(cross-posted at Riddim Method)
So, it’s often the way with services – they are valued as far as the individual and the product goes – I get my product = I like them. But music distributors can be so much more.
It was always interesting to me, in all the D.I.Y. (music) scenes I was involved with in the late 80s and early 90s, how distributors were so essential, but sort of hidden in the workings of the scene. Of course, part of DIY was making transparent all of those workings, opening them up to more participation, so you got to participate and see how everyone did it, how they were treated, who was worth working with, etc.
Distributors are often thought of as services --product providers first and foremost. This true, and this is one way distros are important for fans and for the people making the 'product.'
But really distros build a lot of the social networks and languages that are essential to any ‘scene’ (group of people self-identified with some kind of cultural/creative focus and product involved, that’s the best I can do at this point). Distributors are so important to creativity, to connection, to creating scenes, bringing in new eyes and ears.
In mainstream music distro used to be where most of the money went, but usually conceived of as a prize you grant the most reliable producers. In non-mainstream scenes a lot of love and hard work and no money go into the distro work, and social networks come out.
To come to the present day, and in honor of the past 10 years I gotta shout out Toolbox records, as a distro that is essential to the survival of so much of the music I love. Along with being a repository for breakcore and extreme noise, Toolbox also casts its nets wide for interesting sounds and stories from across the globe. My bootleg “Oriental Vibes” album that I got 4 years ago and still play out regularly? 6 tunes, no information, rai-ish dance stuff with some great beats and accordion/strings? From Toolbox. First Peace Off purchase? From Toolbox. Sonic Belligeranza, those delightful Italian wackos? Found them first at Toolbox.
Distributors are supporters of music users on all sides. For artists who sell their tunes, the good distros can make it happen. For people who sell their skills, or just want to make connections with the music, the distros support us too: I showed up in Paris with 25 mix CDRs that I had burned and decorated myself, and they opened up their stockroom (my jaw hit the floor): “we’ll take the mixes, take what you like.” Then Christophe sifted through stacks of records and handed me a pile of stuff he thought I’d like, of which he was right. And of course when you’re searching for stuff, or curious about new sounds, distros are a library in the best sense – you look at things on the shelf or the list next to what you like and bingo, new sounds. Or you ask them, because they know it all, that's why it's there.
Back about 11 years ago, I started out searching online, C8.com was my repository for breakcore or speedcore or whatever we called it (terrorbreaks? Maybe just Hardcore? noise? industrial?). Toolbox came up soon after, but I didn’t really get up in it until I linked up with Broklyn Beats (the label and distro who spread these sounds in the US especially) who bought from Toolbox as well as elsewhere and kept showing me the greatest stuff I’d never have known about.
Big up Broklyn Beats as a distributor, and an incredible record label as well, but having lived with those cats, I can say their influence on me and their importance to me and my music may go beyond the influence of other distributors for other reasons.
But then again, not necessarily that "other"- when the music scene is small, people become your friends as a part of it - one of the best aspects of the music I still work with is that's true. So distro folk who are on a similar vibe, have some common ground beyond products - we all understand the music to be more than a product or a consumable.
Anyway, somewhere in there I learned about High Tone Sound System, some of the best dub music I know of – whose records I’ve never seen in the US, and until recently had no webpresence at all (situation remedied now, in spades). When I went to Europe for the first time, I got closer to Toolbox, although I think I didn’t get there (in Paris) until the second tour, where I was made so welcome in this musical world. I can’t describe enough the physical space, crammed floor to ceiling with records, cds, posters, boxes, stamps, paperwork.. towers of heavy boxes and slippery tsunamis of discs. The main cat and everyone else perching and climbing like lemurs. And the best was: seeing familiar names, my friends' music, even the most obscure and random kinds, mixed in with new names, intriguing labels, blank spaces and black vinyl.
These folks put so much energy into finding music, and getting it to people, and I know the DIY ones basically don’t make money off it – instead they make music happen, make musical connections. We're all so much richer for it. The support I got from Cristophe Toolbox and Criterion and Doily - incredible musicians but just as incredible sources of distro energy in the US, the support just in information – the names, locations, albums, labels, artists, that’s what makes it possible to really love the music and be a real participant in it.
A couple of the better distros for accessing the stuff I mess with (by no means exhaustive - folks should post more in the comments)
when you look at their selection and their writing you can see the level to which they are aiming inward and outward, they are both within specific tastes and challenging and shaping them, there's all kinds of extra information besides band names and album titles, embedded in the pages
Broklyn Beats (emphasizing quality over quantity, the personality and taste really evident in their selection and comments)