The news of the HMV's administration may not have come as a surprise for many, yet few could have envisioned the wave of solemnity felt by music-lovers across the UK, manifested most visibly in the form of Tweets, Facebook updates and blogposts across the cybersphere. Posts to the tune of 'RIP HMV'; 'end of an era'; 'the death of the CD?' were the order of the day. It's easy to see why.
One likely source for an alternative viewpoint, however, is ViVa/OFF associate Darius Syrossian, whose regular Facebook status updates have become a figure of interest thanks to his refreshing refusal to succumb to the self-censored, play-it-safe publicity of most DJs. Whether you agree with it or not, his argument raises an interesting point. Why should dedicated record buyers, those with an eye for specialist vinyl — house, techno, d&b, breaks etc — lament the demise of a corporate chain such as HMV? Here's how it reads...
"Just a thought, I have seen loads and loads of DJs all saying RIP HMV and shame it's gone bust, blah blah, you all bought vinyl there, BUT, I can't help thinking, what were you doing buying vinyl from a place like HMV?
"Especially all of those who I have seen posting from Leeds... places like HMV were one of the main reasons that REAL independent records shops went out of business. These independents were run by private owners, and were a specialist of underground music only, and real supporters of underground artists. Crash Records where I worked was doing this since the '70s. It now only operates as an independent store for indie and rock bands, the vinyl section went bust when the recession hit, but nobody was putting RIP for that, or when the others in Leeds went down, like Tribe and a few others.
"HMV was actually a disaster for these independents when they started selling vinyl and jumping on the DJ/house music bandwagon. They did deals with distributors that made them hardly any profit, but really affected the specialist independent stores. HMV was not a supporter of real underground music, just commercial acts, and I personally don't care for them going bust, they were just another commercial chain store…"
Regardless of the reasons for the store's financial difficulties — all of which have been covered in enough detail elsewhere, most citing HMV's reluctance to mobilise itself online — it's impossible to ignore the wider implications its collapse would have. As Darius points out, HMV wasn't an institution with much interest in supporting non-commercial dance music — aside from a small selection of vinyl and an array of chart-dwelling dance albums/singles — and there is also some truth in his assertion the brand's presence on high streets drove attention away from independent stores. Contrarily though, some might argue that the people shopping in HMV aren't the real 'supporters of underground music' anyway, so perhaps it is arbitrary. They are separate demographics, so how can HMV be blamed for the demise of an independent record store, when the people truly interested in bagging the latest techno “12s wouldn't dream of shopping in HMV in the first place?
Saying that, HMV's monopolising role during the '90s cannot be disregarded — in the same way that Amazon's effect can't be ignored 15 years on.
All that aside, another question raised by Darius' post is an unspoken one. In a market which experienced an uptick in vinyl sales for the past few consecutive years, will the demise of high street music stores impact on the future of independent record shops from now on? Could we see more start-up bricks-and-mortar shops springing up to fill the vacuum as people return to physical forms of music? Or perhaps the opposite — is the fall of HMV the nail in the coffin; the sinking ship that pulls everything else down with it, ensuring the future of record collecting is destined to remain exclusively online?
In the words of Darius: "Maybe music can go back in the hands of real music lovers, no?"
Only time will tell..
Words: Adam Saville