Though invented in the very earliest part of the 20th century, the vinyl record picked up sales momentum midcentury and began a journey that not only created superstars but widened music's popularity in general. New formats have been conceived over the decades, of course, and all have superseded the record's dominance at one time or another, but for collectors and music fans who enjoy their music on a visceral level, there will never be an equal to the bewitching quality of a flat, round platter of wax, made all the more special by the cardboard cover or sleeve that protects it. Vinyl is magic and, most people agree, it is here to stay.
The first Record Store Day in 2008 was meant to be both a celebration and a reminder of the delicious, independently owned record shop; the neighborhood joint that stimulates the senses as you can walk in, where you hear music over the speakers that might inspire you, have a chat with the clerks to learn about new stuff and then flip through the 12-inch square covers, getting the opportunity to touch and feel the smooth, glossy cardboard packaging and wonder about the artist and music repped inside.
Now a yearly event every April, Record Store Day, which marked its 10th year on Saturday, April 21, has found its groove, so to speak, and has become known for unique limited releases by record companies, which in turn bring out competitive collectors and vinyl “nerds,” leading to long lines outside of every record store in town. But even if you're not a vinyl obsessive, creative in-store signings and special performances make the day fun for all.
Sick City Records, located in a vintage river-rock–fronted building on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, was opened by Brian Flores and Jesse Lopez in 2006, two years before the first Record Store Day and several years before the neighborhood hit its hipsterized, gentrified swing. Both Southern California natives, Brian grew up in Huntington Beach and Manhattan Beach, while Jesse, a hairdresser, is from Montebello. They began selling vintage rock & roll T-shirts together at the Melrose Flea Market and came up with the idea for a store combining both their love of music and Jesse's scissor skills. They established a local spot that would function as both barber shop and record store, naming it Sick City Records after a line in the 1989 Jesus and Mary Chain song “Blues From a Gun” (It's a sick, sick city, but it's never gonna make me insane). “Sick City” also is the title of a 1974 Elton John song about rock & roll sycophants, groupies, drug pushers and backstage opportunists, and it's the name of a 1970 ditty by Charles Manson as well.
A small store filled with alphabetized crates of new and used record albums, many of which are displayed prominently on the walls, Sick City also has racks of vintage clothing along with today's much-coveted original concert T-shirts for sale. Focusing on selling rock & roll, punk, new wave and indie music from the 1960s to today, Flores stresses that their love of music is what motivates the type of hand-picked stuff they choose. “It's whatever makes us feel good, that makes us bounce in the store. When somebody asks me whether I like a record, I can't just lie to make a sale. I don't want to carry it if it's not such a great record.”
Flores and Lopez pride themselves on adding local bands to their inventory, and one of Sick City's main objectives has been to give the local music scene a much-needed push. They began having club nights down the street at Los Globos, put together a festival a few years ago called Silver Lake Meltdown and are planning a monthly event in downtown L.A. called Sick City Nights. Their obsession to bring unheard local bands into the open eventually translated into the formation of their own Sick City record label, which to date has produced about a dozen releases, from bands such as The Cigarette Bums, Sunshine Mind, Manhattan Murder Mystery, The Soft Pack, The Tijuana Panthers, The High Curbs and Death Hymn Number 9.
This past weekend, the store was bustling for Record Store Day. A special double vinyl release of Patton Oswalt's Netflix comedy special brought the comedian to the store in the early afternoon for a signing. Oswalt, a music fan himself, has been a customer of the store for years and commented, “I love these record stores. They were a huge part of my growing up. It is good to keep that alive.” When asked whether he had selected any Record Store Day purchases, he glanced over to a rack on the wall displaying reissues of '60s garage-punk compilations. “I just saw those over there. They've got Back to the Grave and Girls in the Garage. I'm probably going to buy those just to have them on vinyl. That's where I discovered the band The Alarm Clock. The best.”
Meanwhile, the Sick City boys are not resting on their laurels. Partnered with Texas-born Tone Miller, a second location of the record store, located further south on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, had its soft opening this week and threw a big bash, fittingly on Record Store Day, for the public. “We're now diving into soul music and country with Tone, giving us a new vibe,” Flores says, adding, “I love music! I wanted to be in a band and this is my way of living out that dream. It's a lot of fun.”
With a DJ playing Iggy Pop, The Cramps, The Buzzcocks and more, plus pizza, beer and local band Sunshine Mind rocking out in-store, the Echo Park location felt like a living room house party thrown by the cool kids in the neighborhood. Flores and Lopez are the cool kids, all right, but they aren't too cool. All are welcome to partake in their mad musical soirees and, of course, buy the sick sounds to spin at home.
Sick City Records, 3323 Sunset Blvd. Silver Lake; (323) 668-2088.
New location: 1381 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. More information on both stores here.