Record Store Day 2014
Andrew Lemon discovers what Belfast has in store for lovers of vinyl on April 19
Established in 2007, Record Store Day celebrates the role that the humble independent record shop has to play in our modern culture. It also acts as a kind of one-off treasure trove for hardcore vinyl collectors and, in some cities, a mini festival for avid gig-goers.
Taking place on April 19, Record Store Day is now an international event which sees thousands of artists issue special vinyl and CD releases for the day, as well as playing live gigs occasionally followed by Q&As in record shops dotted around the world.
Thankfully for local music lovers, Belfast is very much a part of the celebrations, and in 2014, its independent record stores have plans for one of the most exciting dates on the music nerd's calendar.
Kenny Murdock of Belfast's newest independent record store, Sick Records, has a few exciting plans in store for punters on the day. 'We will open at 8am for those wanting to purchase any of the exclusive vinyl products on sale this year, but we have an afternoon of music from some great local artists, beginning at 2pm.
'Currently we have Robyn G Shiels, UNKNWN and Little Matador, featuring Nathan Connolly from Snow Patrol,' Murdock adds excitedly. 'It's a huge boost to have Nathan's band playing live in the shop. And we'd like to add one more act to that list.'
Belfast's other participating store is Head Records. Having recently moved premises to Castlecourt, the store runners have no firm plans for gigs in place as of yet, but have already confirmed that they will be stocking plenty of limited edition vinyl, as well as offering a rewards scheme for customers purchasing vinyl.
Chris Sloan of Belfast indie-pop outfit Go Wolf believes that the popularity of Record Store Day shows that modern consumer are still very much interested in the vinyl format. 'For some, it’s the only time of year that they will step into a music shop, and it’s a great time to soak up the atmosphere and engross yourself amongst other music collectors.
'For others, it’s an opportunity to pick up some rare vinyl to add to the collection and show off your astute taste. It’s great that people are starting to dig out and dust off their turntables again and engage with the scene. As far as I’m concerned, it can only be a positive thing, serving as a focal point to bring people together all under the banner of physical music, which is wonderful.'
The day itself is all about promoting both vinyl and CD releases, but there is a clear preference given to the former. Given the fact that vinyl is more expensive, awkward to transport and to sell at gigs – and is increasingly only accessible at selected stores – it perhaps would not be surprising if new acts coming out of Northern Ireland were to forsake the format altogether. After all, compact discs and MP3 files are so much more accessible.
However, Sloan argues that traditional formats like vinyl should be championed by working musicians and music lovers alike. 'I think it’s probably more important than ever to release material on vinyl. With the advent of MP3s, you lose that sense of touch and connection with the artist. No one wants to come to your house and flick through your hard drive. Vinyl offers a much deeper experience not possible through any other format, so it’s vital people continue support its production.'
Given the promise of a wave of limited edition releases – as well as the prospect of several intimate gigs happening across the city – this year's Record Store Day looks set to be an exciting one for Belfast.
As ever, the hope is that it will benefit the owners of independent record shops, allowing them to continue to provide music lovers with great music for the rest of the year. And there is no doubt that Record Store Day is symptomatic of a general resurgence in interest in vinyl and old school turntables. Just don't call it a comeback, says Murdock.
'We hope that, by giving the public a "point-of-sale", that they will rediscover the joys of record buying in Belfast. Vinyl never disappeared, although the media would have you believe otherwise. I've been buying vinyl records for over 30 years now. If I felt that this was just a revival, I'd never have opened a record shop.'
Record Store Day 2014 takes place on April 19.