ROUGH TRADE NYC
June12th • Williamsburg, BK
Started in 1978 in the heart and heyday of punk, Rough Trade began as a record shop in London and soon began recording artists under its independent label. Rough Trade NYC, its flagship US presence, is a sprawling independent record store and event space in Williamsburg, located next to the boutique hotels that have popped up in the last few years like unreal mushrooms on the forest floor. Where did that come from? How did that grow so fast? Rough Trade feels more like a fern, unfurling and signaling the health of the surroundings. Despite the difficulties, independent music is still surviving, in NYC of all places.
A giant space with high concrete beams, a listening studio, art installations, coffee shop, full music venue, Melville book annex, and various nooks to listen or read, it doesn’t quite resemble the cozy crammed record shop of its older British siblings- but it’s an amazing place to find new and used vinyl, books, and even CDs- one of the only spots not relegating them to the stoops and thrift shops.
Alanna Blair is a working DJ and recording artist/producer as well as actor and writer. While recently moving somewhere where she could finally set-up her own studio, Alanna still was missing having time and uncluttered space for creativity. Rough Trade felt like a perfect, albeit obvious, choice. Like so many New York artists and creatives, Alanna is currently weighing if the city continues to be worth its burden of cost, hustle and relentlessness. Having six hours to create, away from a gig or job suddenly felt like a lot longer than just a micro-moment. Rough Trade generously placed Alanna in the Sonos studio for the residency, giving her a chance have a designated secluded space, while still being able to walk the stacks and be immersed in the hum of the store. Here are her reflections:
I definitely experienced a recalibration of direction and expectations, reminding myself that there's no need to create a finished product in the given time. Without the pressure of deadlines and expectations, I found myself following random impulses when collecting found sound in Rough Trade via field mic, selecting and stitching the beats together using a pre-recorded conversation as backdrop and metronome, and adding a bassline with my Fender 4-string. I ended the residency with a rough draft unlike what I'd planned, and I'm excited about it!
Afterthoughts: When we met Alanna at Rough Trade, she had just been in a conversation with her friend, in from England, of the shared difficulties of being a working artist and the very real differences. London and NYC are both notoriously expensive, but having access to state health care and other services makes a huge difference for how sustaining one can make a life making music. As an organization continually concerned with more time and space for creativity, especially without the pressures of producing for deadlines or as a commodity, we find dilemmas like Alanna’s more and more common and spaces that support independent expression and production, like Rough Trade, all the more important. Yet they are dwindling at a rapid rate in this city. In the last 15 years, we’ve seen hundreds of independent record-shops shutter, and even beloved spots like Kim’s Video, CBGB’s and St Mark's Bookshop fold, despite tremendous public support. Even the small Fifth Avenue Record Shop in Park Slope that has been there for almost 50 years is closing this month. Change is inevitable, but when the places that give NYC its culture, its flavor, it iconic stories and grit disappear, and artists and poet philosophers leave for other shores for fear of drowning, what remains of this city we love?