overground scene


A brief history of growing up with vinyl in the 1990s

Back in the mid-1990s two cultural/economic trends were dying away: the vinyl and the death metal genre. This concurrence brought happiness to a small group of friends from Nikaia, a suburb of Piraeus in Greece, who were just starting to discover extreme metal.

By that time, death metal had undergone a period of explosion, saturation and relative stalemate, and was considered a thing of the past in mainstream metal circles (the same goes for traditional metal and thrash). Melodic and highly canonised black metal, on the other hand, was spreading its wings. At the same time, the CD had been widely accepted as the orthodoxy in music dissemination. The vinyl was deemed an inefficient format for music storage; it takes up too much space, it is vulnerable, it cannot carry more than 50 minutes of music among its delicate grooves without compromising the sound quality and, finally, its sound is inferior to the polished digital sound of the CD, which is also small and more easily storable, can hold up to 80 minutes of music and, or so it was claimed, it could live forever. Nevertheless, these two trends – the cultural and economic depreciation of vinyl and (death) metal – resulted in another brilliant trend that made us oh-so-merry: the mid-1990s was a heaven of ridiculously cheap second-hand vinyl records of metal bands.

At the time, me and my friends were in secondary school. Before metal, our cultural consumption was limited to sports shoes (I am not kidding), fast food and, in the case of some people, video games. Then metal came and became an all-encompassing leisurely activity. For some of us there was nothing beyond metal music, although some still placed loyalty in football or video games, albeit to a lesser extent. Back then, every single album obtained, in any type of format (cassette tape, CD or vinyl), was a treasured artifact. Every single album was laboriously listened and appreciated. Listening to music, sometimes an individualistic and other times a social experience, was done with passion.

My weekly allowance at the time was 1000 drachmas (approximately two British pounds) and 1500 drachmas a bit later on. From time to time, my grandparents would also give me an one-thousand drachmas note on top of that standard allowance. Today it may sound crazy, but at that time this weekly allowance was enough to buy one cheese pasty and a soda per day from the school canteen. That’s how my parents intended me to spend my money.  When I started listening to metal I started saving this allowance to buy cassette tapes in order to copy my friends’ albums, as well as CDs and vinyl. The first metal album I made a cassette copy of was Iron Maiden‘s Number of the beast, owned by a friend living in the same building as I did. The first CD I ever bought was Iron Maiden’s Live after death. The first metal vinyl was (surprise, surprise) Iron Maiden’s Fear of the dark.

As I have explained in an earlier post, there were several factors that eventually made vinyl our format of choice. One factor was a specific “record collectors” discourse – which is currently stronger than ever – according to which vinyl is both an investment and a subcultural artifact which gives its possessor prestige and legitimacy (among one’s peers).  Another factor was financial; vinyl used to be slightly cheaper than CDs (the opposite of what happens today). Nevertheless, the aforementioned first few metal albums were bought from local record stores (D.J. records and 5000 V) and were quite expensive (3000-3500 drachmas each). The decision to buy vinyl was not fully determined until we discovered second-hand record stores, where we would find a much bigger volume of albums in much lower prices.

Not before long, me and my friends discovered the numerous second-hand record stores at the centre of Athens. The record stores in Monastiraki, Athens, were the ones I early on bought records on ridiculously low prices. Morbid Angel‘s Altars of madness for 1500 drachmas from Tsampas, Xentrix‘s Shattered existence from 7 plus 7 for 1750 drachmas, Massacre‘s From beyond for 1500 drachmas from Shiva records, are some of the great bargains I can remember. Of course the other music retailers (that were selling both new and second-had albums) in Athens were also great. Who can forget the awesome Happening that also had great offers, the two Rock City stores, and Jim’s Metal Era. For at least two years these stores were our temples of metal appreciation.

Then a great revelation happened in early June 1997. It was after the summer physics exam when me and my friend Dimitris decided to go to Athens on a record hunt. When we got off the bus at Koumoundourou square we saw another friend, Nikos, who was just returning from his record hunt and he told us about this awesome record store he had found, that had the best prices ever. Its name was Art Nouveau, at Solomou street, Exarcheia. However, we did not visit it on that day. Instead, I bought the newly released Dismember Misanthropic e.p. from Metal Era and returned home ecstatic.

Art Nouveau proved to be one of the best record stores ever. It was founded by Nikos, an avid fan of rock music, in 1983. (The store apparently operated also as the “headquarters” of Nikos’ independent music productions company which released the Αδιέξοδο (Dead End) – Γενιά του Χάους (Chaos Generation) split tape in 1983.) The metal section consisted of three stalls on the right hand side of the entrance to the back room. Each stall contained 50-70 records. All the records had been removed and stored, so the customers browsed through the record jackets. On the top right corner of each album there was a tiny hand-written price-tag. The price was also written in pencil on the inner sleeve. As I write this post I am listening to Morgoth‘s Cursed, which I bought from there for 1800 drachmas (3,5 pounds). Other notable records I bought from there include Paradise Lost‘s Gothic for 2000 drachmas, Pungent Stench‘s first album for 1800 drachmas, and Cannibal Corpse‘s Butchered at birth and Cadaver‘s Hallucinating anxiety for equally ridiculous prices. Art Nouveau can nowadays be found at 42 Arachovis street, Exarcheia, still preaching the old rock gospel and stubbornly resisting music fads and the pressures of big music retailers, music digitisation and the internet.

Old habits die hard, and even at a time when some of the most obscure music can easily be obtained by anyone with internet access, all the people who came together in that group two decades ago still buy vinyl records. For most of us it is no longer a matter of prestige. It is simply that we know no better way to enjoy music. Because, all those who have been part of the social organisation of vinyl-purchasing (the excitement of patiently browsing through thousands of albums for hours on end and eventually finding an album you were looking for, finding a hidden phrase engraved on the vinyl close to where the label is, looking at the pictures of the musicians, reading the “Thanx lists” trying to understand who is friends with whom and to discover new bands, finding out who composed what, reading the lyrics, carefully examining the artwork, and smelling the cardboard odour off the record jacket), know that it constitutes an experience that enhances the experience of music-listening itself.

Me and my friend Nikos, 19 years after our first record-hunt.

Me and my friend Nikos, 19 years after our first record-hunt.

 

 



Social capital among the record shop owners in Monastiraki

Social capital is among the most used concepts in the social sciences in the last 15 years. It refers to resources available to people through their social links. More correctly, it refers to the social contructs themselves which allow actors that are a part of them to benefit in various ways. Others may equate the concept with trust. In many instances it’s being used inappropriately (e.g. the occassional simplistic positivist account of explaining economic success by looking at the associational activity in an area), but in any case, the concept of social capital is really fun to employ and explain phenomena of our everyday life, without being too picky about it. Today I thought of an event that happenned in Athens a couple of years ago.

In the area of Monastiraki, in Athens Greece, there is a cluster of record stores that sell new and used vinyl records. Some of the shops are 10, 20 or even more years old, some others are younger. Each store owner is more or less specialised in a specific genre. Shiva records in metal, Tsampas in rock and metal, another nationalist-idiot that my friend Nick has named “the knight” in metal, 7+7 in alternative (and rock and metal in the past), Oh aman market in greek music and rock, (Zaharias is a bit of everything) and others. We could then say that there is a relatively high level of specialisation in different genres. Each owner has knowledge of what is rare in the genre they specialise in. It would be very difficult to buy a rare metal album from Shiva in a low price, becuse he would be aware that it is rare! Similarly, it would be impossible to buy a rare greek record from Oh aman for the same reason. However, my friend Nick bought 2 years ago “the Labyrinth” by Sokratis Malamas, the edition that got recalled after it was released, with the name of the album on the cover, just for 5 euros!!! That happened because he bought it from an idiot who traded metal, but happened to get his hands on that greek artist. Record collectors would be willing to pay 100 euros for that one. I bought the amazing second Nuclear Death album (Carrion for worm)  just for 8 euros or so around 7 years ago, from Oh Aman, the greek music store!!! That album again is super-rare but the shop owner couldn’t have known because he didn’t know where to get information on the record from!

That shows me that neither the norm of reciprocity nor the norm of trust is in place in monastiraki among the record shop owners. If one shop owner thought that he/she could trust other shop owners with asking for information on a rare record then they could sell it in the appropriate price. Instead, what happens is that shop owners often “inspect” others’ stores to see if they can find a rare record the others are not aware of. Moreover, noone expects the other to reciprocate the favour. What happens is that a shop owner does not expect others to provide her help when needed and also she doesn’t think that others expect her to provide them with anything as well. This non-cooperative culture works for the benefit of record-buyers, in this example me and my friend Nick.

Of course, someone could rightfully question my analysis by arguing that it is not a matter of lack of social capital but of arrogance. Shop owners are arrogant in the sense that they think that they know everything, that they are the oldest in the business, that it’s not possible that others know more than them. Also with regards to certain sub-genres, like death metal, even metal record shops were illiterate until the late nineties when these apes discovered internet. Oh my god, how many cheap records have I bought from suckers like Shiva back in the day… Altars of madness 1500 dr (4,5 euros), From beyond 2000 dr (5,5 euros), Master, Demmolition Hammer, Terrorizer, Cannibal corpse, … 4-6 euros. Good times. Who says that low endowments of trust is always a bad thing!?

Below is a video with Nuclear Death and the amazing Lori Bravo. She is among the most amazing death metal vocalists ever! Brutal, sick, unpolished, honest, innovative. For me, the most extreme band on earth, period!