Deep in the heart of soho lies undoubtedly one of the most integral parts of the current UK underground electronic music scene, it’s influence undeniable; Phonica records, some amazing artists of worth when in town have clamoured to play an in store set, artists with a vast range of musical styles ranging from Motor City Drum Ensemble to Mount Kimbie, to Vakula, to Richie Hawtin to Four Tet (to name but a few).
Now about to begin its tenth year of trading a supposedly defunct music medium in an extreme economic climate where huge high street chains like HMV are going under on a daily basis, what makes this tiny bastion of independence tick?
I had a chat with co-founder Simon Rigg to ask him about all things Phonica;
Where did it all begin? When were your ears first alerted to electronic music and how did it affect you?
For me, I can actually pinpoint the time and place. In a local youth club in a Shropshire village, the older guys were playing a cassette of The House Sound of Chicago Vol 1, and I had to find out what out was so I could buy it!
All the classics were on there from Marshall Jefferson to ‘Jack Your Body’ , Chip E’s Like This to Fingers Inc ‘Mystery of Love’…and from then on in, my love of house music started!
So how did the shop come into being?
I was running another record store in 2001 on Berwick St, called Koobla and the guys who run Vinyl Factory approached me to open a record store to sit alongside FACT Magazine and their pressing plant. It was a lucky break, they were very dedicated to vinyl and opening a shop and we had a blank slate to design the shop how we wanted etc. With Tom Relleen (now in The Oscillation) and Heidi (Radio1 DJ) , we left Koobla to open the new shop wondering if any of our customers would come with us.
The Vinyl Factory? What is it and what links does it have to the shop?
Vinyl Factory is a group of companies that comprise of FACT Magazine, VF Editions (limited vinyl box sets etc) and VF Manufacturing (the old EMI pressing plant in Hayes) – the whole company is dedicated to music and vinyl, especially.
The Phonica collection of labels? With over 16 successful releases under their belts what are the Plans for the future of these labels?
To be honest, we probably don’t have so many grand plans as some other stand-alone labels . We started the label in order to release great tracks from the staff (Hector & Anthea both had early releases) and friends and family. We often come across good tracks or up and coming producers and if we like it, we will put it out. We have forthcoming tracks from Sad City, Lord of The Isles, Iori and Northlake who have all releases with us before.
Ex staff? You have some now very famous faces that used to work behind the counter, do you think that this fact attracts young upcoming artists to an internship in the shop?
Will Saul, Pete Herbert were there in the early days…James Priestley, Geddes and of course Hector, Anthea and Heidi who were such an integral part of the shop. I wouldn’t say that attracts people to do internships – its more of an interesting thing to do alongside doing / running a label / producing etc which a lot of people are pursuing as their main source of income.
You are supplying some if not all of London’s best DJ’s/Producers with new vinyl, not to mention those visiting the UK therefore to a certain extent shaping the music that we listen to on the dance floor at the weekend, who is the main buyer for Phonica and how hard a job is it to make those selections?
I’m the main buyer at Phonica with help from Vangelis. I choose which records to get in and in what quantities – however, this is also shaped by what people buy, what sells well in the shop, what the other staff like and tell me about, what other customers tell me about. If people ask for records we don’t stock, I will go and check it to see if we should be stocking it. These days, with such limited runs, you have to take a chance on things -if you only order a few copies of a killer record, chances are there won’t be any left by the time you re-order!
How do you stay on top of your game/ahead of your competitors?
I think all the shops that are left now, especially in London, all have their own niche and speciality and we are all good at what we do. Customers are either very loyal to a particular shop or they shop around and see what each shop has to offer. On the internet, its harder competition but we try and stock the best records we can, have a good range of different genres and provide a good service.
There has been much talk of late of a vinyl revival, have you noticed an increase in sales in the last few years?
Yes, its true, there has been a slight increase in sales over the past year or two – but not in the way that has been publicised. This talk of a vinyl revival is using figures from US high street stores and for mainstream albums only – for independents and for dance music, vinyl sales have been steadily decreasing for 15 years – however, they do seem to be remaining solid in a genre that should’ve been killed off when the cassette was introduced. But the pressing speak for themselves, 10 years ago, a ‘limited’ run was 2000 copies! Now its 300!
Record Store Day seems to have been a great success for independent record stores across the world, do you think it has helped the success of Phonica?
I think RSD has been a great way to highlight independent record stores across the world and show a different way of buying and enjoying music rather than sitting at home trawling through loads of mediocrity on a mp3 website!
Do you still think it’s possible for artists to make money from record sales or do you now think it’s more of a promotional platform for live shows/gigs?
Well, you can make a small amount of money from record sales – yes, but not enough to support you in life. Vinyl sales now are more of a promotional platform so you can demand higher DJ fees or live shows.
What’s your take on soundcloud and how do you think it is changing the landscape of electronic music worldwide?
Soundcloud is very useful, although I don’t use it too often myself – just mainly as a way of listening to records forthcoming on vinyl…i don’t think its the most functional software…..
I still think people would buy a vinyl copy if its something they want!
Check out www.phonicarecords.com or pop in store to pick up some select killer vinyl