“Waxing Philosophical, L.A.” is DUM DUM’s Tuesday column written by Christina Gubala, co-founder of L.A.’s premier cassette-tape label, Complicated Dance Steps. A die-hard vinyl collector, you can find her spinning records at local bars near you.
Our city has a continuing history thick with vinyl love, now more than ever with record shops opening their doors instead of shuttering. Each week, Gubala breaks down a fresh new wax purchase, and writes about the record store as well, mapping it as part of L.A.’s history in the making.
It’s been about a year now since Ian Marshall and Jade Gordon opened the elegant Wombleton Records in Highland Park, and over the course of that year, the couple have cultivated he store’s reputation for hospitality. The inviting parlor aesthetic of the store encourages taking a load off, be you screening Jamaican 45s for listenability or polishing off a bottle of cider while eavesdropping on upper-echelon local selectors conversing throughout the space.
Wombleton is, first and foremost, a place for music lovers to bask in their love of music. Granted, the records they stock are rare and therefore often more expensive than your average Los Angeles wax supplier. But I’m convinced that every dollar spent contributing to Wombleton’s survival is worth it. Ian and Jade care about their customers’ musical interests and invest in them thusly, often jotting down record requests before taking their storied record-hunting trips abroad. They find joy in sharing music, and are constantly encouraging local DJs to come in and spin in the store for their Thursday night get-togethers, or, in Friday night’s case, encouraging local cassette labels to come share their wares.
There was just a hint of Autumn in the air as I jaywalked across York Boulevard towards the inviting hearth of Wombleton. Emanating from the doorway was the sound of a 1980′s Steve Halpern record, and under the glow of 6 antique hanging lamps, party-goers chattered and flipped through heart-throbbingly rare cuts. I avoided eye contact with the seductive Jamaican section brimming with Ian’s hand-selected Kingston jams (per my wallet’s behest) and plopped down on “the listening couch.” A threadbare golden throne surrounded by renaissance art coffee table books, boasting a spectacular people-watching vantage point. The evening’s entertainment was provided by Lincoln Heights bedroom-label Dance Craze Records; it was the official release party for their most recent cassette, Sneaky Snake’s The Sprawl.
Sneaky Snake’s Ian James was present and DJing experimental jams while Dance Craze’s Evan Walsh sold cassettes, handmade T-shirts and silkscreened posters. Friends (of the band, the store and the neighborhood) swirled about, sifting feverishly through the bins, flirting with one another and toasting over cans of Tecate and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Jade manned the register while Ian checked in on each guest to see if there was any record in particular for which they were searching, and throughout the room, a general sense of Friday night ease took hold. When Evan switched from the turntable to the cassette deck to play The Sprawl in it’s entirety, an appreciative cheer bubbled up and listeners were treated to Sneaky Snake’s banquet of cloudy-morning soundscapes.
Around 11pm when the gathering finally started to thin, Ian Marshall took to the turntables (you could see by the look in his eye that it was the moment he’d secretly been awaiting). Customers lined up at the counter with their Throbbing Gristle, Desmond Dekker, Scott Walker, Brian Eno, or Spaceman 3 picks in tow, comparing their finds and the prices to which they were willing to commit for such records. While Wombleton certainly isn’t known for its dollar bin (which, for the record doesn’t exist), it’s extremely rare to walk into a record store in this city and see 4 people in line flaunting and gushing about their intended purchases. There, it’s a site I see regularly, and Friday evening, this notion was reaffirmed. Wombleton is a store for lovers only –lovers of wax, lovers of local interaction, lovers of the detail of music, lovers of the effort and long yarn that brought these records stateside.
I came away from the evening with an original Kingston-pressed Johnny Clarke 45, boasting the King Tubby-produced “Enter The Gates” on the A side, and a bottom-heavy “Version” on the B. When I first started examining roots music in an academic light, I asked around and was told that I couldn’t go wrong with anything that King Tubby produced. After spending the last 6 months immersed in the musical world of reggae, I can attest that this is very good advice. The track couples a thick, assertive low end with Johnny’s honey-coated pipes that instantly locks a listener into rhythmic investment. Like many of the other singles from 1975′s Johnny Clarke Sings In Fine Style (Clocktower Records), there is a political undertone conveyed in the vague stylistic nod to Sly Stone or Gil Scott Heron, an though Johnny’s lyrics are far more religious, it’s clear that the intent with which they’re delivered is the same: “heed my warning.” Like every other Johnny Clarke track I’ve heard, it ends all too soon, leaving a thirst that can be slaked only by the sexy B-side version (and how!). Like most Jamaican-pressed records of the era, the record itself was somewhat mangled and the label had been scratched off, but to my delight, all of the soul power of Jamaica’s 1975 Artist of the Year was conveyed lushly, warmly, and with confidence. It was quite a score at just $8, if I do say so myself.
Their year anniversary party is coming up in October, an excellent opportunity to bask in this love, and I hope to see you there.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011