Thinking back about what made me want to go to this Record Fair, I have to wonder why I expected anything else than what I am about to describe. London is a city where Metal cannot be easily found and where LP are mostly overpriced. Only a few store still have reasonable prices (All Ages Record for Punk and Hardcore, Phonica Records for Techno, Sounds of the Universe for Rap and Jazz) but you would have a hard time finding any Relapse records, Season of Mist, Earache or Season of Mist release at a fair price (less than £20).
Still, I expected the fury of the hype to have reached this record fair claiming to the biggest in the UK and to find albums from Southern Lord or bands loved equally by metalheads and hipsters…
Let’s start with the positive. If you are interested in Jazz, you should be able to find some good stuff in this Record Fair but be prepared to have a knowledge that goes beyond the usual references if you don’t want to spend more than £15 on a vinyl. I was frustrated to find out that all the names I was familiar with all had price tags reflecting their visibility, which meant that I had no idea what release was fairly priced and what i should turn my eyes away from. The same can be said for most Rock albums but I didn’t even bother checking the selection as my interest for old and classic rock is close to zero, which leaves me to my biggest problem.
From the impression I had, most of the dealers at this fair have no idea the 90’s happened as most of the albums available were from before this decade. Some of the records were reprints or new albums of old artists, but there was very little room left for young bands if any. Of course, this meant that no recent Metal albums could be found and that anything past Thrash was out of the question, including more recent Thrash band. Some of the only Extreme metal albums I saw were a copy of Entombed‘s Left hand path for £60, a random Bolt Thrower album for the same price of a copy of Napalm Death‘s From Enslavement to Obliteration for £25. No, thank you. As for Hardcore albums, you can completely forget about it. However, if you want old punk 7″, a dealer seemed to have a large selection but my knowledge of the genre didn’t allow me to judge of it’s quality.
Since this was a record fair with a cost of entry (£5 for general entry and £10 to get in around 10:00) and a cost to sell, I assumed people would be looking to offer their albums at a reduced price to make sure to sell the most copies… Well, it seems that I don’t share the business sensibility of all dealers in this fair since most albums were either sold for a variety of prices going for £2 for albums with a sleeve falling in pieces, £15 for a lot of random albums with no indications of the genre, or placed in boxes labelled with a general genre (Rap, Rare Rap releases, Jazz, Hard-Rock/Thrash/Death…) or outrageous price (I saw a copy of Radiohead‘s OK Computer labelled at £120 and a copy of Guns and Roses‘ Chinese Democracy sold for £25… who the hell is going to pay that much for this one?!). Of course, don’t expect to find most albums classified even alphabetically.
I managed to find one lesser known John Coltrane album for £5 and saw a few other albums (i.e. an old Lee Fields album for £10) but most of my hopes of finding anything that would make me consider shelling out some cash were crushed by the quality and the diversity of what was on offer. This was a fair for record collectors, and an audience focused on the music they loved in their younger years but not in discovering anything you. How could you judge the quality of an unknown album with no information and no classification? Only one dealer talked to me but inquired about what on my cap (an eye) but not if I was looking for something in particular. I don’t want to pass judgement on all the dealer’s motivation or interest in the catalog of titles they were selling but as a thirty-something music fan, stumbling into a gymnasium-sized room filled with forty year old, and older, mostly male, hunched over dusty boxes of old LPs with not much diversity didn’t feel me with hope of finding anything for me, or of ever returning to see if things could change in a direction that would be appealing to a younger audience not fixated on nostalgia. If this is the biggest record fair, it’s definitely not the best.