I’ve been trying to get hold of a copy of the (relatively) new release of the Bailey/Parker/Bennink Topographie Pariesienne 4xCD release on Fou Records, but have encountered problems, which I think are indicative of how retail factors have changed so much over the past few years. This particular item is an exciting discovery, for those of us fascinated by early European free improv, offering the chance to experience the 1970 Topography of the Lungs line-up, in a later live situation, something which is hard to appreciate for the non-fan of this music. Think of a newly-discovered recording of Tony Williams’s original Lifetime trio from 1969, for example. Of course I want to hear it, and it’s only available in the compact disc format, which is currently about as available as a VHS cassette, such are the dictates of fashion.
I tried to buy Topographie Parisienne from out current ‘record shops’, a thankless task (oh, for the days of Sound 323 on Archway Road, Mark Wastell’s all-too brief foray into the record retail business). I trekked to Cafe Oto’s small, rather up-itself , selection of arcane, yet improv-friendly stock (which inevitably promotes expensive vinyl re-releases), then moved ever eastwards towards Rough Trade East (a great shop). Nothing doing, however.
Now, I live in London, still (maybe?) the head honcho of vibrant cities, so was surprised that it was so hard to get hold of this product, but there you go - where does you now go to get hold of a compact disc-only release nowadays, if you wishes to avoid using Discogs or Amazon? Here in self-consciously hip Crouch End, we have a record shop which heavily promotes vinyl records, both new and second-hand, and one is made to feel that compact discs are, essentially, the ghetto-side of the tracks, with regard to potential purchases. I’ve literally seen CDs become sidelined over the years in this particular shop, and shoved into a rather unloved side of the shop (the regular public still seems to like it, however). One gets the sense that asking to order a compact disc would be tantamount to asking for a Betamax tape (not that the young-ish staff would know what that was). Where, oh where, does one go to order a newly-released compact disc nowadays? Especially one that features ‘obscure’ music?
I‘ll tell you where. I ordered Topograhie Pariesinne from Discogs, whats more from a European retailer, thus incurring a £10 P + P surcharge. Poor me.
Moving on, it was interesting to see an article in Saturday’s Guardian about the supposed re-emergence of cassette culture. Where will the few remaining ‘record shops’ situate themselves with regards to this new ‘phenomenon’, I wonder? They won’t be able to flog ancient product for £20 or more, I’d predict. Wire’s column, ‘Unofficial Channels’ has trumpeted cassette culture for many years, as have several other significant commentators and ‘scenes’, so it will be interesting to see how far this apparently retrogressive movement can progress in our current fixation with one particular old fashioned format (vinyl), in the face of some demand for the restitution of these others. There may well be more fans of compact discs than one might think.
However, I wish to state here my utter dislike of the completely flawed ‘jewel case’ - I’m utterly amazed that major record labels have failed to endorse an alternative to this utterly crap model, with it’s obvious design fault, the dual-hinged connectors that shatter once the product is dropped, or otherwise subjected to stress. I really cannot believe that this fault has not been supplanted, even after nearly 40 years of exposure to continuing consumer dissatisfaction.
Or maybe I can, sadly.