Record Store Day (April 20th, lest one forget) wouldn’t be what it is without record stores – so Clash sent some questions the way of one of its favourite London shops, Flashback, to see what makes it tick.
Flashback has stores in both Angel and Crouch End – the former preceded the latter, opening in 1997, with the further-north outlet becoming a reality in 2006. Stocking new and second-hand items alike, Flashback is one of those growing-ever-rarer gems: a record store you can wander into without the intention of buying anything, but leave having as good as emptied your wallet.
Both Flashback shops are participating in Record Store Day 2013, and will have exclusive items available. They advise early attendance on Saturday, as the tastiest morsels are sure to fly. (Answers below are a ‘team’ effort.)
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On your website it says Flashback opened in 1997 and was predominately a store for clothes and music merchandise. It seems as thought you’ve undergone quite a few changes since then. Is the online retail side a big part of the business?
“Actually, the main thrust of the business has always been the music. We phased out the retro side in 2000 and have built up the business selling second-hand vinyl, CDs and DVDs since then. A few years ago we started to sell new vinyl, and this coincided with a steady growth in our online sales, although we’ve had an online presence since 1998.”
You pride yourself on customer service and the importance of the relationship with the consumer. Are you still able to maintain this with the online side of the business?
“It is an absolutely essential part of the online business. Customers place faith in us, when they order online, that the item is the one they want in the condition we advertise it. We strive to deliver this as much as possible, but in the rare case of there being a problem, we offer full guarantees and no-quibble refunds. In this way we have become a trusted online seller with high feedback ratings and regular return custom.”
Do you think Flashback, and independent record stores in general, cater more for the cross-genre consumer? Do people buy notably different music online as opposed to those coming in store?
“As we don’t get to meet the online customers, this is a difficult question to answer, but over half of our mail-order customers are from abroad. In the shop we do get a very diverse range of customers: partly as we deal with all musical genres, and partly because we try to make the shop as welcoming as possible to all-comers. We strictly avoid the cooler-than-thou approach, which has been a feature of many record shops through the years.”
Do you get any real characters coming into the store?
“Of course we do – it wouldn’t be a record shop otherwise. We have a strong presence in the community and get many interesting regular customers, who we welcome even if they have only come in to say hello.”
You’ve just started your own record label. Talk us through that…
“We found a great band called Red Horses Of The Snow (website) and had to release their music. Hopefully we’ll find other bands that excite us as much, and we’ll release their music too. Red Horses Of The Snow are working on their new album and hope to be playing live in the summer.”
You seem to work quite closely with NTS Radio (website), hosting shows on air. Can you tell us a bit about that?
“Staff members at Flashback are generally working here because they love music, and all the staff DJ in one form or another. NTS approached us to do a regular show and we were only too happy to oblige. We also have a monthly night at the Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch and host regular in-store gigs.”
What new artists is Flashback getting excited about in 2013?
“Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Drenge, Memory Clinic, Atoms For Peace, The Murder Barn, King Krule, Mac DeMarco, Melody’s Echo Chamber and Ty Segall immediately leap to mind. We’re very excited about the new music scene at the moment. There are a lot of really interesting bands coming through in 2013.”
Were there any particular highlights of 2012?
“Record Store Day last April was just epic. I think it will be even bigger this year. We had people queuing around the block for hours before we opened. Flashback’s 15th birthday party, at the (London) Buffalo Bar in November, was amazing as well, featuring four bands including Flashback staff members – and there were at least another three who could have played...”
You mention your in-store sets. Since you opened, have there been any particular favorites?
“We have an in-store once a month or so. I think the highlights have been Veronica Falls, Alexander Tucker and a set by Dylan Carlson from Earth. Most of our gigs are semi-acoustic, so we get unique performances from artists who are keen to try something a bit different.”
Do you think, because of the way that we buy and listen to it, music has become more disposable? Is the longevity of an artist’s career shorter because music is so much more accessible, and the need for the next thing more immediate? Any thoughts on whether that’s true or not?
“While it is true that music is much more accessible, there is also a vast amount more out there as well. Getting noticed on the internet is incredibly difficult without a record company or press behind you. I don’t want to knock labels, which do a great amount of good work promoting music, but I think they could do more to preserve the artistic life of quality artists. I’m not talking about X Factor dross, but artists who have a more meaningful position in music. I think the global market means that bands have to spend more time promoting albums than they did in the past. The gap between albums has become larger, and the importance of singles has decreased, hence it is easy for fans to forget bands and artists.”
What lies ahead for Flashback?
“What we at Flashback would really like is for everyone to be nice to each other and for World Peace. Failing that, we want to continue selling quality music to people who love it, and we want to have fun doing it!”
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Interview by Lucy Simmonds
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