Record Store Day : Rathdowne Records
As a child Joel Shortman accompanied his father to record stores, where his father would exchange his collection of vinyl records for the then new digital technology of compact discs.
25 years later, and Shortman flipped that transaction on its head. These days Shortman runs Rathdowne Records in Northcote, with a rich and diverse stock of vinyl records, just like the ones he witnessed his father hand over all those years ago.
“There’s something very Proustian about getting back all the old ones [my father] had, and more,” Shortman says. “CD shops were ace, but costly and not half as deep or as well curated as the record shops we’re now seeing emerge.”
Rathdowne Records started out as a couple of crates “for jazz-cats and crate diggers” at the back of Shortman’s video store in Carlton. “Jazz, hip hop and funky, sample-able records from all genres and countries have always been at the core of the collection,” Shortman says. “But these sit side by side with classic rock and pop albums and “nerdy” neglected gems in soundtracks, library records, folk, synth, classical, experimental and so forth.” More recently Shortman has met disco, house and techno collectors who have broadened his horizons into those genres.
When the bottom fell out of the video store market, Shortman closed his store, Small Screen, and focused on records. Small Screen morphed into Rathdowne Records. A couple of years ago Rathdowne Records moved to High Street. “Northcote and surrounds is home to more musicians, DJs and collectors and close to many live venues. Once the video business vanished it made sense,” Shortman says.
Shortman is understandably proud of the range of music on offer in the shop: 10,000 records in all shapes and sizes, including 4,000 jazz records and “miles of hip hop, tables of disco house and techno tropical and mondo, and rock.” There’s even “a room of nerd music.
“I also have a soft spot for vintage audio systems like Bang & Olufsen so there’s record players for sale too,” Shortman says.
Shortman says Rathdowne Records offers a link between vintage records and the 12” DJ demographic. “There are shops for 12” DJ singles, there are shops for vintage mid-century records, but there are few that seek to cater to and find the links between the two,” Shortman says.
Affordability is also critical to the store’s modus operandi. “Many stores have a great hand-selected range, but digging stores with a deep range of titles in every genre and two to 20 dollar bargains in every crate are vanishing.
I’d rather source a nice ‘70s Japanese press than a more expensive but less dynamic reissue of the same record and this is increasingly becoming my speciality,” Shortman says.
The most obscure record in the shop is a private pressing of an Australian folk band called Desiderata that is only mentioned in one online blog. “Someone should make me an offer on that,” Shortman laughs.
Every time Shortman sells a Ennio Morricone or Serge Gainsbourg record he feels a pang of regret. And it is true that Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is the most regularly sold album in second-hand record stores – with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon a close second. But don’t forget Neil Diamond and Rod Stewart, ‘kings of the dollar bin.’
“I once had someone come into the store asking for Hot August Nights to settle a bet with a friend that I’d have it in the shop,” Shortman laughs.
For this weekend’s Record Store Day, Rathdowne Records will be foregoing the “marshmallow-scented Ed Sheeran 10” and whatever other tripe the majors are spruiking” in favour of the many thousands of fresh records Shortman has dug from across the world. There will be PBS and RRR DJs “selecting tunes for your delectation” as you dig, while in the evening the store will be showcasing Northcote's “finest young purveyors of garage pop”: Cracker La Touf and Jungle Breed.
DJs and hardcore collectors kept vinyl alive in the ‘90s. But Neil Young is on record (no pun intended) claiming that the so-called vinyl revival is a fad. Shortman disagrees. “Pokemon Go was a fad. As long as there’s genuine passion about music, there’ll be records.”
By Patrick Emery