Walking in a vinyl wonderland

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True or false: There are more Starbucks’ within a mile of Occidental’s campus than independent record stores.

For almost anywhere else in the country, this statement would be true without question. After all, Starbucks is one of the biggest chains in the nation and most music today is sold digitally, not in brick-and-mortar record stores. However, Occidental belongs to the small list of places where the opposite holds true—Highland Park is home to four separate vinyl shops along York Boulevard and Figueroa Street, all within walking distance from campus.

To the analytical music fan, this point raises several questions: How is vinyl in such high demand in this area? Why are there so many record stores in Highland Park? What does this say about the music community of Northeast Los Angeles? The answer to these questions lies in the shops themselves.

Located just across the street from Thai Eagle Rox, Gimme Gimme Records is the closest record store to Occidental. The store stands out among its York Boulevard neighbors with its bright orange fence and cerulean exterior. Inside, the shop has a cozy and relaxed vibe, feeling more like a living room than a storefront. Four rows of tables span the length of the room, packed with Gimme Gimme’s inventory of used records. A brief walk through the aisles shows that the shop offers a little bit of everything, from reggae and rock to hip hop and jazz, with no favoritism shown to any particular genre.

“I think that’s the strength of the store—that very eclectic taste,” Gimme Gimme owner Dan Cook said.

Cook originally set up shop in New York City’s East Village in 1994. After operating as a part of the New York vinyl market for 18 years, he was forced to move the store to L.A. at the end of 2012 when his landlord drastically increased his rent. He decided to bring the shop to York Boulevard upon noticing that the street’s abundance of record stores made it an attraction for vinyl shoppers.

“There’s some competition [between the stores] I guess, but it’s friendly competition,” Cook said.

While L.A. is a distinct change of scenery from New York, Cook has taken well to the new music landscape. He has noticed that L.A. has fewer European tourists than New York, which is bad for business since Europeans are more likely to spend money on records due to the favorable euro conversion rate. On the other hand, Cook has found his clientele in Los Angeles to be more local and diverse.

“It’s definitely more varied here than in New York,” Cook said. “Also [more] local families, like the mom comes in with the daughter and the dad comes in with the son … I never had that in New York. More girls buy records now than they used to, too.”

Though Gimme Gimme Records has sold vinyl in Los Angeles for only two years, it has quickly made a name for itself among the local music community. Most recently, the shop earned a spot on L.A. Weekly’s list of top ten record stores, coming in at number six.

Placing directly above Gimme Gimme in the rankings is another recent Highland Park transplant—Permanent Records. Whereas Gimme Gimme Records is more of a general music shop, Permanent Records’ focus is decisively on rock, though they do stock other genres.

“A quick look around and you’ll see what we tend to focus on more than other stuff,” Permanent Records co-founder Lance Barresi said, pointing to the records lining the walls of the shop. “At the same time, you can see a Sun Ra [jazz] record right up next to a Slayer [metal] record right next to a Bob Chance [disco] record up on the wall, and those are three very disparate genres.”

Barresi and his business partner Liz Tooley started the record store in Chicago in 2006, but the city’s harsh winters pushed the couple out west. They opened up their second location on Colorado Boulevard in mid-2011. Three years later, however, they realized that they did not mesh with the surrounding community as well as they had wanted to, and moved the shop to their current location in Highland Park.

“This new location has been better than we could have ever expected…a store like ours fits in with this neighborhood a lot better than it did in Eagle Rock,” Barresi said.

The new Permanent Records is located directly across the street from Highland Park’s oldest record store, Wombleton Records. Ian Marshall, the owner of Wombleton Records, could not be reached for comment, but Barresi stated that there has never been any bad blood between the shops.

“Wombleton was part of the reason we didn’t move to Highland Park when we came to L.A. in the first place,” Barresi said. “We were friends of friends with [Marshall], and not until we moved here and got to know him did we realize that he would have thought it’d be good if we were all centrally located together. Everybody has their own niche. From Gimme Gimme down the street on York, to Wombleton, to us, there’s some overlap, but there’s really not a lot of the same records in each one of those stores. We’re all more focused on a certain genre.”

Like Cook, Barresi found that one of the benefits of being close to other record stores is that it makes the neighborhood a destination for vinyl connoisseurs.

“I think it works out well to have different-focused record stores near each other, because then you have people who are coming from the west side—or way out in the valley—thinking it’s worth coming to this area, even if they and their friends don’t buy the same kind of records,” Barresi said. “Highland Park is now the Mecca for small, independent, highly curated record stores.”

Barresi’s belief in the importance of vinyl was one of the major reasons he decided to open a record shop in the first place.

“[Digital music] never really appealed to people the same way that vinyl did,” Barresi said. “There have always been hardcore vinyl collectors, even when people proclaimed vinyl dead. It’s never really been dead.”

Praise the virtues of vinyl is no longer confined to older generations, as evidenced by the many Occidental students who have started their own record collections.

There’s nothing that really compares to the sound of a record,” KOXY staff member Soraya Sebghati (junior) said in an email. “The crackle at the beginning of an old one is always a welcome sound. Also, when listening to an MP3 recording, you don’t get the full spectrum of sound, and you don’t hear the music as it was intended to be heard.”

KOXY Station Manager Jack Baker (senior) ellaborated on the appeal of vinyl.

“I buy records because I love to listen to them and play them for friends … There’s magic in buying a record you’ve never heard and listening to it for the first time,” Baker said via email.

Occidental radio station KOXY has recently hopped on the vinyl train too, collaborating with the staff of Permanent Records at various music events in the area.

“KOXY has developed a good relationship with Permanent,” Sebghati said. “They’ve had their DJs do vinyl DJ sets at a KOXY show before, and we’ve been discussing the possibility of hosting some of their free shows on campus so that they could have more people attend.”

This renewed enthusiasm for vinyl records by younger audiences has been dubbed by industry analysts as “the vinyl revival.” The effect that the vinyl revival has had on Los Angeles can be traced through the blossoming of record stores over time. When Bay Area juggernaut Amoeba Records opened its Hollywood location in 2001, it instantly became the gold standard for record stores in the city. The year of 2009 saw the rise of record stores in Silver Lake and Echo Park, where shops like Vacation Vinyl and Oragami Vinyl rapidly became local hot spots. The movement continued to travel eastward, and since 2012, Highland Park has seen the most recent growth in record stores. All this movement raises the question: why the geographical shift?

“Because rent’s not as expensive [here] as in Silver Lake or Hollywood,” Zane Landreth, co-owner of Mount Analog, said simply.

Mount Analog is Highland Park’s fourth and most nascent record shop. It exists slightly further away from campus, on the corner of Figueroa Street and Avenue 59, just one block away from the Gold Line Metro Station. Part vinyl shop, part art gallery, the space gives off an authentically indie vibe.

Upon entering the store, a pulsating industrial beat can be heard over the speaker system. To the immediate left and right are shelves stuffed full of cassette tapes, hanging over small assortments of indoor plants. Hundreds of vinyl records sit packed tightly together in several rows, meticulously curated and organized. Every obscure genre has a place in the collection, from nu-pop to goth minimalist.

“There is something for everyone here,” Landreth said.

Sporting a set of white gauge piercings and arms peppered with tattoos, Landreth’s appearance complements his store’s alternative atmosphere. He and his partner Mahssa Taghinia founded Mount Analog in the summer of 2012. The two first got the idea to open a record shop when they were DJing parties in L.A. Landreth put on a minimal synth night he called “Killing Spree,” while his partner held a series known as “Curiation,” which Landreth described as a “psych-funk-pop-boogie wild weirdness night.” The constant need to order records for their parties from Europe frustrated them and provided the inspiration to take matters into their own hands.

“There was this gaping hole in these genres that you couldn’t get at record stores in Los Angeles,” Landreth said. “We figured if we set up a shop and made it a really cool space—someplace we’d want to hang out in—and we sold all these records that you have to get from Europe, people could just get them from us.”

Mount Analog stocks both new and used vinyl along with cassettes and CDs. However, new music comprises only about a third of the inventory. Landreth explained that he avoids selling new pop records, such as Taylor Swift’s recent release “1989,” not because he dislikes them, but because there are already venues to buy it.

“I’m not gonna carry an Arcade Fire record because you can already get it [elsewhere],” Landreth said. “This isn’t a shop for that because there’s so many other places that do it better than I could. But I think that I do industrial music better than [other shops] could, I do techno better than they could, I do Krautrock better than they could.”

Landreth emphasized the musical discovery process of record shopping, explaining how he encourages shoppers to consult the extensive knowledge of his staff for new recommendations.

“It’s a fun shop for people that want to look a little bit harder,” Landreth said.

In addition to catering to adventurous record buyers, Mount Analog hosts a variety of instore events, often giving performers their first opportunity to play in L.A. Presently, the shop curates a series of parties called “Nuit Noire” and collaborates with local venues such as Complex L.A. in Glendale to host music events.

“Mount Analog is all about Los Angeles. I love this town, and being able to bring exciting things here is really rewarding,” Landreth said.

Gimme Gimme Records and Permanent Records also participate in the local music scene. Just a few weeks ago, the two stores took part in a series of musical events in collaboration with Ariel Pink, a prominent musician in the independent music world.

Record stores like Gimme Gimme, Mount Analog and Permanent Records play an important role as gathering sites for music fans and generators of a local music culture. The fact that so many of these stores exist in such close proximity to Occidental further reflects the rich cultural environment the school inhabits.

“Oxy is situated in one of the most artistically vibrant communities in Los Angeles,” Baker said via email. “There’s so much amazing music and art happening around us literally every day, and to not take advantage of this is to not really be spending your time at Oxy right!”