By Bob Marshall
The first time I walked into Lakeview’s Gramophone Records at 2843 North Clark Street, I didn’t know what to make of it. It was a random tip from my roommate actually, that brought me there. “Oh, you like music?” he said. “Check out Gramophone. The have good records.”
Well, they don’t exactly cater to my indie-rock High Fidelity-esque snobbery. Instead of finding rare Smith‘s albums, they carry dance and hip-hop singles, and lots of them. Their selection was enormous, and frankly, not being a DJ, I didn’t know where to start. So, I employed the help of Gabe Herrera, known to Madison residents as El Guapo, one-third of the DJ trio Fun Cartel and a native of Oak Park.
When I entered the store, I noticed Gabe was already flipping through the stacks with ferocity and holding a few records in his hand. I inquired about one record he was holding, a disco single called “Saturday Night Band.” “Well,” said Gabe, “I’ve been listening to a lot of this older stuff lately, and honestly I can’t get enough of it.”
I asked Gabe what he thought about the place. In a time where the idea of purchasing physical copies of music seems almost ludicrous, the idea of purchasing just singles sounds like a pretty silly business model. To some extent, he agreed. “It’s all about technology,” Gabe says. “Younger DJs don’t purchase this stuff because they don’t need it. All you need now is a turntable with a USB port, some pirated software, and you can do anything you want.”
Instead, according to Gabe, the place appealed to a different type of musician. Many of the records around Gramophone came in unmarked sleeves, and many of the groups were obscure even to experienced DJs. “If you’re the kind of person who wants to be a producer, this is where you start to sample beats. People who are out to use these old songs to make something new have a level of respect for the source material, so they buy it in its physical form. Also, it’s a lot easier to clear the rights for an obscure song than a popular song.”
Also, due to technological advances, a young DJ has the ability to create the sort of song that larger artists like Daft Punk almost magically manufactured a decade ago. As Gabe exhibited, it takes an urge to find a “needle in a haystack” of a song and lack of pretension when it comes to selecting artists that might be considered an odd pick to sample to the genenal music listening populace.
Perhaps Gramophone’s largest section was marked “Used House.” House music, a dance genre originating here in Chicago, is still alive in the city in a big way. One group Gabe mentioned, southsiders Ghetto Division, is known for using strictly old house samples and incorporating them into hip-hop and club styles. This newer generation of DJs finds stores like Gramophone the perfect place to mix their love of vinyl with their urge to create something new.
So, where does one start at a place like Gramophone? Well, believe it or not, due to the obscurity of a lot of the artists and songs adorning the record racks, a lot of it can be chalked up to guesswork and luck. There are a large amount of turntables around the record store that allow customers to take that crucial listen before purchasing an album, something that a lot of music stores tend not to supply.
A music fan like myself finds solace in Gramaphone because, hey, I like dance music. It takes time and patience in listening to ten singles that have four remixes of the same song, and granted, that’s not for everybody. But that’s part of the thrill of Gramophone and why the store was full of customers during my time flipping through the racks. These are people looking to be surprised, and a culture that will spend hours listening to not find a record they came in looking for, but for the fun of leaving with a gem of a long-forgotten song ready to reclaim itself as part of contemporary pop culture.