In 1995, Empire Records was released to the movie-going public. As a specimen of the cinematic arts, it's nothing special. But what's far more important than the general mediocrity or trite coming-of-age themes in Empire Records, is that the film sets itself inside an independent record store, and sanctifies that record store as the very glue that binds its characters together.
Ironically, after almost 10 years, the plot of Empire Records has never been more current. Just as the film's titular shop faces extinction, so do the last remaining mom-and-pops still stocking discs as the market demands ones and zeros.
But in Charleston, things aren't so gloomy.
"We're hangin' in there," says Clay Scales, owner of 52.5 Records on King Street.
Galen Hudson, the district manager at Monster Music and Cat's Music says, "Our stores are pretty solid right now." Even after closing some of the chain's out-of-state stores last year, he's optimistic.
Even so, in the minds of many, the days of the record store are long gone. The folks behind Record Store Day (www.recordstoreday.com) hope to disprove that. "It was just an attempt to say, 'We're still here,'" says Hudson.
Saturday, indie record shops across the globe will celebrate Record Store Day — held each year since 2007 on the third Saturday in April — with sales, freebies, and special events. On the surface it's little more than a promotional engine for the labels still dedicated enough to keep pressing physical albums in a digital world. But beneath that commercial veneer, it's a day held in honor of a cultural institution. Just like Empire Records, beyond its forgettable teen-flick veneer, pays homage to the same cultural institution.
Beyond the stores themselves, many labels have prepared special releases for the day — including limited edition vinyl releases from acts as young and old as Grizzly Bear and Tom Waits. Paul McCartney will release six (only six!) acetates of one song at a secret location. Jack White's newest band, the Dead Weather, will release its debut 7-inch single. Suffice it to say, for anybody still interested in purchasing music as a physical relic, Record Store Day is a big deal.
Last year, Scales was ambivalent about the event. But, he says, "It turned out to be really cool, so I felt bad for being bah-humbug about it." This year he's not. And neither are his local competitors.
"It surpassed all expectations, so it is now a permanent event," says Hudson.
Scales' shop will host an art opening, but elsewhere bands will cram their gear in between the shelves to soundtrack the proceedings. Monster Music and Cat's Music will host seven and six bands, respectively, while Soundwave Records in Summerville plays host to death metal band Aralic.
Additionally, shoppers can expect deep discounts and plenty of promotional freebies. All used product is discounted 52.5 percent at 52.5 Records. Soundwave will cut 20 percent off its music and 10 percent off comics. And Cat's and Monster will have storewide markdowns, including sidewalk sales for used discs.
While the stores count on increased traffic, the sales do come at an expense. This won't single-handedly save the empire. But that's not really the point.
"We just want it to be something that's fun for people," Hudson says.
Echoing the sentiment, and the climax of Empire Records, Scales predicts: "It should be a party."
The local shops participating in Record Store Day on Sat. April 18 are 52.5 Records (561 King St., 843-722-3525), Monster Music & Movies (946 Orleans Road, 843-571-4657), Cat's Music in Summerville (1305-A N. Main St., 843-832-7704) Soundwave Records in Summerville (2139-B N. Main St., 843-821-8810).