Evil Genius and record store communities

01:13, Aug 29 2012

Last year I wrote about the opening of Evil Genius, the record store, cafe and design shop that relocated after the Christchurch quake. In fact the store had just started when the tragedy struck.

So here we are, nearly a year on from the opening day in Wellington - Evil Genius standing bold in Berhampore, offering a slice of Lyttelton to Wellington; a destination-store hiding out behind the fringe of the city. Not all that far from the CBD when you consider how far some people have to travel for work and play - but then again, not just a leisurely stroll...

Last week I checked out Evil Genius for the first time.

I know I should have been there sooner - I'm always writing in support of records (vinyl) and record stores (actual stores, as opposed to websites). But I didn't get there sooner. I hadn't made a visit until last week. I'm broke these days, more broke than I've ever been - and in the time that Evil Genius has been in Wellington I've been blogging daily, working, writing a book and helping to raise a child. Okay, so I've been blogging daily for a long time now and always working - but those other two reasons are pretty good excuses, I reckon.

It won't be anywhere near as long until my next visit to Evil Genius - I know that much, having been there now.

Yes, there were cool posters and T-shirts, the coffee was superb and there were some great records there (I had to hold off from buying Here Are The Sonics - brand new on vinyl; being broke helped). I was struck, instantly, with the vibe of the place; it felt right. It felt nice. My sort of place. I'm a sucker for music shops - old-fashioned, dying-breed music stores. Record stores, CD stores (back when they existed), stores that sell musical instruments - I can't walk past without peeking in (at least the first time). Some don't warrant a return visit, but all must be looked at, looked through.

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On our recent trip to America I found records I didn't even know I was looking for - and though that might be a foreign concept to some (hopefully not too foreign, you're reading a music blog) I delight in those opportunity-purchases. The opportunity arrives because you chose to step into a new store; you're open to the possibilities, not tied to your usual flick-through of the usual sections. You get too familiar in some stores - and that's another part of the charm of record-shopping. Sure. But on more than one occasion I've been asked where certain albums are - by other customers, sure that I'm part of the staff. That's most probably very, very sad. Particularly as that has happened to me in more than one store - and none were stores that I was actually employed to work in. But that's what happens when you have your rituals, your routines and your eye on certain things in certain stores. That's what happens with a habit.

In a new (and different) store you're suddenly open - again - to all that the store offers. You'll check the rockabilly section, even if that's not your favourite genre - because you might just find something magical there that you would have not bothered checking in for in your regular haunts. Reggae is suddenly alive with the possibilities of so much more than just the same few reggae albums you know and don't care for at all from the other stores you've checked out over and over.

Well, all of that was running through my head as I was checking out all the genre-headers at Evil Genius, thumbing through the LPs...the budget couldn't stretch to a new copy of The Sonics but what if I found something...something just right...

And then I did.

A record I hadn't thought about in a long time, actually. An album I had never previously owned on vinyl, and it wasn't on some list, or floating around in the back of my head (on a mental list) just waiting for the day that I found it. It was an album I had enjoyed a lot but seeing it, there, at Evil Genius last week - that was the moment. It was instant. I knew I had to have it.

The record was Friday Night in San Francisco by Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia. I've owned two CD copies of it. Bought it cheap and loved it - gave away a copy to a friend, then lost the second copy.

At the point of purchase, $12 for the LP and I'm happy with that, it is not even about listening to the record again (though I know that I'll be playing it as soon as I get home). It was, as much as anything, a gesture - a souvenir for me, from my trip (finally) to Evil Genius. And a token offering, some support from me to the store. A purchase. It might not be much but it was all I could offer at the time and all I wanted (given my budget).

Evil Genius has plenty of regular gigs and festivities. There's Friday fish'n'chip night and in-store performances. And you can just pop in for a coffee and food. And a chance to hear some music that you probably wouldn't hear in any other cafe.

It's cosy, intimate - I'll definitely be heading back to see a performance. I'd like to possibly take part too. The Vinyl Friday gig, where record collectors play selections of their favourites was hosted by Evil Genius last month. I've been a part of Vinyl Friday before; it's a lot of fun. And as I looked around at the poster listing some upcoming appearances, and scanned the small room to imagine how many tables and chairs and record bins would need to be removed to create space, I had a picture of this - a fiercely/proudly independent record store - as the very model/portrait of that old cliché: the record store-as-community. I liked thinking about that as I left the shop.

Arriving home after my visit to Evil Genius, I put on my new copy of Friday Night in San Francisco. And yes, as soon as the weave-and-dance of Mediterranean Sundance filled the room, I had a flood of memories from back, 15 years ago, when I had discovered his album the first time. It was a new discovery, a new revelation. My nine-month-old son kicking and squealing in delight, all but shrieking with a joy that we know now as his form of vinyl appreciation...and new memories joined the old, as I thought about Evil Genius, a great place. One I couldn't believe I had taken for granted - and had not visited - despite being in the same city for nearly a year. I took to Facebook and Twitter to tell whoever was reading that Evil Genius was a great place.

So, have you been there? What did you think? And what record stores exemplify that idea for you, the record store-as-community? What (and who) do you think of when you ponder the community of record stores? And do you like the idea of fish'n'chip Fridays at the record store? The chippie across the road, an in-store performance from local musicians...

Here's the Evil Genius website - for hours, information and catalogue

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