MadCity Music Exchange

Behind the Counter: MadCity Music Exchange (Madison, WI)

Established way back in 1981, MadCity Music Exchange in Madison, Wisconsin has changed ownership a few times, but its diverse selection and high level of service have remained just as high. Local weekly publication Isthmus recently bestowed its readers’-choice award upon MadCity, after fervent fans voted it the best in the area. Before current owner Dave Zero took the reigns in 2007, the store had run by Dave Benton since 1986. We spoke with Zero and learned what exactly makes Madison and MadCity great places for music.

What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?

I was a long-term employee and was lucky enough to be the first person that my boss, the previous owner, asked when he was interested in selling the store.  I’m just another obsessive music fan that wanted to be around music as much as possible.

Dave holds Superchunk's On the Mouth
Dave holds Superchunk's On the Mouth

How has the Madison musical community changed over the years?

The musical community was greatly changed when we lost our beloved rock club, O ‘Cayz Corral, in a fire on New Years Day in 2000.  It was a giant hole that has only recently started to feel closed.  We now have a few places that are wonderful: High Noon Saloon, The Frequency, and Project Lodge.  Within the past five years, there has been a great resurgence of a real DIY spirit with local bands, and we now have more great local bands than we might have ever had before.  Those Poor Bastards, Midwest Beat, Burial Hex, The Hussy, Zebras, Shane Shane, United Sons of Toil, Second Family Band, Dead Luke…just to name a few.

Zulu Records

Behind the Counter: Zulu Records (Vancouver, BC)

With an army-green facade out front and wood-paneled walls and retro furniture inside, Zulu Records is an established musical stronghold in the Canadian metropolis of Vancouver, British Columbia. More than a place to buy music (though it covers that angle pretty thoroughly), Zulu has become a family-friendly, cultural centerpiece of the community with a number of notable in-store performances, art openings, and a continued independent, DIY approach to business.

What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?

Zulu Records grew out of the ashes of an old store called Quintessence that specialized in prog and rock. It was 1981, music was changing, and there was a community of young punkers who were starved for all of the amazing imports coming out overseas. Zulu Records’ owner, Grant McDonagh, was one such fan with big ideas who saw his part-time job at Quintessence fizzle out and an opening present itself. Grant had ties to all of the great Vancouver punk bands and, in the early days, worked closely with  this community, including later starting his own record label to press bands that he felt deserved to be heard. Today, Zulu Records concentrates completely on being one of Canada’s finest indie music shops, and it still prides itself on the model of building and maintaining community ties.

Melanie holds Destroyer's City of Daughters
Melanie holds Destroyer's City of Daughters

What is the musical community like in Vancouver?

Vancouver’s music community is tight-knit. Vancouver has always had a bit of an annexed feel to it; we are in the corner of Canada, and the city is geographically bounded and can’t really sprawl endlessly like other major Canadian and American cities. As a result, the spots where bands play, practice, and congregate haven’t really changed over the last 25 years. There is still a very punk/DIY feel to how bands go about doing things, as really we are pretty far away from the spotlight of the business in Toronto. In fact, we have more of a West Coast / Pacific Northwest vibe going on, and certainly, Seattle feels like kindred musical spirits.

Weirdo Records

Behind the Counter: Weirdo Records (Cambridge, MA)

Each week, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

Weirdo Records in Cambridge, Massachusetts lives up to its name. Rather than try to compete with the various stores selling indie rock and big-name artists, it’s found a niche in the esoteric and obscure — “records where people are literally just banging on their kitchen pots and pans and yelling,” according to store owner Angela Sawyer. We spoke with Sawyer and found out what makes Cambridge a haven for music (and book) geeks.

What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?

This year is my 20th year working in a record store. So I’d wanted to start one for a long time, but really couldn’t figure out how — mostly because I was always working in a record store, which meant living below the poverty level, and I couldn’t put together enough money to buy a car or a vacation, much less start a business.

When the Internet came into its own, I started using all my spare time to try and figure out how to build a website. I started with about 10 titles, and these days there are several thousand. I moved into a proper storefront at the beginning of 2009, and a few folks (mostly journalists) were surprised that I was opening a shop. Simply and frankly, I’ve been surrounded by and motivated by records my entire adult life. So I felt like, what was I gonna do — take up taxidermy?

Weirdo Records

What is the musical community like in Cambridge?

Flat-out amazing. Boston is home to more colleges and universities than any spot on Earth, so it’s the college town’s college town. All those students mean that it’s a real haven for book and music geeks. Right now, there are three different handmade paper pamphlets around town that are solely dedicated to listing different underground house shows (and they don’t overlap in what they cover). There’s a vibrant, world-class improvised music scene, and lots of crossover between noise, jazz, hardcore, avant classical, etc. There are also several unique regular DJ nights where people play all 45s or LPs, each focusing on something a little bit different (three different soul ones, several ’60s-only, one for international music, one for rootsy country, and so on).

New England is known far and wide for its adventurous and voracious record collectors, and the prices in town are cheap, and the selection is plentiful — especially for genres that are abstract or difficult. The record-collecting community here has been very good to me, and the shop is really theirs. I feel extremely lucky just to get to hang out in it all day, and I think that it just wouldn’t fly anyplace else.

Le Disquaire

Behind the Counter: Le Disquaire (Saint-Brieuc, France)

Saint-Brieuc is located on the northwestern tip of France, near the English Channel. Its most notable musical export is perhaps Julie Budet of electro-pop group Yelle. Saint-Brieuc is also home to a record store called Le Disquaire. It says something about the size of the town, and the closeness of the musical community, that these two entities call each other friends. We spoke with Gilles Ollivier of Le Disquaire and discovered that, despite the fact that it’s a small city, big acts regularly roll through town and play on the venue’s own stage.

What are the origins of Le Disquaire / What is your background in music?

When we opened in 2006, there was no independent record store in Saint-Brieuc anymore. We’ve grown up with such places (and we had been working for several years in that type of shop) where music may be something more than just a product. We wanted to share our passion and experience.

Le Disquaire

What does the store do particularly well — any specialty genres or formats?

We sell all kinds of music and all formats (including lots of vinyl), which means having the artists that you don’t find anywhere else. That’s what make us different and that’s why we work with many labels and artists (mainly French for the moment).

Extreme Noise Records

Behind the Counter: Extreme Noise (Minneapolis, MN)

Each week, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

If you’re ever in the Minneapolis area, do yourself a favor and trudge through the epic snow drifts to the punk-rock institution that is Extreme Noise Records. Though it has experienced its share of tumult, including multiple moves and financial ups and downs, it’s still kicking out the jams—largely because of its devoted core of volunteers and supporters. We spoke with one such volunteer, Bryan Alft, who joined Extreme Noise shortly after it opened in the mid ’90s. He gave us his personal take on the continued success of Extreme Noise.

How has Extreme Noise survived when the record stores on which it was modeled (Epicenter Zone in SF and Reconstruction Records in NYC) have since closed?

It is hard to say, exactly. I’d say geography has played a part in our longevity. Minneapolis draws people from the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Winnipeg area, so there is a pretty big customer base that is used to driving for hours to go to a show and buy some records. And I think we have been lucky to have a stubborn core group of volunteers who have held things together for 17 years.
Extreme Noise Records

What are some of your recent best-selling albums?

Nerveskade: s/t
Protex: Strange Obsession
No Statik: We All Die in the End
Steve Adamyk Band: Kapow
Mind Spiders: s/t
Deskonocidos: En La Oscruidad
The Ex: Catch My Shoe
Vaaska: Ruido Hasta Muerte
Low Threat Profile: Product #2

Hits & Misses

Behind the Counter: Hits and Misses (Toronto, Canada)

Each week, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

If you’re into rare vinyl, punk music, and a truly diverse selection, Hits and Misses Records in Toronto, Canada is the place to be. Owner Peter Genest is a veteran of the record-store scene, having opened shops in Portland and Seattle in the ’90s before making the move up to Toronto. We spoke with Genest to see how the Canadian metropolis stacks up against his former Pacific Northwest haunts, and to find out which records the store has been spinning the most lately.

Which albums has your store sold the most over the past month?

Hands down, the OFF! box set
The first two Discharge LPs reissued on vinyl
The Forgetters: s/t double 7″
Urban Blight
: Total War 7″ (local hardcore band)
The Cramps: Memphis Poseurs
The Parting Gifts: Strychnine Dandelion
White Wires: WW II
Cocksparrer: Shock Troops reissue
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart: Heart In Your Heartbreak 7″
Iron Lung: Life. Iron Lung. Death.

What are some of your favorite new records?

The Queers: Back To The Basement
Wheels On Fire: Liar Liar
Motörhead: The World Is Yours
OFF!: s/t box set
Protex: Strange Obsessions
Ceremony: Rohnert Park
Demon’s Claws: The Defrosting Of…
Nine Pound Hammer: Country Classics


Behind the Counter: WORM (Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

WORM is a venue, record shop, and production space in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Perhaps it’s more accurately described as an evolving bastion of the arts, with a new, larger location opening later this year in the center of the city. The new space, designed by 2012 Architects, with one part (a metal construction at the entrance) by Joep van Lieshout, will be “a super-avant-garde institute for sustainable recreation.” We spoke with shop owner and collective co-founder Mariëtte Groot to try to get to the bottom of the seemingly bottomless entity that is WORM.

What are the origins of WORM? What came first: the store, the studio, or the venue?

WORM started in 1999 when three iniatives joined forces: Dodorama (venue plus shop for experimental music), Popifilm (organizers of experimental film screenings), and Filmwerkplaats (Film Lab).

What is the Avant Garde Institute?

To be exact: we call ourselves Institute for Avantgardistic Recreation. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek; all we mean to say is, “We like art that is adventurous and playful.” We want as many people as possible to join in and play. The word recreation is meant as leisure, as well as “to create again.”


Mystery Train Records

Behind the Counter: Mystery Train (Gloucester, MA)

Each week, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

For Gloucester, MA-based Mystery Train Records, vinyl is the name of the game — it always has been and probably always will be. In fact, the store doesn’t order any new records. If you’re in the area and want to thumb through some carefully selected records — and maybe unearth a true vintage gem or two — look no further. We spoke with one of Mystery Train’s employees, Tim, and he gave us the lowdown on how the Train just keeps on runnin’.

Tim holds The Rock Ensemble 77's Faces
Tim holds The Rock Ensemble 77's Faces

What are the origins of Mystery Train?

Mystery Train began 30 years ago in Harvard Square, Cambridge selling only used vinyl (CDs did not exist), expanded over the years to five stores, then settled back to one large (most vinyl in New England) store in Gloucester, MA. Jack Evans, who originated the business, is now partners with Tim who will continue to focus on providing interesting vinyl for current and future generations of record fiends.


Behind the Counter: A-Musik (Cologne, Germany)

Each Tuesday, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

A-Musik in Cologne, Germany is a multifaceted record store, label, and distributor. Established in 1995, the small but mighty electronic-music specialist has grown over the years to encompass a wide variety of genres and formats. Its involvement in the Cologne music scene is just as varied, from art exhibitions to deejaying around town. We spoke with Wolfgang Brauneis, one of four shop employees, and learned the basics of A-Musik.

What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?

The shop was founded by Georg Odijk in 1995. The motivation was, I think, pretty simple: to create a place for music and records for which other shops and mail-orders don’t really care. In the first place that was mainly experimental music (from historical artists’ records via industrial to contemporary noise heads) and electronic music, which around that time was really thrilling. Here it is also important to mention that Georg at the same time founded the A-Musik label, which was strongly connected to the shop, and released the debut albums by Microstoria (Jan Werner of Mouse on Mars and Marcus Popp of Oval), Marcus Schmickler, Schlammpeitziger, and F.X. Randomiz. The background of Odijk and his helping-hand, Frank Dommert, was in experimental music. They both played in the electro-acoustic combo Kontakta while Dommert was running the Entenpfuhl label (which actually released the fist Jim O’Rourke LP back in 1991!). Of course, things have changed in the last 15 years — the musical taste of the people involved in the whole thing, and also the fact that, for quite some time now, there are four people working at A-Musik. Now the background(s) also include guitar stuff from garage punk onwards, dub or hip hop to free jazz, dubstep and breakcore.

Georg Odijk holds Lithops' Formationen (A-Musik, 2010)
Georg Odijk holds Lithops' Formationen (A-Musik, 2010)

POPshop & Spazz Records

Behind the Counter: POPshop & Spazz Records (West Monroe, LA)

Each week, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

POPshop & Spazz Records in West Monroe, Louisiana, is a record store and art boutique run by Brad and Leslie Richman. With a focus on metal and punk, the dual-purpose storefront is, according to its owners, the only store in the area to carry new vinyl releases. For its favorite-record photos, Brad, Leslie, and employee Erica Hijazi went all out, coordinating their clothing (and beverages) with their picks. It’s that attention to detail that makes POPshop & Spazz the focus of this week’s column.

What is Spazz Records, and how does POPshop figure into the equation?

Spazz Records has been in existence for about four years. It began as a small record store and venue for weekly open mic performances, band shows, and other events. We’ve recently moved and expanded to become both a record shop (with used and new vinyl, CDs, and cassettes) and a unique boutique, POPshop, full of local art, handmade goods, and other cool stuff. We still host free monthly all-ages shows for local bands, and participate in local events and charities.

Pop Shop & Spazz Records

What is the musical community like West Monroe, Louisiana?

Our area is made up of Monroe, West Monroe, and several other smaller towns in Northeast Louisiana. There has always been a strong musical presence at any given time, with styles and bands changing through the years. We have outdoor festivals such as Delta Fest and Celtic Fest, as well as year-round schedules of local and touring bands playing at various bars, clubs, and other venues. We are proud to carry several local bands’ releases, and we are active in helping promote local music.

Slow Boat Records

Behind the Counter: Slow Boat Records (Wellington, New Zealand)

Each Tuesday, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

Slow Boat Records in Wellington, New Zealand is one of the record stores of yore, owned and operated by Dennis O’Brien for more than 25 years in the heart of the downtown area. The store sells both new and used records and places an emphasis on local and harder-to-find bands. Over time, it has expanded its Internet presence and now sells online as well as in store. We spoke to Slow Boat’s Jeremy Taylor to get the scoop on this Kiwi “mom and pop” record shop.

Which albums has your store sold the most over the past month?

We have sold a whole bunch of vinyl copies of local indie band The Phoenix Foundation’s latest album Buffalo; we had 300 copies pressed and have sold them exclusively through the shop and through the band’s own website. Big sellers over X-mas were Soul Jazz’s Deutsche Electronique Musique compilation, the new Robert Plant LP Band Of Joy, Mavis StaplesYou Are Not Alone… and I never cease to be amazed by how many copies of The Velvet Underground & Nico we sell on LP.

What is the musical community like in Wellington?

Wellington has a strong musical community; we are regularly visited by musicians from some of the more popular bands from the local scene such as The Phoenix Foundation, Fat Freddys Drop, and Trinity Roots, and we have also hosted some impressive in-store performances.

Slow Boat Records

Kingbee Records

Behind the Counter: Kingbee Records (Manchester, UK)

Kingbee Records in Manchester, England has been around since 1987 and is now one of the last remaining independent record shops in northwest England.

The shop attracts a diverse clientele, and its ability to draw business from collectors and dealers around the world has fueled its success. Though its strengths are numerous, Kingbee is unparalleled in its selection of Northern soul vinyl. We spoke with Les Hare, Kingbee’s owner, and got the lowdown on this music mecca.

Mike holds Kid Canaveral's Shouting At Wildlife
Mike holds Kid Canaveral's Shouting At Wildlife

What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?

Always was a big record collector, then [I] started doing record fairs with my spares, and it kinda carried on from there. I have also deejayed off and on since 1971.

How has Kingbee survived the digital boom?

By having a loyal customer base both locally and across the country. We also get record dealers from Japan regularly visiting to replenish their shop stock. Sales from our website help, but mostly it’s the large amount of stock that we turn over in the shop.