It's the end of the Road
A light is going out on Fade Street. The imminent closure of Road Records, one of the last of the capital's independent retail stores, is to be mourned not just because it marks another bad day at the office for the punch-drunk Irish economy, but because it deals a painful blow to the cultural identity of the city. What will replace it? Another Spar? Yet another Londis?
While the closure of the UK-owned Zavvi chain just before Christmas was also a depressing day for people who like to cradle a physical CD rather than store an MP3, it didn't lead to the pained gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands that Road's impending demise has brought about.
Scan the flood of posts on -- to take one example -- ThrillPier's blog and you'll see the depth of feeling that the news of its passing has elicited.
"Road was the place to go for decent indie stuff," went one post. "I especially loved the photos from local gigs that were up on the walls. Everyone from the White Horse generation of punk/indie fans will lament the passing of this great shop. Where will I get my Burning Love Jumpsuit CDs now?"
That said, many bloggers looked into their hearts and admitted that their own changing purchasing habits had contributed to the problem. Even before the cr**it cr**ch kicked in, the shop was in difficulty for a whole host of reasons that owner Dave Kennedy outlined on the store's website. These include:
1 The expansion of below-cost internet retailers such as Play.com, pricing smaller stores like Road out of the market.
2 The rise of illegal file-sharing on the web. Post-Napster, things have never been quite the same for high-street shops. The downloading genie is out of the bottle.
3 The changing leisure pursuits of today's teenagers, where PlayStations and Nintendos have become more prized than Fender Telecasters, so that the desire to build an impressive record collection has been superseded by the desire to build a kick-ass video game collection.
As Kennedy puts it: "We don't see any young people in the shop any more; so as we lose older customers, we don't gain any new ones."
4The prohibitive cost of running a business in Ireland, with sky-rocketing commercial rents, insurance, bank costs and so on (see Dell et al).
5 The apparent fall in the number of people coming into Dublin to hang out. "The city centre just does not have the same volume of people walking around it any more; it's a simple fact," states Kennedy.
Indeed, the city's youth can no longer sit and flirt/mope on the steps of the Central Bank now that those large railings have gone up, and so there's no chance of catching their passing trade if they're staying put in the suburbs. All in all, the Road less travelled became a cul de sac.
But is it a harbinger of greater doom and gloom ahead? Road Records may be the first casualty of the recession in the Irish music industry in 2009, but it almost certainly won't be the last.
One wonders how this summer's music festivals will perform?
It was noticeable that the Electric Picnic, which aims for the monied tier of the market by styling itself as a boutique festival, didn't sell out last year until quite near kick-off. In previous years, tickets had been snapped up like golden tickets for Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory
Now, your average festivalgoer will have far less disposable income to spend on camping it up in the country. And now students -- always a big part of the demographic for live music -- are going to have to factor in Batt O'Keeffe's proposed education taxes.
The same applies to Oxegen, Cois Farraige, Analog, Kilkenny's Rhythm 'N' Roots, Heineken Green Energy ... will they all be able to survive and thrive in an increasingly crowded festival schedule? Or will there be collateral damage?
We've been living through an unprecedented boom time for live music in Ireland for the past few years. It seemed too good to last.
Yes, there's the shiny new O2 arena, where the likes of Beyonce has just added a fourth night and where many of the top-tier rock acts will be playing to sold out crowds in 2009, but all indications are that, further down the ladder, the live music circuit is struggling, as more and more people are staying in and snuggling up with their box sets of The Wire.
One casualty was the music bar the Voodoo Lounge on Dublin's Arran Quay, which for years offered a platform to up-and-coming bands to play their first live shows in front of an audience. Alas, Voodoo shut its doors last year. Will other venues close their doors as the recession bites?
As the Hollies sang: "The road is long, with many of winding turns/ That lead us to who knows where, who knows where?"