It’s a tough time to be a record store. First, cool but corporate Urban Outfitters declared itself the largest retailer of vinyl in the United States. Then Billboard discovered that Urban’s claims were fallacious, revealing even worse news: Amazon is the biggest retailer of vinyl in the United States.
Stores like Weirdo Records near Central Square, however, show the value of mom-and-pop record stores over Internet retailers and corporate tastemakers. Even in our digital age, there is still a place for physical space – even a small hole-in-the-wall like Weirdo.
And Weirdo is small. So small, in fact, that it can hardly hold more than a few record hunters at once. But size doesn’t hold it back. For one thing, Weirdo’s esoteric offerings ensure a small client base. As the name suggests, Weirdo specializes in the eclectic and avant-garde, niches that are sparsely populated except by music connoisseurs.
But even in close quarters, Weirdo packs in an extraordinary array of records and CDs, in addition to a few zines and books. You won’t find the newest Mumford & Sons record here, or even your favorite Beatle’s album for your bedroom wall. The most well known album I found was post-punk icons Television’s The Blow Up, and by Weirdo standards Television isn’t too weird.
When I stopped by to peruse Weirdo’s obscure collection, ambient drone music was playing – so ambient in fact that the same note may have been resonating the entire time that I was there. The owner staffed the cash register, but otherwise I was all alone.
Weirdo is optimal for musical discovery that transcends time and place. The local music, sixties/seventies, and world music sections are particularly noteworthy. In the local section a note proudly proclaims, “cuz our city’s music is better than yours.” The featured CDs, cassettes, and LPs are all from budding locals and stalwarts, many self-released.
The sixties section, a hearty shelf-worth of material, included deep cuts like Gong – a psychedelic prog-rock band formed in 1967 France. Another rare find was Los Saicos, a proto-punk band from 1960s Lima, Peru, that could give Death a run for the title of “First Punk Band.”
Weirdo is certainly a believer in the excellence of non-western music. The world music section is phenomenal for aficionados of international music. Among the many rare records a few stood out: the first solo release of Os Mutantes’ Rita Lee, Guinean afro-Cuban group Bembeya Jazz Orchestra, and a well-received compilation of Nigerian blues music from the 1970s. Of most interest to me, however, was the hard-to-find Syrian Dabke compilation released by Sham Palace Records, the label that brought Omar Souleyman to Western ears.
Dabke, a Levantine genre of wedding-dance music, has four-to-the-floor electronic beats mixed with regional instrumentation. Although Dabke is played throughout Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan, this record focuses on the music of Houran, the southern region of Syria. It isn’t something you would find in Urban Outfitters, and it probably wouldn’t show up on Amazon under “Customers Also Bought…” Only at a record store like Weirdo can you find your own taste through self-guided discovery. Stores like Weirdo offer a counter-aesthetic, an alternative to standard cultural consumption. You never know what you will find, but that’s the point.