“In New York, everyone wants to be on the cutting edge, or somewhere near it,” says Josh Madell, as he runs his hand across a rack of Françoise Hardy reissues. The 36-year-old has been selling esoteric electronica, indie rock and anything alternative across the counter of his Other Music store since 1995. “I knew it was a great spot: near NYU and around the corner from [the recently deceased] CBGBs when it still attracted a half-cool crowd – but the real sell was being opposite Tower Records.”
While most fledgling record stores would cower at their proximity to a multinational behemoth, Other Music’s carefully curated selection of the rare, the weird and the wonderful mopped up Tower’s overspill, who have returned time and again. “When Tower closed down, people said, ‘Great! You beat them’,” says Madell. “But Tower going under isn’t a good sign for anyone in this business.”
With digital dispensaries offering oceans of unsolicited music, a record store that acts as A&R manager, reviewer and vendor can find a nice niche – or, as Madell puts it, “it’s my job to tell you, out of 500 new bands, most of them are shit, but one or two will blow your mind.”
In April, Other will launch its own digital download site at othermusic.com. Offering exclusive tracks from the store’s favourite artists, the service will focus as much on bedroom labels as on Madell’s “majors” (in fact, small independent labels such as Matador and Touch and Go). “Why start a download site? Because 20-year-olds live on their laptops and iPods – they might not own a stereo, but they love music just the same as I do,” explains Madell.
The store that made its name selling early Pavement LPs and any weirdness from Warp Records looks set to keep dusting off the fusty reputation of the indie record store, until Madell and the Others hang up their headphones for good.
Other Music, 15 East 4th Street, New York; + 1 212 477 8150
Other Music’s top five labels:
01 What’s Your Rupture – NYC-based label specialising in post-punk, jangly pop and post-C86 sounds.
02 In the Red – 2007’s definitive garage rock label.
03 Bedroom Community – Icelandic minimalist electronica with inevitable Björk association.
04 Water Music – stunning reissue label, specialising in all things psych and soul.
05 Gnomonsong – folk from Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic’s label.