I randomly went for the first time to Flashback Records (Essex Road, Islington) a month ago, asking it’s boss’ view, Mark Burgess, about the recent Brit Awards. I was received very nicely and even bought an original vinyl of 1990 hit-single Enjoy The Silence by British cold electronic-pop icons Depeche Mode, my favorite of theirs.
Also, as I was making lists of what I may write on this blog, the idea of interviewing Mark Burgess crossed my mind. A couple of emails later, a rendez-vous was appointed. I was curious to know more about the management of an independent record store in our digital age.
Will vinyl save independent music record stores ?
Mark, today in his late forties, entered the music business at an early age, working in a record shop for about 10 years. Fifteen years ago, he decided to settle for himself and opened his Islington shop. Even though he acknowledges it has not been “massively profitable”, he still believes in the potential of the independent record store model. He reveals most of his money is made out of vinyl, which is quite surprising in an age where iTunes hit 10 billion songs sold in 2010.
When asked about the reasons for this strong resurgence of the vinyl in times of the MP3 format, Mark explains : “Humans do, by nature, tend to be collectors. Downloads do not feed that need to collect. People like the idea of the whole package. This is where it still makes sense for us.” As a proof, Adele‘s 21 remain a “consistent” seller in vinyl, while old classics like Kraftwerk are often looked after. It is quite moving, I think, how today’s and yesterday’s music are reunited on an ancient and noble format.
“Humans do, by nature, tend to be collectors. Downloads do not feed that need to collect.”
A spirit of community
This successful combination allowed Mark to open a second store five years ago in Crouch End, North London. In these troubled times for the music industry, we can be quite impressed by this happy turn of events. What is the secret ingredient that makes Flashback stores different from any other independent record store in London ?
“We welcome whoever is interested in music, and whatever the music.”
To this tricky question, Mark does not fell for the usual self-congratulance that many could express. Instead, he pauses for a few seconds in order to find the right word : “community”. He explains : “I think what makes it different is that we have a spirit of community. A lot of members of the staff are specialized and knowledgable in their own field. So anyone who comes in will find someone who knows what they are talking about and who is polite, not arrogant like the average store worker.”
Mark gives an utter importance to the customers, something that is often forgotten in independent record stores : “Record store workers have a reputation of being right-on with customers and consider it is not cool to buy Lionel Richie, for instance. We are a far more dedicated music shop, we are independent and we care for the customers a lot more. We welcome whoever is interested in music, and whatever the music.”
“Customers are not statistics walking through the door. They are people you have a relationship with.”
A dream came true
This natural disposition for respect and availability to the customers is mostly driven by his passion for music, which led him to open his own label three years ago. He still considers it “a logical step if you’re looking to broaden what you do”. He loved “getting involved in all the packaging and the details, promoting the music” and the “massive learning” it brought him. For the moment, only one band has been signed : Red Horses of the Snow, which has been well received by magazines such as Mojo. Yet, it is not a matter of unluckiness, but the result of dedicated and demanding passion.
Mark intends to fulfill his dream properly. He confesses : “To me, there is no point in releasing something I am not into. Because I put my heart behind it. To me, it is all about passion. That’s what music is all about : you need to believe in it to be able to do it.”
“That’s what music is all about : you need to believe in it to be able to do it.”
The next step for Flashback, apart from a new release on the 21 April, is left to fate : it may be “a third store somewhere in London”, the setting up of their label or the release of new vinyls. For Mark, “any opportunities will be embraced.” Who talked about the end of independent record stores ?
Islington shop : 50 Essex Road, London N18LR
Crouch End shop : 144, Crouch End, London N89DX
Photos : Morgane Giuliani