Why Miami Still Needs Record Stores
Another satisfied Sweat Records customer.
Photo by Monica McGivern
The CD seems destined for obsolescence. Sales continue to decline. Profits too. And people are starting to discover that crusty old coffee-table coasters can be conveniently replaced with compact discs.
But vinyl is booming. For the seventh straight year, the format's sales have increased. (In 2014, there were 9.2 million units moved, a gain of 52 percent on 2013’s 6.1 million.) And the trend is benefitting independent record stores while the big-box chains desperately try to empty their CD-clearance bins.
Last year, indie shops, like Miami's Sweat Records, sold 57 percent of all vinyl. So it's obvious that music fans aren't only interested in digital downloads and Amazon Prime memberships. They're looking for fine collectible wax and some real-life FaceTime with fellow aficionados. Yet the naysayers remain, insisting that so-called “fetishists” should just let go of archaic crap like phonographs and the brick-and-mortar spots that peddle them.
We at New Times disagree. So does Sweat owner Lolo Reskin, as well as all of these other Sweatstock and Record Store Day participants who answered the question: Why does a city like Miami still need record stores?
The Sweat Records crew at last year's Sweatstock.
Photo by Monica McGivern
P. Scott Cunningham, founder of O, Miami and Jai Alai Magazine. “We don't need them. We want them. Stores are the places where you discover new things and meet like-minded people. They also serve as epicenters for the community, trading information in addition to product and serving as front-line advocates for local talent. OK, maybe we do need them.”
Lauren “Lolo” Reskin, Sweat Records owner. “The answer is in the question. To be a real cosmopolitan city, Miami needs record stores and other local cultural institutions. Can you imagine living here without Books & Books? As they are so much more than just a bookstore, we, in addition to being a purveyor of vinyl, are also a meeting place, a venue, a megaphone for shows and events, and we act as ambassadors to the loads of tourists and people who’ve recently moved here that come through our doors. Music is important and universal, and I deeply believe that it will always have a cherished place in our society. Record stores are a real-life manifestation of the love of music.”
Steven Toth, Miami music scene mainstay and frontman of Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers. “I remember the first Record Store Day. Vinyl was in the infancy of its comeback and I planned a guerrilla performance at a local record shop. Guitar in case, gorilla mask on face. Before they called the cops on me, I busted into a stream-of-consciousness song about record stores in the spirit of Jonathan Richman's 'Corner Store.' We all had a laugh and they sold a few records. The importance of these establishments is as much about the music, collectors items, and knickknacks as the conversations and congregations. People can buy, listen, steal music all day long at home by themselves, but you will never meet those folks at the record store. We are proud to play Sweatstock to support ten years of this fine establishment. And here is to all other record stores too!”
John Hancock III, solo artist and former lead singer of Awesome New Republic. “Ever spend an hour and a half picking something to watch on Netflix? Remember how easy it was to hit up the video store and go home with something new? I feel the same way about records and record stores. Sure, you can peruse streaming playlists or check out the latest website post, but something about walking into a physical space, seeing something with your eyes, grabbing it with your hands, and saying 'Fuck it, I'll buy this shit' is a style of discovery that can't ever be replaced.”
Andrew Yeomanson, AKA DJ Le Spam of Spam Allstars. “Why do we still need record stores? From a very early age, my life revolved around the record shop. Any pocket money I could beg, steal or borrow was squirreled away towards my next purchase. As a teenage metalhead in Brandon, Florida, I frequented a tiny store where I bought Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All, Slayer’s Show No Mercy, and Venom’s Welcome to Hell in between stealing Sabbath and AC/DC albums from Camelot at the mall. Then we moved to London and I found a store called Shades in the basement of a Soho alleyway. This was heaven to me. I met the classic lineup of Metallica there during an autograph session for Master of Puppets.
“When I got into roots and dub music, I was hanging at places like Dub Vendor in Ladbroke Grove, a tiny closet of a place with records jammed into every crevice. I moved to Miami in 1990 and it seemed like things were pretty healthy. We had Rich Ulloa’s Yesterday and Today, Bob Perry’s Blue Note, Leslie Wimmer’s Open Books and Records, Michael Dean’s Yardbird, Carlos Suarez’ Flippers, plus several chains and many other indies. Yardbird was my first regular stop, where I would buy funk, jazz, and blues LPs to dissect on my guitar. Later, I would work with Carlos at Flippers, and that’s where I learned about Cuban music. Spam Allstars was essentially born out of that store when I met a sax player who wandered in looking for people to jam with.
“The record store is more than just a place of transaction, it’s hub of information and community. I went into Blue Note one day and started talking to the guy behind the counter about Pops Staples’ guitar tone. I imagined he was playing a Telecaster and the clerk told me, “No, man — that’s a Jaguar,” which put me on a quest to find a Fender Jaguar, pretty much transforming my playing. The people I was buying records from back then are still my friends 20 years later.
“When I used to travel back in the good ole pre-internet days, I would tear the record store page out of the phone book and go down the list, visiting them one by one. You could tell if you were in a culturally deprived area when all you found were the chains and a couple of Christian book stores. Now the chains are all gone, but the good news is that a few battle-scarred independents still remain. So support your local shop. It might even change your life.”
The sweet smell of vinyl.
Photo by Monica McGivern
Mr. Pauer, Latin Grammy-nominated DJ and producer. “Miami is a city with a very colorful and active music scene. We need record shops for supporting local acts that produce specialty products, vinyl, and merchandise that otherwise only lives in an online world or at shows. This is a way of preserving human connection with fans that find you through the stores. Besides that, the lectures, events, and networking that happens at record stores keeps a music scene fresh and connected.”
Emile Milgrim of Other Electricities, Quarter Horses, Miami Girls Rock Camp, and Sweat Records. “Every city needs record stores. They serve as subcultural hubs to access independent music and publications, find out about local shows, and meet other like-minded people. I’ve met bandmates, various project collaborators, and some of my best friends at record stores. Places like Sweat, Uncle Sam’s, Yesterday and Today, and Radio-Active are essential in stimulating creativity, conversation and community.”
Tom Laroc, VJ and DJ. “It’s important to continue to support local record stores for several reasons. Record stores generally employ people who know and love music, with experience in what's available on vinyl. Human curation can't be beat. A record store employee can walk you through the sea of vinyl to a style, genre, or sound from the particular the city you're in. Music history plays a part in collecting music. Record stores are a cultural center of musical knowledge. This body of knowledge can't be seen. You can feel it, though, when exchanging information with people at a record store. It's a magic feeling of enlightenment that’s only attained when face to face with like-minded people who take the art of building a vinyl collection seriously.”
Ordinary Boys, “Florida’s only Smiths and Morrissey tribute act.” “Records stores are, to some of us, a nolstagic pastime. Their importance, in our opinion, is an exploratory musical library. A place to wonder and discover. It's good to know the origin of some of these influences being played on the radio, Spotify, etc. today. You don't want to lose the charm of buying records, also. Buying a record is part of the experience of connecting with the music and the artist. With digital downloads, it lulls the beauty and the experience of discovering new music. The actual walking in, getting to know the people's behind the counter. Obtaining a relationship with those person(s). Record stores definitely help foster respect for artists, especially local artists. We do discover new artists online but when it comes to being loyal to bands that we love & appreciate, we partake in going to the stores and buying the LP, because we feel it's best! We believe it's the least we can do to show the artist an appreciation of their art. A place like Sweat can offer all those things, including delish coffees.”
Bryan Adams of creative collective Figbox. “Record stores exist for the attentive listener. Every single person has the ability to, at the click of a button, download music onto their phone or computer. Anyone can pass the time at work or fill a silent car ride with music. But it takes a certain type of person to go out of their way to pick up a record. Obtaining that physical piece of music to be played on a device whose only purpose is to play it for you. I believe Miami is filled with people of this nature; passionate about music to their very core. Record stores like Sweat, Uncle Sam’s, and Yesterday and Today are essential in keeping that passion and strong artistic community alive.”
Brian Kurtz, founder of Limited Fanfare Records. “Miami, more than most big(ger) cities, needs brick-and-mortar record stores — and more of them too! There's a viable music community in South Florida that still wants to discover music in a tangible way and the best way to do that is to physically go to a record store. It's easier to make a deep sensory connection with music when you can dig through bins, have a visual (or olfactory) ambiance, and talk to someone who peddles music for a living. (They do know. Believe me!) Sweat, Uncle Sam’s, and Yesterday and Today are staples in our humble seaside town and there's a reason for that. They make digital and online record stores look like the evil, 2D stepsister. Plus, you don't have to pay shipping? Come on, it's a no brainer!”
Suede Dudes’ William Alvarez. “Miami is a culturally rich city with a big music and arts community. These shops are not only a great space for the people in Miami to pick up records, they play an integral role in keeping these communities thriving. Some of the employees are artists in their own right. By partnering up all year with other members of the community, hosting events, fundraisers, shows, record stores in South Florida — Radioactive, Sweat, Top Five Records in Lake Worth — become an important force in sharing the creative endeavors of local artists and bands to their respective cities — and sometimes the nation — exposing to its citizens that there's so much out there to discover and nurture.“
Whorish Boorish’s Rebecca Lima. “I really feel that as well as making subversive music tangibly accessible to the general public, a record store like Sweat serves as a bastion of hope for local musicians, providing a sanctuary for local music to gain visibility in its hometown. We need other options, and Sweat provides this city with a top-shelf sanctuary for collectors of non-normative music. Yesterday and Today is a sanctuary in another right, in that it keeps aflame the spirit of the past, that which fuels the future of creativity.”
Yes, your local record store sells triangular vinyl too.
Photo by Monica McGivern
Mariel Zayas-Bazan, drummer for CRUD. “Every city needs record stores. Beyond the buying/selling of vinyl, record stores are underrated cultural meccas. They’re spots of solace for those who couldn’t fathom heels on the beach or a mean spray tan. When I want to own Psychedelic Peruvian Chicha, a throwback Mehkago N.T. record, or the new Earth album, I head to Sweat. There, I know I’ll catch a familiar face or fellow cynic in the struggle. In our shallow digital age, there’s something comforting about tangible tunes and people that support ‘em.”
Bluejay’s Jay Thomas. “Miami needs record stores the way it needs art museums. We benefit as a culture from these altars to sound — places where sound quality is taken into account and musical achievements are celebrated. Music is essential to culture. It dances in our depths, it tells our stories, it cranks up the party. Record stores celebrate and commemorate. Record stores open new doors of experience. We have much to gain by preserving physical spaces dedicated to the art of music.”
Pari?h. “These days everybody just sends tracks up into the cloud. We need to solidify the cloud. Touch the cloud. By psychokinesis a psychic makes a cloud into a T-shaped cloud. It’s like Marshall McLuhan, RIP, said: "The medium is the message.” Fluid ritual manifests as objective novelty. This is why we need record stores to auto-fellate ourselves. It feels good. True art is created in an encounter between the physical and ephemeral realm. Vinyl records provide a gateway to this liminal zone, existing neither here or there. We need records to remember.”
Plastic Pinks’ Luigi LaRocca. “Miami needs record stores because Miami is international and should not just stay relevant with the current melting pot of cultural sounds, but it should also stay in touch with the times and sounds of the past and future. By that, I mean it was the norm to release music on vinyl in the past and vinyl is now gaining a strong foothold as the most sought-after medium to release music by present-day artists. The rich warm clarity of vinyl is much different and has a unique quality compared to the CD version. Record stores also tend to support local acts, which is very important for local musicians. Miami record stores can be a cornucopia of local talent you wouldn't know existed unless you heard of them there.”
Plastic Pinks’ June Summer. “I agree with my fellow bandmate, Miami is a city that vibrates in so many different ways. Personally, I would love if there were more record stores, so that the true feeling of Miami's music culture could be represented in all its glory. Record stores provide you with a range of sounds, from the mainstream all the way to the next-door neighbor if he were to put something out. You don’t get that with the major music stores, which are lacking as well and being substituted with stores like Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic.
"Sweat Records is a perfect example of a record store that gets involved with its community. It is a place of gathering. It promotes locals, through events where local bands get to play with known names and expose themselves as the up-and-coming talent. People get exposed to different music and get to experience the discovery process which tends to happen with a leap of faith: you saw the art and liked it, then you get it blindly only to find out that it's your new favorite band. For music enthusiasts, the record store is a sacred place where you can find everything you're not being provided by big media, though you can find that there too. Let's say you want to change it up and had it with what you are being fed 24/7 by the radio and TV, you take a few minutes inside this place and come out with some actual product knowledge given to you by the store's team and something refreshing to your ears, instead of the same thing that’s been playing over and over throughout your day.”
Juan Fernando Oña, drummer for Haochi Waves. “Why does a city like Miami still need record stores like Sweat Records, Uncle Sam’s, Yesterday and Today? Not only does a city like Miami need a record store like Sweat, every town needs a record store like Sweat. Sure, you can walk into any record store and say, 'I want something that sounds like...' and you might get a decent recommendation. Big deal, music streaming sites already have algorithms that do that. What you can't find in most of these outlets is people who truly love music and genuinely give a fuck. With the birth of MP3s, iTunes, Pandora, XM, etc, I feel that we are losing something. These days, it's all about playlists. People have lost sight of the fact that a song is merely a chapter of a greater composition: the album.”
Lauren Palma of Bleeths and Degeneration. “Record stores like Sweat are an essential part of our scene here in Miami. For someone trying to break into the underground music scene in Miami, all they have to do is go to Sweat and talk to one of the people who work there who are all involved in the music community or pick up some of the flyers that all the local promoters drop off there. For musicians, it’s a meeting place and a second home next to our beloved church, where we can pick up new sounds and even have our own band’s music for sale. It’s an essential part of a growing community.”
Dent of riot folk band Unity Rise. "2015: We’ve got so much music out there, so much talent, and so much garbage, especially in the mainstream. So many bands to get into and so little interaction outside of concerts to discuss your new favorite song. Ever since cities became so interconnected, we've lost touch with the people around us, and if you’re in an area without a real musical identity, or even if you’re in a vibrant musical scene, the record store is an invaluable place to find new bands or even new genres you never knew existed. As a place where you can find an actual selection of music and not just the same mainstream artists you hear on the radio all the time, record stores are the place to connect, share, and discover new music. They’re a damn good place to check out whenever visiting a new city and a great place to spend time at as a local."
Wastelands’s Alex Nunez. “Alright, so this is why it's important to have a good record store in a city like Miami, a city where live, alternative, and underground music is generally the last thing on its mind. I remember when I was a teenager hanging out at Churchill's Pub and just beginning to get familiar with the Miami scene. I was wandering around the back patio of the pub and stumbled upon this random little door in a dark area, hidden away from the rest of the bar. I walked in and stared into a little rectangular room with shelves piled with records, tapes, CDs, band t-shirts, you name it. It was Sweat Records. It blew me the fuck away. I had been going to Churchill's for months by then, and I had no clue that there was a record store hidden in the back — let alone a record store anywhere near this side of town, or even the city of Miami! It was there that I got my first Load seven-inch and saw how much local stuff they had in there. The idea that you could be a local band and trying to put stuff out, and that you can go to a place like Sweat and they will put your stuff up, it changed the way I looked at how to put out music and promote shows. Sweat at the time really had a DIY vibe to it, which became my philosophy for every music project I got involved in after that. Till this day, I learn so much from hanging out there and listening to stuff I've never heard of or wouldn't give it a listen to if it weren't right there in my hands. Record stores are more than just a place to purchase music, they are a place to learn, a place to meet people with similar interests, or even just a comfortable surrounding in which to sit down and have a cup of Joe. Not to mention how much they do for the scene as far as helping put the word out on shows and hosting events.”
Sweatstock 2015. Celebrating Sweat Records’ tenth anniversary and Record Store Day. With Tobacco of Black Moth Super Rainbow, Krisp, Dim Past, The Ordinary Boys, Bulletproof Tiger, and others. Saturday, April 18, at Sweat Records (5505 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-693-9309; sweatrecordsmiami.com) and Churchill’s Pub (5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-757-1807; churchillspub.com). Admission is free. All ages.