Flingco Sound System rethinks how a modern record label should work.


Sound and vision
Flingco Sound System rethinks how a modern record label should work.
By Antonia Simigis
LESS IS MORE Adams says FSS will limit its album releases to four a year.
Photo: Mandy Kaylin

Bruce Adams is no stranger to record labels. In the late ’80s and early ’90s he cut his teeth at Touch and Go before moving on to cofound Kranky, spending the next 13 years crafting the Chicago imprint’s reputation as a purveyor of experimental rock and electronic music.

After 20 years in the business, Adams decided to shift his focus to something different. Late last year he and his wife, Annie, launched Flingco, a design company that sells witty, artist-designed T-shirts, pins and other merchandise. Still, music remained an essential part of his life. “After I sold my share in Kranky, every two months, my wife would say, ‘You could start a record label, it would be okay,’ ” he says. “It turns out she knew me better than I knew myself.”
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The result is Flingco Sound System, a new imprint with a new philosophy—one that forgoes CDs entirely in favor of digital downloads and vinyl. “Digital distribution presents record labels with a situation they’ve always wanted,” he says of the decision. “When you put your records in the hands of distributors, you hope that your records go to the 200 ma-and-pa stores where they’ll actually sell. But there’s always the fear that they will go sit on a shelf at Best Buy and never go anywhere. If you had the power to do it, why wouldn’t you directly put your music in the hands of the consumers themselves?”

In this era of tanking CD sales and pick-your-price Radiohead business models, going digital-only is a natural step that many independent labels are taking to stay afloat. But small niche labels like FSS, which focuses on long-form, discordant music, also face another challenge: When your audience is made up of serious audiophiles and collectors, MP3s just can’t compare to the warm, rich sounds of vinyl. And the vinyl can’t just sound good. It has to look good, too. “Working with Flingco, I began to see a lot of potential with a record label to spend a lot of time on unique and interesting physical packaging to go along with the music,” Adams says, adding that FSS artists will be heavily involved in their album designs, which will range from limited-edition silk screens to letter pressing.

Naturally, Adams has cultivated a roster that shares his passion for aesthetics, including Wrnlrd, a black-metal artist who has designed original packaging for every copy of his five self-released albums, and Cristal, which creates digital soundscapes and includes a member of one of Kranky’s prominent early signees, Labradford. Adam Sonderberg, a member of the Chicago-based textured-noise trio Haptic, shares a similar viewpoint. Prior to signing to FSS, Haptic released two seven-inch records that came in vacuum-sealed packages. “There are people who don’t even want to open their records once they buy them and ask for MP3s of the tracks,” he explains. “It’s weird. It becomes more of an artist multiple than just a record.” While such vinyl fetishists fall on the extreme end of the spectrum, Sonderberg still feels presentation should be a priority. “It’s your first line of contact, whether it’s a JPEG on a screen and you’re figuring out if you want to download it, or you’re at the record store and looking on the shelf. I’ve been drawn to records where I didn’t know the artist, but it was stunning design. The visuals need to be arresting.”

The FSS roster is purposely limited—only one album will be released every three months when it launches in January, with the Haptic album slated for 2009—and also will be available by subscription, with a year’s worth of releases for a flat fee. It’s an interesting shift in focus from artist to label loyalty, and it allows FSS to reward subscribers with surprise bonuses both online and in the mail. The first 100 copies of the Haptic album, for example, will be bundled with a silent DVD of visuals meant to be played simultaneously. “I have fond memories of mail-ordering punk-rock records when I was in my teens and twenties and getting buttons and stickers,” Adams says.

“In 2007, record labels are asking a lot of people,” he continues. “They’re saying, ‘We want you to buy our records even though technically you don’t have to. We want you to go support the bands and see them play. And we want you to trust us, even though for the past 20 years we’ve sold you 70-minute CDs packed with 20 minutes full of filler.’ I don’t believe in that. I think it behooves record labels to give back.”

FSS hosts a label-launch show with Haptic, Wrnlrd and Cristal at Empty Bottle December 13.

Vinyl will save the record industry


STEVEN SANDOR / steven@vueweekly.com

How is the music industry coping with the changing times?
Last Christmas, Apple reported that traffic on iTunes went up by a staggering 413 per cent, as users filled up the iPods they got for Christmas with digital music or redeemed their gift cards.

This was a sign of the digital revolution, right? We are on a path where CDs, box sets and vinyl will be replaced by MP3s and iTunes gift cards as the gift of choice for the music fan, surely …

Well, don’t jump to that conclusion so fast. Record labels are working hard to make physical products more attractive. And, while the digital market will always be present, those who’d rather spin than download their music are being offered more and more choice.

And, ironically, the world of recorded music could be saved by … good old 33 and one-third RPM records.

“Vinyl is one of the biggest growth areas that we’ve experienced,” says David Gawdunyk, manager of Megatunes Edmonton.

Actually, over the past couple of years, Gawdunyk’s sales of both CDs and vinyl have regularly increased, which flies in the face of the current gospel, which suggests record shops are taking a beating at the hands of Apple and other download distributors.

According to statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl occupies only a small share of the marketplace. The RIAA states in its 2006 Consumer Trends report—the 2007 edition won’t come out until the end of the year—that record companies only realize 0.6 per cent of all their sales through vinyl. That’s about the same number as 1996.

But, according to local retailers, it is trending upwards, defying industry stats. And labels, especially the indies, are doing more to entice buyers to make the return to good old-fashioned LPs. Efforts to make vinyl more attractive to buyers can’t be ignored, and it will be interesting to see if vinyl’s market share jumps in the 2007 RIAA report.

“Dance vinyl had always held its share, but now more and more people want vinyl releases and, really, anything goes on vinyl,” says Gawdunyk. “For example, the last Bob Dylan album, we sold 50 to 60 units on vinyl. Old people were buying it. Kids were buying it. And these people are also buying CD copies of the album, as well. Really, it could be that, while record companies have tried various formats to replace the basic CD—from commercial DAT, which died, to SuperAudio discs, it could be the old vinyl which eventually replaces the CD. Or, it could end up saving the CD.

“The quality of vinyl now is a lot better than we saw in the ‘70s or ‘80s. Now, it’s not mass-produced, so a lot of it is pressed on high-quality 180-gram or 140-gram vinyl.”

The new emphasis on vinyl is echoed by one of Canada’s top indie labels, Mint Records.

“In general, we are releasing more vinyl and, when we do so, we often include coupons so [customers] can also download a digital format of the album,” says Yvette Ray, publicity rep for Mint.

Other major US indies, such as Matador and Sub Pop, are also dropping download codes into their vinyl packages, or placing CDs into the packages that can easily be copied onto a buyer’s computer. Example? Sub Pop is releasing a live album from grunge legends Mudhoney that is coming out on vinyl only. But each album comes with a download coupon—and the label promises that each song will be available at a bitrate of 192 kbps, which offers better sound quality than most compressed digital files.

While the increase in vinyl interest is very real, there is no doubt that CDs are still by far the leader when it comes to the physical format of choice for music fans. But CDs, because discs can be burned so easily, are the most vulnerable to piracy. So, many labels and artists have chosen to be more creative in how CDs are packaged. More needs to be done in order to make a listener choose a CD over downloading the same collection via iTunes.

So, what are the labels doing? More than ever, we are seeing popular albums re-released with bonus discs or DVDs filled with concert footage and b-sides. Some include tracks that aren’t made available to the download sites.

Maybe the most ambitious release you’ll find this Christmas season is the “Executive Edition” of the New Pornographers’ Challengers album, from Matador Records. The Vancouver band’s release will be repackaged with three screen-printed blank recordable CDs. Those blank CDs can be used to get bonus material from a website, from concert performances to video to previously unreleased tracks. Once finished, the set will be transformed into a do-it-yourself box set.

If not audio-visual extras, some labels and artists are certainly putting extra work into their packaging. Fresh off the buzz of the acclaimed Ian Curtis biopic, Control, Warner has re-released new digitally-enhanced versions of Joy Division’s old Factory Records discography, with bonus discs and plenty of additional artwork. And Hacktone Records has caused a stir with its presentation of The Salvation Blues, from former Jayhawk Mark Olson. The package looks like a “mini-novel,” says Gawdunyk.

But, according to Duncan McKie, the head of Canadian Independent Record Production Association, “while there has been some advancement in terms of how CDs are packaged, it’s not true for the industry as a whole.

“I wonder if we’ve become so focused on the digital world, if the development of the physical products have come to a standstill,” he continues. “I just received a CD today. It’s a nice CD with a couple of pictures, but I don’t know if that’s any different from a product that came out a couple of years ago.”

While some labels are willing to spend the extra money for bonus tracks and deluxe packaging, some can’t or aren’t willing to put the added dough into a format which might not come anywhere close to making a return on investment. And, according to McKie, that’s especially true in the case of younger acts that don’t have track records of sales success.

“When you are working on a FACTOR grant or some of your own band’s money, you have got to be careful,” he says.

When a band or label can make as much as $20 000 out of a sync deal that places music in an advertisement or film, the CD is often being seen more as a loss leader than as an avenue for profit. By releasing a CD, an artist or agency wants to get the music out to the public in the hope that it will lead to more lucrative tours or commercial deals. So, why spend extra bucks on packaging or extras?

“Some artists want to limit their liability,” says McKie. “They want to get the music out and then use that to explore other revenue streams.”
So, there are really two sides to the argument. But one thing can’t be questioned; that those who are in the market for CDs aren’t spending nearly as much as they used to. In order to make CDs more competitive with albums being sold for $9.99 on iTunes, labels have slashed prices.

“It makes sense,” says Kris Burwash of Edmonton’s Listen Records & CDs. “The price drop has helped. CDs are finally being priced in the realm of what people are actually willing to pay for them. Most CDs are now available for under $20. Over the last two to three years, the price for CDs has dropped 25 per cent.”
But will lower prices and extras—from the labels that can afford them —keep customers coming? While consumer studies show that 30-somethings are still loyal to buying physical musical product, the jury is out on a generation of teens who are growing up with digital players. As Burwash notes, many young fans are being weaned on MP3 players and computer speakers, and have never listened to music on vinyl or CD, and not on a great stereo system.

“It’ll be interesting when we get a new generation of kids who are used to the sound quality of MP3s,” he says. “And they think that the sound of a compressed file is as good as it gets.”

And Radiohead’s new set is going to take packaging and choice a virtual step further. On Dec 11, EMI is releasing the entire Radiohead back catalogue in one box set. Buyers of the set have been promised access to exclusive online content. But EMI will also be releasing the entire box set on a USB stick in the shape of a bear, with all songs captured in CD-quality WAV files. And, the set will also be available to be downloaded in 320 kbps mp3 files, which offer much better sound quality than the tracks for the band’s In Rainbows album, which has been available online for months.

Miles Leonard, Managing Director of the Parlophone imprint, said in a release, “We are delighted to offer new and existing fans the chance to get Radiohead’s albums in a box set. We are particularly excited about the USB stick, which gives fans an easy and portable way to carry the box set and provides another way of bridging the world between online and off-line content.”

It will be interesting to see which format gets the most enthusiastic response, but personally, I’m going to hold out for EMI to release the set on vinyl. V

Looney tunes back after fire


BY RAFER GUZMÁN | rafer.guzman@newsday.com
6:03 PM EST, November 28, 2007
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Plummeting CD sales, digital piracy, big-box stores with impossibly low prices – for more than 30 years, the family-owned record store Looney Tunes in West Babylon survived them all.

Over the summer, however, the store finally seemed to meet its end. During the early morning hours of Aug. 30, a faulty extension cord caused a neon sign in the storefront window to catch fire. By the time the blaze was over, little of the store was left but a blackened hull, melted CDs and hunks of charred wood that once were autographed guitars.

The news came as a shock to music fans across Long Island, but then came another stunner: Looney Tunes planned to reopen.

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More space, lower prices

In fact, the store is expanding. At noon Saturday, the store will unveil racks crammed with 30 percent more discs, a bigger selection of vinyl, a 16-foot stage and six high-tech listening stations with 400 discs in each. Other details include a lounge area with leather couches, blown-glass lighting fixtures and new Pergo floors. And in a counterintuitive move, the new Looney Tunes is lowering its prices – all single discs will be priced at either $9.99 or $13.99 – and offering a generous return policy of 50 percent store credit on any disc, even if opened.

All in all, this wouldn't seem like a great time to expand a record store, let alone slash prices and encourage returns. Sales of physical CDs have been down nearly every year since 2000, including last year's whopping 12.8 percent slide from 2005. By contrast, digital sales were up nearly 60 percent last year. And illegal downloading is still on the rise.

"I don't care," Karl Groeger Jr., who co-owns the store and is using a combination of insurance money, bank loans and donations from local supporters to reopen, said on a recent afternoon. He had just spent the morning directing construction workers and breathing in the sawdusty air of the unfinished store. "If I drive the store into the ground myself, that I can live with. What I can't live with is a faulty extension cord driving me out of business."

About 15 years ago, Groeger, now 38, and his brother Jamie, 35, took over Looney Tunes from their father, who started the business in 1971. "Since I was born, I wanted to run that store," Groeger said. He began working there at the age of 6, bagging records during Christmastime. In fifth grade, he announced on career day that he would grow up to be a music retailer. The following year he sold bootleg Led Zeppelin cassettes out of his locker. While majoring in business at Rochester Institute of Technology, he managed a nearby record store – the only other job he's held.

Initially, Groeger took a fairly ruthless approach to the business, guarding his strategies closely and hoping for competitors to fail. "My motive was to crush every store on Long Island," he said. "When somebody went under, I was like, 'Yes!'"

And stores did go under, leaving only a handful of mom-and-pops on Long Island. That's due partly to big-box behemoths such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy that sell CDs for prices lower than most independents can afford. It's a tactic that has devalued CDs in customers' minds, said Bob Stanford, who's been running Soundtraks in Huntington since 1985. "The consumer thinks that a CD should be 10 bucks," he said. "I can't sell anything for 10 bucks, and I would not be in business if I were."

Shifting strategies

The changing nature of music retailing has led many stores to shift strategies. At Whirlin' Disc Records, a Farmingdale store that specializes in vinyl doo-wop and oldies records, husband-and-wife owners Steve and Vicki Blitenthal are focusing on the Internet, partly because of the empty storefronts in the area that have reduced walk-in traffic. In 1995, the couple spent three months cataloging their inventory for Internet orders, which now account for about half the store's sales.

"We've had customers from just about every state, plus England, France, Germany," Vicki Blitenthal said. "They Google the song, they get our name and they come to the Web site."

These days, with even big music retailers like Tower Records gone and chains like Sam Goody and FYE scaling back, Groeger has found himself feeling rather lonely. "It used to be every independent record store against each other," Groeger said. "Now it's every independent record store against Best Buy." Around 2001, Looney Tunes joined the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, or CIMS, a trade organization formed in 1995 that claims 59 member stores in 21 states.

The day after Looney Tunes burned, CIMS issued a press release about the news and encouraged donations of inventory and merchandise to help restock the store. And as Groeger planned the rebuilding, he asked other record-store owners for advice and found them happy to share. One store owner even measured his CD racks so Groeger could reproduce them exactly. "It's like a brotherhood," he said.

Local bands also stepped up to help the store. One of the first donations to come in was a gold plaque of the album "Deja Entendu" from the Merrick-based band Brand New. And Joe McCaffrey of Nightmare of You has promised to deliver a Gibson guitar autographed by the band.

"Whether it's selling records or playing music or just talking about it, it should be based in a community," McCaffrey said. When Nightmare of You celebrated the release of its first album with a show at the now-defunct club The Downtown in Farmingdale, he recalled, Looney Tunes set up a booth in the venue to help sell the disc. "They've always supported local music."

Groeger said he plans to expand his selection of local discs – "any local band that has a CD, we want to carry it" – and plans to tape every in-store concert. He's also considering starting a label to sign local acts.

His only worry: His new place might actually be too nice. "I'm afraid people will look at the store and go, 'Ugh, it looks like a Border's,'" he said. "They've got to know we're the same people at Looney Tunes."

WHEN&WHERE: Looney Tunes, opening Saturday, at 31 Brookvale Ave., West Babylon, 631-587-7722, looneytunescds.com.

The vinyl countdown


The vinyl countdown

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Fiona Scott-Norman
December 1, 2007

Shock jock … Fiona Scott-Norman celebrates musical kitsch.
Photo: Simon Schluter

WE ALL think we know what bad music is. It's anything played loudly by neighbours, parents or children which we consider, respectively, "bogan", "borrrring" or "doesn't have a tune and I can't understand the lyrics".

Then there's music that wasn't cool when we were at school, music that was cool when we were at school and any music that requires you to be on drugs to fully appreciate it (think Grateful Dead, Barry Manilow, deep house). Essentially, though, that's just personal taste, one man's Britney being another man's incentive to gargle Drano.

I prefer music that overshoots the personal taste bar by a margin so great you lose it in the sun and have based a one-woman show, The Needle And The Damage, on the stuff. I've been collecting hard-core musical kitsch for the past 20 years – Torvill and Dean, Bernard King, John Laws, David Hasselhoff, white supremacists, deluded AFL football players and enough Young Talent Time to re-tile the Opera House, to name but the tip of a very large and destructive iceberg.

The most important aspect of truly bad music is scale. There are landfill loads of mediocre music out there (hello Human Nature) and I'm not sure why I've always been a moth drawn to the bad music flame.

The first record I ever bought, as a pale and sensitive streak of teen misery, was Billy Connolly's country satire D.I.V.O.R.C.E. The first record I shoplifted was Rolf Harris's The Court Of King Caractacus but mostly I blame being brought up in England during the 1970s: Dick Emery, Benny Hill and Carry On films. I was raised on lard and double entendres.

The Needle And The Damage Done grew out of dinner parties and my habit of serving dessert with an accompaniment of something racist, sexist or simply abominable and ill-advised (Barbara Cartland, bless her heart, should have stayed well away from the recording studio). There's nothing quite like the thrill that comes from making an entire room of people gasp in shock. The show is like a night at my place, with me shoving records in your hand and forcing you to listen to music that has the potential, if not carefully administered, to hurt.

Consider this a challenge, Sydney. Do your worst. Has Cardinal Pell recorded an album?

The Needle And The Damage Done opens at the Opera House Studio on Wednesday.

Music Review: Sasha – “Coma”


Music Review: Sasha – “Coma”
Written by David R Perry
Published December 14, 2007
See also:
» CD Review: Jars of Clay – Christmas Songs
» Music Review: The Killers – Sawdust
» Music Review: Mannheim Steamroller – Christmas Song

Sasha has been steadily producing exquisite releases over the past few years. His debut artist album Airdrawndagger was arguably the most anticipated electronic release of that and several other years. Involver sufficiently raised the bar for original mix albums, almost creating a genre in itself. And both Fundacion and his Instant Live: Avalon sets showed that pretty much whatever he sets his mind to releasing will have a high stamp of quality.

But original material has been slow to come. Airdrawndagger was years in the making, and “Seal Clubbing” with Charlie May, although a good track, felt like an Airdrawndagger leftover (and very well may have been). Now with the release of several new tracks on his new emFire label, we’re finally seeing some new material. As well as a new progression of sound.

The first release from the series is “Coma,” and sets the stage for what should be a very interesting and dense EP’s worth of music.

“Coma” is a dark, rumbling, and twisting dance track. Those familiar with Airdrawndagger and some of the deeper cuts on Expander will obviously recognize it as Sasha. But stylistically it perhaps fits most closely with the overall feel of his Avalon set, which centered around a more breaks-inspired progressive house sound, although, as always, through Sasha’s stylistic filter. The end result was a sound that found its interest almost through hypnosis; the tracks maintained a consistent style, and sucked you in to a dark, but luxurious mid-tempo lushness. It wasn’t a Friday-Night mix, and neither is “Coma” a hands-in-the-air single. But it’s unmistakably Sasha, and unquestionably gorgeous.

And this is perhaps the most interesting thing about “Coma”, that it seems like it would be difficult to work into a peak-time set in its current form. Although underpinned by a constant heartbeat pulse, it comes across as a very cinematic track, finding its arc and journey through an ever-evolving bed of high production and subtle, if dirty, beauty. But it could easily be remixed as a proper stormer, which makes me wonder if there won’t eventually be “proper” releases that include remixes.

Almost as interesting as the track, the artwork and release plans for the singles should receive equal coverage. In a step looking both backwards and forwards, the tracks will only be released digitally and on limited edition vinyl. Perhaps the recent trend toward vinyl collections in indie-rock circles is helping with a renewed user base for electronic music as well.

The vinyl is presented as actual 12″ singles, the three records combining to form an EP of new material, with apparent plans already in place for more music to be released in this fashion on into next year. Each record contains music on one side and a laser-etched design on the other, corresponding to the cover artwork. There is a high art- and cool-factor to the physical disc, and definitely takes things a notch above the standard vinyl release. Vinyl purchases are available from the artist’s official website, as well as choice vinyl outlets.

The fact that new original tracks from Sasha are finally available should have fans scurrying for their wallets, both for securing the new tracks and also for fashionable weekend attire. For casual fans, it should be a no-brainer to recommend the new digital tracks, which are available from most of the major digital outlets (Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, etc.), as well as specialty electronic outlets (Beatport). The vinyl, currently at $13 a pop for each track, should obviously be considered more a collector/hardcore fan purchase, as the cost of the total EP will severely impact your monthly glowstick allowance.

But overall, the material is very promising, and should prove sufficient reason for keeping tabs on the release schedule (see, email update lists aren’t such a bad idea after all).

DJ Lee Burridge still trusts in the vinyl solution


Music Previews
DJ Lee Burridge still trusts in the vinyl solution
Music Previews By Martin Turenne
Publish Date: November 22, 2007
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Dance-music DJs don't get much more affable than Lee Burridge, a 23-year veteran who's been in the nightclub scene far too long to take it seriously. When the Straight tracks him down in Los Angeles, the conversation quickly turns to the recent murder of four people at a rave in Venezuela, where one of the DJ's fellow Englishmen happened to be playing. Asked if that incident might have him reconsidering the types of parties he's willing to play, Burridge gives an almost audible shrug, saying, "No, not at all. It's not like the shooting had anything to do with Carl Cox. I don't think he was playing bad, was he?"

Finding a bit of black humour in a tragedy is par for the course for Burridge, who is as serious about deejaying as anyone in the industry. After witnessing the English acid-house craze firsthand in the late 1980s, he decamped for Hong Kong, where he was one of the first artists to introduce house and techno to Chinese audiences. By the late 1990s, Burridge had moved back to England, becoming one of the top jocks in the progressive-house scene, then at the peak of its mainstream popularity. Since then, his palette has broadened to incorporate everything from bad-ass U.K. breaks to druggy German minimalism, making him perhaps the most eclectic of Britain's top DJs.

Burridge's anything-goes philosophy has a lot to do with the fact that he still plays vinyl records, rather than embracing the CDs or laptop tools most DJs have adopted in recent years. According to the man himself, it's the very act of sorting through physical artifacts that gives his sets their off-kilter, improvised feel.

"I never plan out a night, and I never know where it's going to go," he explains. "I flip through my box and work off the visual cue of the labels, because I never know the names of my records. Some of the people that use software programs probably end up playing the same sets over and over because they're just scrolling through an endless list of names. I could see how they could zone out and gravitate to the tracks that worked well the last time."

The Englishman's diversity is summed up on Balance 012, his recent, sprawling three-CD mix compilation for Australia's EQ Recordings. What the discs lack in spontaneity they make up for with sheer intensity, mimicking an imagined progression from early-evening warm-up through to the madness of a peak-hour dance floor. The first mix is Burridge's favourite, a labour of love that sets out a new, gentler vision of electronic music. You could almost call it emo-techno.

"I've been thinking about that CD for a long time," he says. "I don't know if it's been done before by anyone. It's got a feeling of home listening, yet it's club music at 125 beats per minute. It's got a lot of emotion in it and a lot of different feelings it can bring out of you especially this melancholic feeling. I'd like to think somebody who broke up with their girlfriend would go home and listen to it and cry."

Lee Burridge plays Celebrities on Friday (November 23).

Vinyl surges for Thrill Jockey


Thrill Jockey's 15 big ones

December 12, 2007

Bettina Richards started Thrill Jockey because she didn't like the way big record labels did business.

Richards' mission was simple: Put out records she liked and share the profits equally with the artists. Fifteen years later, she's still doing it.
» Click to enlarge image
Eleventh Dream Day members include (from left) Rick Rizzo, Janet Bean and Doug McCombs. The band performs Saturday at Logan Square Auditorium.

» Click to enlarge image
Bettina Richards: "I really prefer the dynamic to be that the label works for the artist, not the other way around."

• Always on the move
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago. $25 each night; $50 two-day pass. ticketweb.com.

A Chicago label known for adventurous rock, jazz and music that's practically uncategorizable, Thrill Jockey celebrates its 15th anniversary this weekend with two nights of music at Logan Square Auditorium.

Richards, a Pilsen resident who grew up in Delaware, was living in New York at the time she started Thrill Jockey. Working for Atlantic Records, she had signed Eleventh Dream Day, but she was dismayed at the way the company failed to promote and nurture this Chicago rock band.

"I just really didn't like the dynamic that existed between a large company like that and the artist," she says. "One definitely worked for the other. I really prefer the dynamic to be that the label works for the artist, not the other way around."
Cheaper rent

Richards moved the label from New York to Chicago three years after starting it, drawn by the city's music scene as well as the more affordable rent. Her connections to Eleventh Dream Day led her to sign other bands featuring musicians from that group, including Tortoise, Freakwater and Brokeback.

Every deal between Thrill Jockey and a band lasts for just one album. "They all have the right to leave or come back," Richards says. "It's their choice."

Thrill Jockey started out as a one-woman operation. Richards now has seven employees in Chicago and one in London, but she's still the one who decides which bands to sign. "You can blame me," she says.

The label's Web site streams full albums, so people can decide whether they want to buy the CDs. Richards notes that sales of vinyl records are "surging" for Thrill Jockey.
Downloading no downer

In recent years, many independent record stores have closed, which hurts labels like Thrill Jockey, Richards says. But she believes that illegal downloading eventually benefits musicians by exposing listeners to their songs.

"People can naturally discover something, and it doesn't have to be force-fed to them," she says. "The people who trade stuff are obsessive music fans … They're going to buy a pretty high percentage of it in some form or other."

The anniversary concerts will feature many of Thrill Jockey's best-known artists, but the label is not revealing the schedule for either night, promising surprise guests. Playing on Friday are Arbouretum, Archer Prewitt, Bobby Conn, Brokeback, the Fiery Furnaces, School of Language, the Sea and Cake, and Thalia Zedek. Playing on Saturday are Adult, Califone, Eleventh Dream Day, Fred Anderson, Frequency, Pit er Pat, Trans Am and the Zincs.

Shop Till You Bop at Forever Young Records


Shop Till You Bop at Forever Young Records
Not to drop hints or anything, but Xmas is coming, and Forever Young is open, sooo…
By Noah W. Bailey
Published: November 29, 2007

Noah W. Bailey
Forever Young's jukebox is a gateway to another time.
Noah W. Bailey
Noah W. Bailey
Subject(s): collectible albums, record store, Forever Young

Dallas has no shortage of decent record stores, from Good Records to CD Source to CD World to Bill's. (Though, honestly, I haven't darkened Bill's door since he charged me damn near $20 for a Pearl Jam single in 1994. I've always believed in price tags, after all, even at 14.) But they all serve their niches—indie fans flock to Good, those looking for used bargains hit CD Source, etc.—and I'd be remiss if I neglected to say I'd take a comprehensive joint such as Austin's Waterloo Records up here any day of the week. Little did I know, however, that out in Grand Prairie lies the type of record store even Austin would kill for.

I first heard of Forever Young Records a couple years back, but thought little of it, being largely confined to a comfortable East Dallas bubble at the time. After all, the only reason I ever went to Grand Prairie as a kid was to go to Ripley's Believe It or Not. But spurred by a recent reacquaintance with vinyl—thanks largely to indie labels such as Merge and Matador offering free downloads with vinyl purchases and access to my girlfriend's sweet Numark turntable—I decided to stop in one afternoon while running an errand nearby.

I quickly learned Forever Young is not the type of record store you just poke your head in, however. It's a relic from another age, the type of record store you can get lost in, flipping through records till your fingertips hurt, adding dollar amounts in your head, trying not to spend your entire paycheck in one visit. Actually, "visit" doesn't accurately describe it; it's more like a quest, especially when you factor in the scenic Loop 12 to Interstate 20 to Highway 360 route. And as any record nerd can attest, the quest of finding records is often half the fun (which is why we spend hours every week perusing music blogs and reading reviews of old records on allmusic.com).

As you enter through a charming jukebox façade, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by its majesty. The store claims 50,000 new CDs, 20,000 used CDs, 20,000 new cassettes, 20,000 used cassettes (if this is where you get excited, swing by my laboratory so I can run some tests on you), walls full of RIAA gold and platinum record awards, posters, and other memorabilia and—wait for it, wait for it—80,000 LPs, all meticulously arranged and lovingly placed in protective plastic sleeves. And according to manager Taylor Eckstrom, these numbers are conservative estimates; the store has much of their inventory in storage.

What's really shocking is how much of it is worth buying. Just a few minutes spent combing the racks can reveal a plethora of treasures: near mint, original pressings (and high-quality 180-gram vinyl reissues) of classics by The Band, Aretha Franklin, The Replacements, James Brown, Faces, Richard Thompson, Mott the Hoople, Big Black and Neil Young; cult classics I've read about but never actually seen in a store such as The Beau Brummels' Bradley's Barn and Brinsley Schwarz's Silver Pistol; local treasures such as Mazinga Phaser's '96 debut LP and of course, plenty of great, forgotten band names to chuckle at (Beavertooth, anyone?).

"Would you like the tour?" says Eckstrom, clearly proud of his store. Pointing to a wall high above the floor, he draws attention to a display of more than a hundred Bear Family collections. Holy crap. Bear Family is a German record label that caters mostly to collectors of country and rock music from the '50s and '60s. Their boxed sets are exhaustive, even daunting, collecting, say, every track George Jones laid to tape between 1962 and 1964 or every take of every song Johnny Cash ever recorded for Sun. Once again, these are things I'd only read about previously. And here they were before my very eyes.

And did I mention the Collector's Den? Under lock and key, this room houses such rarities as mint, original copies of The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, test pressings, half-speed masters and strange finds such as a $150 Japanese copy of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Street Survivors or a platinum record commemorating sales of Beck's Odelay.

Obviously, the good folks at Forever Young are quite aware of the riches they possess, and they charge accordingly. But a quick check on eBay reveals the store's prices are far from exorbitant. Since I've never felt comfortable buying vinyl I couldn't hold in my hands first, I have to give the edge to the brick-and-mortar store, especially when record store experiences such as this are harder and harder to come by.

But how does a store build such an impressive inventory? Well, they'll buy your old LPs, for one, probably for a much fairer price than you'd get at Half Price Books, where much of the vinyl sits in overcrowded bins without slipcovers, gathering dust. At Forever Young, you get the feeling that your records are getting a good home too. In fact, they don't just care for their inventory; they baby it, and they carry all the necessary supplies for you to baby your collection too, from white paper record sleeves to album cover frames.

People of all ages and tastes walk the aisles. Fathers and daughters searching for old country records, middle-aged couples browsing for soul classics, pony-tailed metalheads completing their Randy Rhoads collection and teenagers looking for the latest radio rock hits all congregate here. In fact, I haven't seen such a diverse clientele at a record store since Tower closed their doors late last year.

I can already hear the collective groan of some local collectors—"Don't let the cat out of the bag, man!"—but this is a place so special it deserves to be patronized by every music-loving North Texan, including you, Dallas Observer readers. Obviously, a place like Forever Young can be dangerous too—with such an incredible selection, it's hard to be frugal. As one friend so eloquently put it, we've "opened Pandora's box set." So consider this a friendly warning (or a challenge). Either way, we'll see you in the stacks.