In honor of Record Store Day today (April 19th) we spoke with Stephen Godfroy, co-owner of Rough Trade London and New York. Rough Trade recently opened shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and it immediately became not only an integral spot in the close-knit trendy neighborhood but also proving that CDs and vinyl are not dead.
To celebrate the date and the store’s first Record Store Day celebration in New York City, Rough Trade will have The Rails (Kami Thompson – daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson – and James Walbourne), performing at Rough Trade East in London in the morning, then fly to New York City to perform at Rough Trade NYC in the evening on the same day.
The lineup for Rough Trade NYC Record Store Day includes Betty Who, Palehound, Mark Mulcahy, Milagres, Fear of Men, Nothing, and The Rails. DJ’ing by Simon Raymonde, Daptone Records, Justin Strauss, and Deano Sounds (Cultures of Soul Records).
With the new Rough Trade store being located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, what are some of the things that you will provide to the community that they can’t find anywhere else or that are very targeted for the typical Williamsburg customer?
We offer people somewhere to spend time, from morning until night, seven days a week, a ’third place’, a location to meet friends, colleagues, family where purchasing music is just a small fraction of the overall experience. That’s not to say that music isn’t at the forefront, as it certainly is, but this is a place that celebrates music as a form of artistic expression, not a high-street store that will commoditize it.
Music lovers are everywhere, of all ages, and we reach out to those people, whether they live next door, across the East River, up-state, or beyond.
Can you tell me a little about the history of Rough Trade and where you see it moving forward into the future?
We first opened in 1976, on the doorstep of punk in West London. We became a one-stop for the emerging DIY music scene, a place where musicians and new label founders were hanging out in a social capacity, where releasing music became a by-product of an empowered movement of self-expression, protest and independence. The eponymous record label started in 1978, and the founder eventually left the stores in 1982 to concentrate on the label, leaving the store to become owned and operated by its staff. Two of those staff members remain to this day, co-owners along with myself.
Rough Trade established a peerless reputation over the following decades, being a place where artists and public alike would discover the very best, most exciting new music, ahead of mainstream recognition. Pre-Internet, it was a feeding ground for A&R people to discover new artists and then sign them up for the UK or beyond, The White Stripes being a good example.
Everything changed in 2007 when we opened Rough Trade East, the largest independent music store in Europe. This opening was against the slew of music store closures happening at the time. We used this store to redefine how an independent store can operate on a large scale and appeal to a wider proportion of public than traditionally served, without sacrificing the essential ingredients that make an independent music store so unique. This model confounded the critics who predicted our downfall, and we’ve delivered double-digit growth every year since, with this year posting 25% growth in sales, year on year, like for like.
Rough Trade NYC is based on our Rough Trade East model, i.e. large indie music retail, or epic centre retail as I call it. We chose Williamsburg because it provided the suitable property type to create something ‘new’ and unconstrained by traditional high-street retail, plus the area is renowned for championing vibrant independent businesses over corporate homogeneity.
The store is gradually amassing a curated stock range that covers music from across the world, for example classical. It takes time to build up the stock, but we’re getting there. In addition to an edit of music, on vinyl and CD, we have a curated selection of books and magazines, where only one tenth is dedicated to music, with the rest covering all things interesting and quirky.
The store also features The Room, which is a 400sqft exhibition room that provides labels and publishers a defined space to create an experience around a particular release. The store also features a Main Drag Music area, where visitors can try out the latest music-making instruments; it also features #TheGuardianGreenRoom, a digital hub where visitors can engage with The Guardian US content via iPads and interactive displays, a celebration of independent journalism; it also features (very soon) a cafe operated by Five Leaves, a local Greenpoint institution, which will serve incredible food and drink, complete with seating areas on both ground floor and mezzanine. Last but not least, the store also features a live performance space, which we operate in partnership with The Bowery Presents. Our live events are split into two main formats – free gigs programmed by Rough Trade, featuring the world’s greatest artists, where admission is usually tied-in with the purchase of the artist’s album and secondly, ticketed gigs programmed by The Bowery Presents. Both events happen in the same room and can happen on the same night.
The store will evolve over time and new features will be added on a monthly basis, as this is a destination store, where one visit is never the same as the last.
Why do you feel there are still people devoted to vinyl and do you see vinyl being on its last leg or growing?
Vinyl is an antidote to digital devaluation, giving music lovers a strong sense of value and reward, whilst giving artists a wider canvas and richer palette to express themselves. The continuing rise in the popularity of vinyl only contradicts disconnect media and industry commentators – to the music fans and artists it’s entirely logical, being the prestigious format that compliments more disposable alternatives.
What is the experience you want people to feel when they walk into the store?
A sense of coming home, where relaxed engagement is ‘pulled’, not ‘pushed’.
What are some things that make Rough Trade stand out from other record stores?
The quality of our curated edit, our personable staff, our history, our bloody-mindedness, and conviction to defy expectation and convention.
What has been the customer response to the Rough Trade experience so far? Any future plans that are currently in the works we should lookout for?
The store as a whole has been incredibly well received, by all ages and music taste. It will take over a year for the store to ‘bed in’ and for people to see our vision come to life, so in the meantime we ask people to be patient, and to part of the symbiotic process that requires the public to define the store as it ages.
To order online or for more information on Rough Trade, visit their worldwide website based in the UK at roughtrade.com which also lists all their New York City store events. Rough Trade’s US-based website will launch later this year. Follow Rough Trade on Twitter @roughtrade, @roughtradeNYC, and follow Stephen Godfroy @sgodfroy
Rough Trade NYC is located at 64 North 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249, U.S.A.
Monday – Saturday 9 am – 11 pm
Sunday 10 am – 9 pm
Author: Rob Perez
Rob Perez is a freelance writer who has been with The Music Universe early on. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, you will find him writing reviews and live tweeting awards shows.