Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Closing the Authority

I have some very sad news. Many of you may already know it. On Thursday, it became publicly known that Stacks Vinyl, the vinyl authority, will be closing. After a severe slump that began last year, Stacks' owner Isaiah Dacio aka DJ Icy Ice officially announced the store's demise.

Stacks opened seven years ago, and has been a solid home base for many DJs, record collectors, and hip hop heads in the Los Angeles area (and in San Diego for a while). The Cerritos location is still open for now (and I think the Ontario location will remain open under different ownership), and has some hot sales in order to rid of merch and to subsequently hook you up. The store is also online and you could still order your gear and music from there.

The closing of the store is a huge and sad loss. Stacks Vinyl affirms the thickness and vitality of the hip hop scene in the Los Angeles area, especially among Fil Am youth. Ice brought hip hop from innocent fun to a serious, committed business, an ambition that many hip hoppers couldn't manifest. The LA Weekly article "The Fil Am Invasion" which I wrote about below could not come at a more ironic moment. (BTW, here is Rhett's response to the article. See the Aug. 24th entry). As much as Stacks affirmed the strength of the Fil Am hip hop scene in Socal, it also continued to create a community and supported the development of the scene by providing a source of music and fashion, and also a performance venue for artists and DJs. Where else in Socal can Fil Am youth turn to to find the center of their hip hop scene? The closing is sad news indeed. (Thanks Mark Pulido and Isaiah for sharing your stories).

The reason for the closing? Plain and simple: Serato and digital music. Serato is becoming more and more popular, and there simply isn't any reason for younger DJs to collect vinyl. Stacks' staple consumer base is men in their mid 30s to 40s who grew up on 80s and early 90s hip hop. The only reason young people would collect vinyl would be to appreciate the record's visual aesthetic and its attached nostalgia. But in all honesty, who wants to lug around a dozen crates to a party when you got your laptop and Lacie harddrive? It just makes more sense to use Serato for many young people, and it's at the expense of the ways of old. And unfortunately (like whats happening with Blockbuster and Tower Records), the material, physical forms of vinyl (and also DVDs and CDs) are becoming more and more obsolete. Digital is the choice of media--download it, and its yours . Coupled with the unstoppable machine of the music industry, the old school ways have no chance. Nas' declaration "hip hop is dead" which I wrote about below may ring true for vinyl lovers. And along with the death of the artform is the death of businesses that rely on the materiality of the artform.

It's a huge loss that vinyl be reduced to a collector's item and no longer a functioning part of music culture. With the loss of the record is the great vinyl cover art, that tells as much of the artists' story as the music itself. (In fact, a guy was in Stacks yesterday just buying record album covers to display on his wall). So long visual aesthetic!

Of course, jazz musicians loathed the advancement of the record player and radio, which diminished the role of live music. Where live music used to be the source of all music, live music performances today is just seen as a "hip," cool, and different thing to experience at an open mic night or during a live jazz night at a bar. Just as digital technology is killing vinyl culture, radio and vinyl technology brought the demise of musicians (damn you Freestyle keyboard sound!). See Robin Kelley's article in Three Strikes for the story of how musicians lost their livelihood because of changes with the film industry--live musicians used play the score for silent films, and with the advent of "talking pictures," they lost their jobs. Technology is good for many (i.e. it democratizes and accesses music to the masses), but bad for some (i.e. the cultural creators of music).

So, it has been great Mr. Mobile DJ. We can't turn back the hands of time, but we can always treasure the moments and try our best to share history with the new generations. Hopefully this history will continue to be appreciated and add to the vitality of the emerging scenes. As jazz has given hip hop fresh and new ideas (by looking back at old forms), hopefully vinyl and other dying forms can somehow add to emerging cultural production. How? Good question.

I'm an advocate for progressing art forms: experimenting with sounds, moves, colors, and rhythm. I know technology plays a huge role in innovating the way art is created (i.e. the sample is a foundation of hip hop music). But how can technology also stifle art? How can it choke already existing modes of creativity?


cheryl said...

mark! good stuff, as always. i have to ask you about your DVD. i will send you an email soon!

Unknown said...

It is sad to see a cultural institution like Stacks go, but ironically it will survive on the Web.

Technology always stifles art, it's the art of creatively pushing the limits of that technology that is Art. Hiphop has always done wonders in pushing the latest in technology from Grandmaster Flash creating custom mixers, Theodore inventing the scratch, to Run DMC popularizing the 808 Drum Machine to Marley Marl with the MPC.

What ends up hurting as technology shifts is the invested industry. I think the new interest in DJing in the 90s saw for the first time technological companies partnering with Hiphop practitioners to desig their latest products (ie Qbert and Vestax)

Practitioners have always welcomed new technology even if it added to their $$.

Mark do you remember when we met Jazzy Jay in Miami using Final Scratch? He DJ'd all those classic sounds all on mp3.

It's amazing to me Stacks as a Vinyl store still lived on, they are just part of the last guard of stores who can still find a viable market for their storefronts.

In Jax and Gainesville FL all of the small-time CD-shops I frequented have folded 3 yrs ago and what's left is big-retailer outlets--Best Buy, Borders, Barnes-n-Noble to access the new releases. In New Orleans, Tower Records in French Quarter closed up their shop, in Biloxi, the classic family owned Goldmines for the past 40 or so years is calling it quits.

I think Hiphop will be ok, there will always always be a need to create music from vinyl, some say the sound quality is far more superior.

But this also challenges traditional business owners of record shops to get more creative with their markets. There has to be more to Stacks closing up shop than the dying record industry since it has so much more revenues as a performance space and retail clothing.

What I find exciting about new technology is how accessible beat-making is getting, allowing hundreds of folk to try it out, the disadvantage to this is a hundreds of wack music, but nonetheless, it's out there for people to claim and it will be REAL interesting to see who really has access to all that technology....you know maybe hiphop can die. shit.

Anonymous said...

It is very unfortunate to hear about a place so iconic to close. However, I think it shows the growth and progression of the art form. I love vinyl, but you are right when you point out that nobody wants to lug around crates when you could have just as much, if not more music, on your laptop. With the availability of this technology on the internet, DJing will become more accessible to the masses. More DJs will bring more competition and in turn take the art form to the next level. Hopefully people don't forget about DJ Icy Ice and his contributions to the Fil Am hip-hop movement.