Do It Yourself: The Story of Rough Trade (2009)

Posted in films, music by okkame on May 19, 2010



DIY  in 6 parts1  2  3  4  5  6

Rough Trade is a british music label/shop everyone remotely interested in cutting-edge  music is aware of  or heard the name of  more than once.  their contribution and significance to (white) indie culture shouldn’t be underestimated despite they seem to have lost their edge somewhat these days for the good of their welfare, worse for their time-honoured cred. 

Rough Trade is the name of  glorius legacy of  left-leaning  music history in the memory of once-hip old pap or sometimes maligned but still respectable musico-cultural shelter  for relative younger music savvies, or it can be just a brand empty-headed These New Puritans fans often ecounter.  when i fetishized Rough Trade, i was still inspired by shitty music. now i shun music entailing the label of  Rough Trade, more correctly, they’re just a different kettle of fish to what i pet.  knowing they distribute cool stuff and my longing for visiting Rough Trade shop someday can’t help their relegated position in my book. although I’m not in the industry and barely know in-crowd state in the english-speaking world due to the confinement of my physical body (to fuckin’ korea),  i guess people’s view on Rough Trade wouldn’t be far from mine.

My closest friend Nodagiri who surely had his time at Matt Groening’s ATP fest intended to getting back korea with a Rough Trade Shop tote bag as a souvenir and a practical item of fashion but his girfriend steely declared:  “i won’t hang around you if you buy that bag.”  she’s a laywoman who might never heard of  John Peel but definitely had sensed Rough Trade’s current cultural connotation even with her uninterested, blurred eyes.  it’s ok and rather cool to stroll down the street with a bag on which  ‘Rough Trade’ plainly inscribed in korea, yet  it’s not over-concerned for him to prepare for unexpected future havoc like a sudden approach of  a tedious anglophile schmuck in a Pete Doherty state of mind. but still, i kinda romanticize Rough Trade and somehow i’m indebted to them for being a nasty music snob who now i am.

At the height of neo Post-Punk/Garage Rock boom circa early 2000’s (urgh, i liked -nearly loved – Kings Of Leon/The Strokes/The Libertines trifecta. then again, Clinic was my fav band back then),  discovering  Swell Maps on Rough-Trade post-punk comp was one of major transformation points in my musical life. i instantly adored them and they’re the biggest icon of my rock n’ roll archive to this day. i’m not sure some had led to some, anyway, around that time i got to know about Electric Eels and Cleveland proto punks,  got accessed to uber-cool nihilistic haven of No New York via searching for Lydia Lunch on allmusicguide  and afterward tried freejazz then finally got to  Thurston Moore’s Top Ten Freejazz Underground list,  listened to Red Krayola’s ‘The Parable of Arable land’ for the first time and did life-threatning morning glory seeds trip and there were  so much more on. 

I don’t attribute all of these drastic evolvements to Rough Trade, but just digging The  Swell Maps was sufficient to break free from evil hands of NME, to utterly smack as yet Brit Pop-ridden wimpy ass of mine; it’s rather ironic considering  NME might be the very force championed The Swell Maps back then. * i was already into C-86/anorak/The Pastels/Everette True kinda thing  but that stuff was also favored by misled, feeble-assed wealthy korean ivy-leaguers who believed in a stupid notion of  ‘Modern Rock (all middle class-adulating  non-subversive comfy dregs of  rock,  not Captain Beefheart) ‘ and couldn’t see  punk rock lineage running through these acts. their main obsession was Teenage Fanclub and sappy english romantic novels. i always felt something was wrong and at last, i got the things straight by my own pursuit of  authentic Rock ‘n’ Roll esprit. 

so i gather it’s about time you’d be sick of  my peronal history if you ever read this.

Cut to the docu

It’s revealing to know Mayo Thompson of  Red Krayola was involved in Rough Trade far more than i knew (he produced the first Stiff Little Fingers album, besides The Shop Assistants, The Raincoats, Kleenex/Liliput and The Fall) and footages of vintage LPs of already mentioned bands and such iconic bands & figures like The Raincoats,  Scritti Politti, Mayo Thompson,  David Thomas of Pere Ubu and Jarvis Cocker in addition to varied hipsters and milieu in that period of time were visually amusing as you see from above snippets.

Even I who’s negated Morrissey/The Smiths for lifetime was coaxed into nodding to the goose-fleshed narcissism of the charming man,  if briefly.

It’s kinda weird to feel nostalgic towards days  you’ve never lived. but it feels good to be cheated as if you were there. and your life can be extended by that? 


The Rough Trade story begins more than thirty years ago on 20th February 1976. Britain was in the grip of an IRA bombing campaign; a future prime minister was beginning to make her mark on middle England, where punk was yet to run amok; and a young Cambridge graduate called Geoff Travis opened a new shop at 202 Kensington Park Road, just off Ladbroke Grove in West London. The Rough Trade shop sold obscure and challenging records by bands like American art-rockers Pere Ubu, offering an alternative to the middle-of-the-road rock music that dominated the music business.

In January 1977, when a record by Manchester punk band Buzzcocks appeared in the shop, Rough Trade found itself in the right place at the right time to make an impact far beyond that of a neighbourhood music store. When Spiral Scratch was released in 1977, the idea of putting out a single without the support of an established record company was incredible. But Rough Trade was to become the headquarters of a revolt against this corporate monopoly – it was stocking records by bands inspired by the idea that they could do it themselves.

But selling a few independent records over the counter was not going to change the world. Early independent labels had to hand over their distribution to the likes of EMI or CBS. But one man at Rough Trade challenged that monopoly. Richard Scott joined Rough Trade in 1977 and became the architect of a grand scheme that was nothing short of revolutionary: independent nationwide distribution.

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  1. […] Here‘s my old post about  BBC 4′s Do It Yourself: The Story of Rough Trade (2009) docu. You can download the stuff as well. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Mayo Thompson […]

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