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Back in the groove: A hole new spin on Record Store Day

Culture

Independent record stores are expecting to do a roaring trade this weekend, with the first of three separate drops of limited-edition vinyl hitting shelves on Saturday as part of a reimagined version of Record Store Day.

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Record Store Day – which is normally held in April but was cancelled this year due to the global coronavirus pandemic – was conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent US record store owners and employees to drive business for indie retailers that had experienced a downturn in trade with the rise of digital devices.

The first Record Store Day was held on April 19, 2008 and was an immediate success, with hundreds of stores across the US and the UK taking part, and artists including R.E.M., Vampire Weekend and Death Cab for Cutie issuing limited-edition releases to mark the event.

The event quickly spread throughout the rest of the world and has become the biggest day of trade of the year for independent record stores but due to social distancing, this year’s event has been split into three separate days, which will take place this Saturday and the final Saturdays of September and October.

“It’s still based on the same premise of being a celebration of independent record stores, providing an array of exclusive records that are released specifically for Record Store Day,” Steve Bell, co-owner of Sonic Sherpa Records at Stones Corner, in Brisbane’s inner east, told InQueensland.

“That means it’s all these small runs of pretty collectible stuff from big bands that you can only get in independent shops, they’re not in chain stores. It’s just trying to sort of bring focus to small, independent shops and the culture and community around that.”

For the first drop on Saturday, there will be special releases from the likes of David Bowie, Billie Eilish, The Cure, The Kinks and Gorillaz, as well as Australian artists including Ben Lee and The Church.

“There’s a lot of things dropping this Saturday, but it’s not going to be as substantial as what a Record Store Day has been in the past because the split in between will hopefully keep the crowds a little bit lower. Obviously we’ve got our social distancing regulations we have to follow anyway and we’ll be doing that so it will be safe but it’s going to be slightly different.

Bell operates Sonic Sherpa alongside Simon Homer, who owned long-running Brisbane institution Skinny’s for 20 years until closed its doors in 2007.

Bell had worked alongside Homer at Skinny’s and after much coercion, was convinced to go into partnership for what would become Sonic Sherpa, which opened its doors in 2015.

Bell has admitted he thought Homer “was crazy for the longest time”, but as vinyl continued to grow in popularity, he “realised he was right”.

Compact disc sales have continued to fall in the five years since Sonic Sherpa opened but vinyl sales have kept gradually growing, with the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) predicting revenue generated from vinyl sales will outstrip both CDs and digital downloads at some point this year.

Sonic Sherpa record store.

Bell said he has noticed a massive shift in the demographic of customers visiting the store in the past couple of years in particular, with many younger listeners opting to invest in physical releases.

“Because we had our old shop Skinny’s, when we first opened, a lot of people were very excited to have us back in that regard because that shop, which Simon used to own, was a very much loved part of the Brisbane scene, so as a result we were getting mainly older customers and it’s just been getting younger and younger as new generations are finding out the joys of the vinyl experience.

“I know we’ve got algorithms and what have you and a lot of other different ways of finding music these days, but that doesn’t change the importance that record stores have had in that regard for decades and still do, it’s just building and building and it’s so exciting to be a part of.”

Bell said it had been a year of mixed blessings for Sonic Sherpa – which ordinarily operates pop-up stores at a variety of festivals including Bluesfest, Splendour in the Grass, Gympie Muster, Falls Festival and the Gold Coast’s Groundwater Country Music Festival – but said retail trade had remained surprisingly strong.

“We’ve lost our festival trade, part of our business model is selling music and organising signings for artists at festivals and that hit us really bad but to be honest trade’s been quite good  – people seem to be focusing on their record collections a little more as they look towards an immediate future where they probably won’t be spending as much time in crowds.

“But Record Store Day is really important for us because it introduces us to people, it brings new people in and gives them a glimpse of what makes record stores – and not just ours, I’m talking in a wider sense – so important. They provide that community or hub for music fans to congregate and meet and have a curated selection of records there that might introduce them to some worlds.”

For information on participating stores and a full list of releases, visit the Record Store Day Australia website,

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