The Wire

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In Writing

The Mire: Tangents, threads and opinions from The Wire HQ

... or exchange?

Derek Walmsley

I got a nostalgic rush when a promo CD of the new Streets album came into the office – not a reaction to the CD inside, but the slipcase, which is from (presumably purchased, but who knows?) Music And Video Exchange, the dusty and sprawling Notting Hill second hand record emporium where I used to work for quite a few years. The red sticker in the corner, where they reduce the prices month by month, is the giveaway. As it happens, I'm not the only Wire writer who has passed through its, er, hallowed doors.

I was in the the other day, selling old CDs into the shops to exchange for other stuff. My plan to invest in valuable classical vinyl, in the hope that it will hold its value when the economy goes into total meltdown, was thwarted, though. Their classical shop due is to close any day, and the racks were empty. I wonder, though, with an upcoming recession, if second hand emporiums will soon be booming again, packed with fresh stock from cash-strapped punters.

The beauty of MVE was that you came at music culture backwards. You're surrounded not by usual music that is pushed at you, but the stuff that gathers together at the margins. Outdated music was often more poignant than music which still held its popular currency. In most MVE shops, records never went below 50p – even at that price, the assumption was that someone would have a use for it, even if the root of that use was as kitsch, sample fodder or curiosity value. This was where you found new uses for music. The process is rather like musical compost, biodegrading in its own filth, but providing all sorts of vital micro nutrients to other growths. I used to greedily suck up cheap old jungle compilations, packed with fat hits but with zero cool quotient; hit-it-and-quit-it dancehall 7"s which had been cheapily pressed up in the thousands and were now sitting around gathering dust; random white labels, noone knowing what the hell they are except for a catalogue number; quasi bootleg jazz compilations which nonetheless provided strange trawls through the oeuvres of the likes of Billie Holliday and Charlie Parker.

Recycling all these vast swathes of music culture, you get that sense of the street finding its own use for things, as the saying goes; what The Streets has to do with it, I'm not so sure.