I’m on a pilgrimage today to a centre of learning: the Rough Trade East record shop in London. In the days of digital downloads, it’s rare to visit a record shop, rarer still to travel far to one, but this place stands out as an independent haven of experience and expertise in the sterile world of online retailers.
As i sit near the entrance, at a plywood table and bench, sipping a latte and looking out into the shop, i can see thousands of LPs, CDs and singles, posters, photographs and even a small stage at the back of the shop. The people? A mixture of isolated individuals plugged into their iPods, people in suits dropping in on their lunch break and the staff, stocking shelves, unpacking records from boxes, talking in small groups with customers.
It’s not a place to come to buy a record, it’s a place to spend an hour learning, getting recommendations, trying something new, and probably leaving with three of four new finds.
Sure, it’s a way away from corporate culture, but the idea that you can have a centre for learning is still relevant. Whilst it used to be schools and Universities, it may now be online communities, thought leaders or corporate universities, but there is still the notion that we go somewhere to learn, that one group of people have knowledge that we want to access. that this is better done in a specific place.
And there is a sense of adventure: i literally don’t know where to start. When i finish this, i will be browsing, flicking through vinyl in that way that i haven’t done for years, the way that i can’t do online. It’s tactile, sensual, satisfying, from the smell to the feel to the emotional experience of the discovery. I’ll talk to people, ask for recommendations and listen to some new things, as well as treasuring something i find from an artist i love.
Like browsing a second hand bookshop or the library i guess: both repositories of knowledge and places to learn.
In an age of digital knowledge, when we turn to the web before anything else, it’s nice to come to a physical space to learn, to come together with like minded individuals, to experience the totality of it.
So now i’m off to browse. If you let yourself go a little, you never know what you’ll discover.