've been at the Alamo of the record biz. Who cares if a Facebook scramble might get a million selling single to stop X Factor having the number one? Isn’t that what they meant by "all over bar the shouting".

My friend, the bankrupt boss, holds up a box of recordable CD and asks: "Do they still use these?" I'd forgotten, the CD is going under the hammer too. It always was.

"I use them," I tell him.


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