In our first virtual reality feature, we take a tour of the iconic East Village record store Other Music, which closed its doors last week.
Other Music—the modestly sized East Village enclave that, for over twenty years, served as a cultural hub for independent music buffs in New York City—shut its doors last week for good. According to the store’s co-owner, Josh Madell, “it just didn’t make sense to keep the store running,” a sad but familiar truth for much of the creative landscape in cities around the world.
Other Music opened in 1995 at a significantly different point in our relationship to music. Then, scouring the store’s shelves for limited Belle and Sebastian releases or cassette tapes from German post-industrial rockers was the only way to satisfy a hunger for a wide range of music. In 1995, a weekly playlist from a multibillion dollar tech company wasn’t the preferred, or even imagined, norm for discovering artists.
In her beautiful eulogy for the store, New Yorker writer Amanda Petrusich captured the store’s ethos best:
“In 1999, if you were the type of person who was looking for something a little different (more challenging, more sophisticated, more esoteric) from the schlock being peddled to the herds of dead-eyed automatons browsing the Tower Records up the block, then here was the store for you!”
The fact of the matter is, these stores matter. The physical space they occupied created a safe-haven for a specific consumer whose predilections stood, defiantly, outside of the predictable norms of mainstream music. During it’s two decade tenure in the city, Other Music hosted scores of bands for in-store performances, including The Strokes, Vampire Weekend, and DJ Shadow. The performances were among the first for the acts who, today, are household names. That’s what makes Other Music’s closing sting so much for the locals who’ve called the place home for so long. The history that occurred in its walls is worthy of preservation, yet, as we’ve seen time and time again, that feeling has lost out to the monetary forces that have turned whole swaths of the city into something unrecognizable.
Lamenting the loss of these stores often feels futile—the market pressures pushing out your favorite record store are doing much worse to poor families—but it remains important to acknowledge how vital the stomping grounds for communities are, and have been, to so many people.
When we met Madell at his store a few weeks before closing, he talked about how business changed with the onset of streaming. Closing Other Music, he said, was basically inevitable. Still, while technology continues to push the spaces we know and love into smaller and smaller corners of our cities, it can also preserve something, perhaps just the idea of a place like Other Music. In our first virtual reality feature, we chose to attempt to give viewers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the iconic store so that, if nothing else, we can see just how special this place was.
As their closing concert last night suggests, Other Music will live on forever.