It is now less than 24 hours until the day that rapid music lovers have circled on their calendars – Record Store Day. In its 6th year, this celebration of indie record stores and music on vinyl has grown from humble beginnings into an international phenomenon. Two documentaries, Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall And Rebirth Of The Independent Record Shop and Brick and Mortar and Love, both coming out as Record Store Day exclusives, honor the independent record store while also addressing the question of their survival.
Billed as the official film of Record Store Day, Last Shop Standing is a British documentary that, not surprisingly, focuses on U.K. indie record stores. Also not surprisingly, English independent record store shares many similarities with its American counterparts. It seems that no matter where they are located, indie record stores are run by committed music lovers who want the public to be able to experience the joy of physically buying records as well as the opportunity of exploring record bins and discovering something new and exciting. In Last Shop (based upon Graham Jones’ book of the same name), the U.K. supermarket is frequently identified as the indie record store’s main nemesis, while in America it was probably more of the big box store. However, the results are similar with the number of indie record stores shrinking drastically since the ‘80s heydays.
Directed by Pip Piper, Last Shop Standing offers a number of British rock musicians, like Billy Bragg, Paul Weller and Richard Hawley, extolling the virtues of record shops as well as the shop owners themselves. Although most of these stores mean little to American viewers (although Rough Trade will ring a bell), the stories are universal – their struggles to survive financially and desire to provide the human touch and knowledge that doesn’t exist online or in super-sized discount stores. So American audiences will still feel twinges of sadness for a record store that they’ve never heard of closing after over 100 years in business.
Last Shop Standing’s subtitle is “The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Independent Record Store” and it would be nice if this could have also suited Brick and Mortar. This documentary focuses on the legendary Louisville record store, Ear X-tasy. Even if you know how this store’s story ends, the film remains a highly interesting glimpse into how even a popular indie store has had to struggle with economic pressures and shifting music-buying habits. Unlike Last Shop, Brick and Mortar offers some musical performances as it includes some prime live My Morning Jacket clips and various Ear X-tasy in-stores. Although Ear X-tasy is its focus, the film, directed by Scott Shuffitt, contains comments from other American indie record store folks ranging from venerable institutions like Amoeba, Waterloo and Grimey’s to short-lived newcomers such as Slowtrain Records.
Both Last Shop and Brick and Mortar are bittersweet tales. While Record Store Day stands tall as a shiny example of indie record stores’ improved strength and continued vitality, these documentaries also reveal that the stores still operate in a vulnerable economic times with few guarantees of survival even for those beloved and revered. One more thing that these short films (both clock in at around 70 minutes) do is make you go out and patronize your local record store, which is a fine thing to do on Record Store Day or any day.