Each Tuesday, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.
This week, we spoke with Neal Becton, owner of Som Records in Washington, DC. The small, well-curated record store is a staple in the DC community, and Becton is the force behind a number of events like the annual DC Record Fair and the monthly Brazilian Rhythms party. Having made three trips to Brazil primarily for the purpose of digging crates, there’s no question that Becton is committed to his craft, and Som’s diverse selection reflects his unequaled passion for music.
What can someone expect when visiting Som for the first time?
A small but tight shop with the best selection of used vinyl in DC. Being fairly small forces me to curate instead of just throwing everything out in the bins. I dig for records four to five days a week, so there’s always new stuff in here. I do sell new releases and touch a few genres that the other local stores don’t touch.
What was your motivation for starting a music store?
I started as a record collector, then became a DJ, and finally a store owner. Records started taking over my apartment, so I figured I better open a store to make some more room.
What is your background in music?
None, really. My parents both had pretty big record collections (various genres), and I started going to concerts when I was 15. I went to lots of shows growing up in Atlanta, and then once I got to college (University of Georgia), I went to see bands almost every day of the week. My friends were all in bands. I went to my senior prom as a roadie.
What is the musical community like in the DC area?
Hard to put it into a few sentences, but DC has a large and varied scene. Punk, hip hop, electronic, bluegrass, whatever — it’s all here. Even though I didn’t grow up in DC, I have been in the city for 21 years and have seen quite a few shows here. Being so close to Philly and New York, we sometimes get overshadowed, but I think that DC can hold its own against any city in terms of quality and variety.
What is the DC Record Fair?
It’s a two- or three-times-a-year record show that we started putting on in various venues a few years ago. We get quality dealers from all over the East Coast, serve alcohol, and get local and national musicians to DJ the event. We’ve had Kid Congo Powers, Geologist from Animal Collective, Ian MacKaye, and Eric Hilton from Thievery Corporation DJ and buy records there. The next one will be February 13, 2011.
Tell us about the Brazilian Rhythms party.
It’s a DJ night that I started over three years ago. I’ve been collecting Brazilian records for over 15 years now, and I’ve made three trips to Brazil mainly to buy records. Once a month (third Thursdays at Cafe Saint-Ex), I dig deep into my collection and do a whole night of samba, MPB, funk, bossa, and forro all on original vinyl. We get lots of Brazilians coming out, and everyone dances ’til the lights come on.
What are the current records on your “This Week’s Treasures” wall?
Looking at it right now we have Throbbing Gristle, Kyuss, The Homosexuals, Audio Two, Sam & Dave, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, The Clash, NO-Y-Z, Bola de Nieve, Hank Mobley, Chuck Brown, The Family, Bobby Bland, Grupo Gente, The Erotic Drum Band, Serge Gainsbourg, and some group called The Beatles.
Which albums has your store sold the most over the past month?
Big sellers lately include the Black Angels, Beach House, Broken Bells, Ariel Pink, Flying Lotus, and Arthur Verocai. In the used section, it has been jazz and classic rock running neck and neck of late, with reggae running a close third.
Any big future plans for Som?
We plan to find (and sell) as many good records as we can. We would love to expand someday, but part of me likes the small but tight setup that we have now. All killer, no filler!