I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store
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Guerilla filmmaker Brendan Toller unleashes I NEED THAT RECORD! THE DEATH (OR POSSIBLE SURVIVAL) OF THE INDEPENDENT RECORD STORE, "an elegy for a vanishing subculture...a lively, bittersweet film that examines - with caustic humor, brutal candor, and, ultimately, great affection - why roughly 3,000 indie record stores have closed across the nation over the past decade," (Johnathan Perry, Boston Globe). A tour-de-force tale of greed, media consolidation, homogenized radio, big box stores, downloading, and technological shifts in the music industry told through candid interviews, crestfallen record store owners, startling statistics, and eye-popping animation. Fat cats or our favorite record stores? You decide. Featuring- IAN MACKAYE, NOAM CHOMSKY, MIKE WATT, THURSTON MOORE, LENNY KAYE (Patti Smith), CHRIS FRANTZ (Talking Heads), GLENN BRANCA, PATTERSON HOOD (Drive By Truckers), PAT CARNEY (Black Keys) , LEGS MCNEIL, BOB GRUEN, BP HELIUM, and many indie record stores across the U.S.
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Brendan Toller's engaging essay-film is a direct response to an unexpected extinction event of the past decade: 3,000 independent record stores have closed down in the USA alone.
By launching a two-pronged attack on the problem - meeting record store employees and customers in situ, and analysing the backstory of the wholesale restructuring of the American music industry since the 1980s - he manages to provide a rounded and quietly impassioned elegy for the kind of self-supporting yet fragile communities which independent stores bring into being.
Along the way, Toller interviews various leftfield rock icons, including Fugazi/Dischord's Ian Mackaye (brutally realistic), Thurston Moore and Chris Frantz (genially articulate), Mike Watt (incoherent), Legs McNeil (cynical) and Glenn Branca (cantankerous). Lenny Kaye explains how he actually met Patti Smith while they were both browsing in their local indie record booth, and there's the unspoken reminder of how many groups have formed through in-store notices.
But the real heroes and heroines of the story are the store owners and staff, who are painted as tireless Canutes, embattled against an oceanic sea-change in the business of selling entertainment. He begins at Record Express, the Connecticut neighbourhood record emporium that Toller used to frequent. Owner Ian is clearing his racks and sweeping up, forced out due to rent hikes and dwindling business, as he explains over choked-back tears. Meanwhile, the charismatically combative Malcolm from another CT store, Danbury's Trash American Style, explains how a local print-shop owner has just elbowed them out of a 20-year lease, while his customers mourn its passing: "It's like when your best friend's moved away to a far away land, and you can't buy a plane ticket to go there," says one. It's more than just the closure of a record store, it's the dismantling of an unofficial but tangible underground society. "A part of the culture," insists Toller, "that can't easily be regained."
How did this come to pass? Toller's argument begins with President Clinton's deregulation of radio station ownership in 1996, which led to Clear Channel owning one in 10 radio stations in the US, blanketing them with homogenised playlists. Wal-Mart, he goes on to say, has become the US's biggest record retailer, with one in every five CDs sold there.
Cumulative factors such as MTV, loss-leading CD prices by big-box retailers, even the legendary superciliousness of indie-shop staff are cited as factors, along with the inevitable role of the internet. Noting that `entrepre-nerd' Michael Robertson only owned six CDs at the time he set up the controversial [...], the film acutely observes the way download culture, with its defensive firewalls of legal protection and enforcement, has promoted a widespread antagonistic attitude to record labels rather than the kind of loyalty that might have characterised earlier generations of music lovers. With digital becoming the dominant delivery model, the prospects for future record collectors is, as Thurston Moore puts it, a "lonely and boring" experience rather than one involving community and fellowship. Theoretical heavyweight Noam Chomsky is roped in to point out the similarities with the way supermarkets sucked up the customer-base of small grocery stores. "The system is designed for isolating people," he says.
Toller has worked hard to structure his film to maximise the impact of his story, and the analytical sections are seamlessly woven in among the talking heads. Matt Newman's animations provide appropriately cut'n'paste counterpoints to the footage, and a post-punk soundtrack throbs throughout (the title track, by The Tweeds, is a celebratory slice of 1980 disc-junky power-pop).
The film's subtitle is `The Death (Or Possible Survival) Of The Independent Record Store'. It might have been useful to have gleaned, from shops that are surviving, how to keep heads above water. As it is, I Need That Record! is about more than just the death of the record store. It laments the passing of a state of mind.
DVD: 5 stars
Extras: 4 stars
-- Rob Young UNCUT Magazine, August 2010
The documentary covers many areas of recorded music at the same time. It smartly alternates the current state of the music industry with the history of recorded music. It tells us right away that 3,000 independent record stores have closed in the US in the past decade. Director Brendan Toller, who also wrote and edited the film, knows his turf really good, and goes around several stores which are barely surviving or are about to close - some closed during production --, and interviews their owners. Their stories give us a clear picture of the problem. We are told, for example, that there is no artist development anymore, and that it is more about the profit for the labels. We also learn that since the fifties, when payola was introduced, music was affected because the labels hired independent promoters to play the singles on the radio. We are informed, for instance, that 63 spins of a JLO single go for $3,600. Interestingly enough, too, is the fact that Clear Channel, according to the filmmakers, owns 1,200 radio stations, and that a study shows that some radio stations play the same song 73% of the time. Toller goes on and explains the impact of the so-called "Big Box" stores (Wal-Mart, Target, Borders, etc.) on the independent artists and music in general. He also examines the birth of MP3s, iPods, and the current resurgence of vinyl. Of course, he also delves into the 2004 suit that the RIAA filed against 4,769 music downloaders. The film is also aided with the participation of musicians Chris Franz (Talking Heads), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), as well as writer, historian, and linguist, Noam Chomsky.
When you are done watching this unforgettable documentary, you are left with a feeling of sadness and nostalgia, especially those of us who have seen better times. Perhaps the feeling was captured best by one of the clients at Trash American Style, one of the many independent stores that closed down during the production of the film, when he said, "The kind of music that is interesting and stimulates your mind is at this store, not at the mall." In addition, Chomsky reminds us that "local stores provided a sense of community." "I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store" is powerful, a true testament of our times. The DVD also includes more than two hours of extras, with extended interviews. (USA, 2009, color, 77 min plus additional materials).
Reviewed on December 6, 2010 by Eric Gonzalez.