Art Much as I love Spotify, and I do love Spotify, more than some humans, it’s ruined the experience of visiting record shops. Along with Amazon, iTunes or whatever flavour of downloaded mp3 takes your fancy, the ability to instantaneously access almost all music at a usually reasonable price or monthly subscription or both has nullified the verisimilitude of the trip to HMV simply because there doesn’t seem to be a reason to wait. I’m listening to the soundtrack to the film Cracks as I type (spotify link), something which is unlikely to be even available on the shelves at the local shop (not that I’ll be listening much longer, it’s very repetitive being essentially spot music).
But it’s not just the purchasing of music. I’m old enough to remember being able to preview music within the shop before purchase and my parents generation could visit a record shop and rent a booth in order to listen to music (some of which survive at The Beatles Story). That’s the experience that Ted Riederer is attempting to recreate within this newly refurbished space on Seel Street which will become a new music and culture venue (or multimedia hub) once the Biennial has completed. Never Records is an old style music shop of the kind which still just about exists in some areas - see Vinyl Exchange in Manchester (which yes I do still frequent on principle).
There are essentially two main threads to the installation that go to the heart of what the record buying experience used to be. One block of wooden racks has dozens of commercial LPs from the 80s and 90s with large sections of their cover blanked out apart from a single word, and by flicking through them we’re able to access a range of aphorisms and poetry, replicating the act of searching for music. But this is also what the artist calls a “not for profit” shop. Riederer invited a range of local musicians to visit and record their stuff for no fee and a single copy of that work has been placed within the racks which the visitor is encouraged to listen to with a little help from the resident invigilator.
After minutes spent trying to make decision (we’ve talked before about the evils of choice) I selected this recording by Sami and Stef Rose with its intriguing secret German bonus track which the volunteer placed on a deck on the counter at which sat. We stood listening to the record together, an acoustic bit of nu-folk which he thought was close to Belle and Sebastian but with later reflection is a bit poppier. The secret German bonus track was some prose powerhouse that neither of us could translate. Afterwards the record was put back into the racks ready for the next person.
A couple of weeks ago on his BBC Radio Five Live show, Mark Kermode noted that the problem with the proliferation of film and the production line nature of presentation in multiplexes means that the original process of showing a film in which the cinema was almost performing the work to its audience by projecting it has been lost. On this occasion, the act of putting on the record in these circumstances felt like it was being performed, with the two of us as audience members which makes it just as valid an experience as seeing some kind of unrepeatable live performance (unless we ask to hear it again).
I imagine for any kids who visit Never Records, the experience will be about as historically relevant as the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, Western Approaches or the Jorvik Viking Centre (though hopefully just as interesting). But as an artwork, and a reminder of our cultural heritage, and an experience, Never Records is very special indeed. Though of course I made a mental note to check the web later to see if any of Sami and Stef Rose's other music is available online and of course they have a myspace page and the songs I listened to are on YouTube, which spoils things a tiny bit. But not too much since they're rather good.