Lo Fidelity is a column by Devin Friesen, an experimental noise musician, writer, and longtime record store manager based in Western Canada. Each week, he details the highs, lows, and indignities of life at an independent record store. Listen to his music as Bitter Fictions here.
Hi! Quick introduction: I’m Devin. I’ve been working at an independent record store for the better part of six years, which is long enough to have witnessed the arc of Record Store Day from its meager beginnings to its current incarnation: a gluttony of corporate records that nobody who actually frequents independent record stores would ever purchase. Let’s chat.
There’s no way around it: Record Store Day helps keep me employed. This is obviously a plus, but it’s rather sad to see how quickly it turned into a day where major labels (almost exclusively at this point) get to market the shit out of throwaway releases under the manic guise of “limited editions,” which are largely scooped up by people with no concept of what a normal vinyl run is, and whom I might see in the store once or twice a year otherwise. This isn’t to shit on average people deciding to support local stores, but rather a comment on the shifting face of the casual music-buying public—a public drawn in by faux-community and the aesthetic novelty of manufactured limited editions more than, y’know, music.
In other words: Record Store Day is a bubble that’s going to inevitably burst once people get over the “return” (yawn) of vinyl. But it’s unsurprisingly being run to the bank in the meantime.
Nowadays, I lump Record Store Day exclusives into three categories: the excessive and/or unnecessary repress, the overpriced novelty single you might play once or twice, and the quick ‘n’ easy live session, which include everything from the aforementioned novelty singles to expansive (and always expensive) multi-LP boxsets (usually involving Metallica). Every year, the majority of RSD-approved exclusives tend to fall into these categories, replete with buzzwords like “limited edition,” “deluxe,” “special edition,” etc—essentially, bald-faced marketing to snare a largely clueless public into buying dumb shit.
I laugh whenever somebody breathlessly exclaims, “they only pressed 4,000 of these!” because it’s like, dude, I pressed three hundred copies of my own record this year and I’m still sitting on about half of them; obviously my solo noise guitar LP isn’t going to have the same draw as Pearl Jam or the Flaming Lips but I can assure you, anybody trying to convince you that a pressing of 4,000 is somehow “limited” is just a cop.
Anyway, let’s run down the dumbest, least-essential exclusives of this year’s Record Store Day 2: Black Friday Electric Boogaloo!
There are any number of releases that I could tear apart—a collection of B-sides from the newest Red Hot Chili Peppers album (estimated retail cost: $40), The Doors Curated by Record Store Day LP (relevant only if you’re in this clip), and the fucking Vitamin String Quartet performs Radiohead’s In Rainbows.
Yes, this is real.
But there are worse culprits, far more indicative of the endless re-packaging that continues to permeate major releases like the cancer it is.
Queens of the Stone Age’s Like Clockwork has been one of our biggest sellers, but it’s already appeared in both regular and (roughly twice as expensive) “deluxe” editions, not to mention a limited blue cover variant with a pressing run of 10,000. One can now also buy the Black on Black Friday edition, an all-black cover variant limited to a mere 2,400 copies worldwide, as if the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of copies purchased by fans already weren’t enough. If there’s one thing people love to do, it’s buying the same thing over and over again, right?
The yearly Metallica offering comes in the Through the Never soundtrack, a “special edition” box set of four 180 gram LPs cut at 45 RPM for maximum bullshit. Recorded at Rexall Place in Edmonton and Rogers Arena in Vancouver, this box set will likely cost someone upwards of $70, and numbered out of 4,000, it’s sure to be collecting dust in record stores across the globe for years to come.
However, Metallica’s offering seems paltry in comparison to Live Trax volumes three and four from the Dave Matthews Band—four and five-LP boxsets respectively, with pre-markup costs ranging from $75-90 each. I’d come up with a Dave Matthews-referencing pun to deride whoever thought pressing these up as Very Important Exclusive Releases was a good idea, but that would require listening to the Dave Matthews Band.
This Black Friday also showed us that Virgin has started to press Now! 3 to picture disc singles, with both Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” (above) and the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” hitting the racks. We didn’t bother ordering either of these because it’s not 1998 anymore, not to mention the pre-markup cost of $8.50/unit.
Let us not forget the unnecessary repress—the record one can still often find for a dollar. Last year it was Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, this summer it was a chunk of Aerosmith’s discography, and for this Black Friday, it was Jethro Tull’s Benefit. There are at least 188 LP copies of Benefit for sale on Discogs at the time of my writing this [ED: that number's up to 219 only 12 hours later]; 75 are priced between fifty cents and four dollars a pop. The Black Friday repress, that was limited to 3,000 copies? Already over $20 before markup. I mean, sure, Ian Anderson needs to eat too, but you’d have to be thick as a brick (eh? ehh?) to part with that kind of cash—I mean, you could buy at least four copies of Aqualung for that much!
One might also include Nirvana’s In Utero in the “unnecessary repress” category. Despite being repressed in a rather expensive gatefold double 180 gram vinyl edition earlier this year, the powers that be decided to press In Utero yet again for Black Friday, albeit this time it’s the Albini sessions on their own, complete with all-black cover variant (a theme!). However, the RSD-exclusive version still costs about two or three times more than what the regular (and still in print, I should add) repress, but hell, I suppose anybody that wants to re-imagine 1993 Albini sessions is probably old enough to have a job that pays well enough to indulge in such fantasies.
Speaking of Nirvana, there isn’t an item quite as singularly moronic as last year’s Black Friday Nevermind album cover jigsaw puzzle (“hey, I found the piece with the baby’s dick on it!”), but Rockabye Baby’s Lullaby Renditions of Pearl Jam comes awfully close. Pressed to vinyl and “strictly limited to 2,000 units on Black Friday”—i.e., four to seven times the quantity of an average LP pressing from an independent band—there are sleepytime versions of “Alive,” “Even Flow,” and even “Jeremy” on here. Actual press release, quoted entirely because this shit makes fun of itself:
“Are new baby’s cries turned up to 10? Need an alternative to the nightly riot act? When it’s you vs. them, these sweet lullaby renditions of Pearl Jam’s rock anthems are as comforting as a warm flannel blanket. Just breathe, Mom and Dad—it’s sleep time in Seattle.”
We can’t wait until Rockabye Baby starts covering on Melvins songs.
On paper, I think Record Store Day is a great idea—I’m thankful for the increase in business, especially during these winter months where I’ll sometimes see less than 10 customers a day. However, any pretense of Record Store Day being a “celebration of independent record store culture” (or any combination of those words, really) died when the day became an excuse for Warner Bros to hock the contents of its waste bin at consumers for inflated prices, heavily overshadowing any number of smaller labels’ participation.
Independent record stores did not stay open this past decade by stocking $50 represses of readily available albums, $40 pressings of Red Hot Chili Peppers B-sides, or $20 Fall Out Boy singles, no matter how “limited” the pressings. This has only become more obvious to me this year, where our regular customers showed up in the afternoon to take advantage of sale deals on stuff we’d stock normally, instead of clawing tooth and nail over the strangers lined up outside our door at opening. This bubble won’t last forever—go back to your local record shop in a few months and take a look in the cut-out bin for the proof.