We were already pumped to be co-curating the music lineup at Sweatstock 2012. Now that Iggy Pop is the official ambassador of Record Store Day 2012, which happens to fall on his 65th birthday, and will be visiting Sweat Records to mosh with the rest of us, WE ARE ALL-CAPS PUMPED!
In celebration of its seventh year as the bastion of Miami’s independent music scene, Sweat Records is throwing the third edition of Sweatstock on Saturday, April 21 — fittingly, on Record Store Day — with Beached Miami as a proud partner in music curation.
Afrobeta will headline the outdoor stage this year with Deaf Poets, Krisp, Psychic Mirrors, Ketchy Shuby, Plains, Arboles Libres, The State Of, and Jesse Jackson (with full band) opening. The outdoor program will go from 2 pm until 11 pm.
Celebrating its seventh year in business and Record Store Day in one banging block party, Sweat Records is throwing the third edition of Sweatstock on Saturday, April 21, with Beached Miami as a proud partner in music curation.
Announced today, Afrobeta will headline the outdoor stage at Sweatstock this year with Deaf Poets, Krisp, Psychic Mirrors, Ketchy Shuby, Plains, Arboles Libres, The State Of, and Jesse Jackson (with full band) opening. The outdoor program will go from 2 pm until 11 pm.
If you’re a jerk like me, or lovably lazy or mercilessly overworked, you wait to the last minute to buy your loved ones presents for the holidays. The easy thing to do in a pinch is to get out the plastic machete (your credit card) and go hacking through the Amazon consumer forest. I’ve done it a hundred times, but this year I dare suggest you shop locally. From the specialty periodical stand at Lester’s (where we’re hosting the Sketchy Holiday Party Thursday night) to the crates of vinyl at Sweat Records, there are plenty of local shops with the goods to make your family and friends remember why they tolerate you during the rest of the year. For those on house arrest, the SweatShop is probably the best site online to get Miami-made merch, including music by many of the artists featured in our epic Top 50 South Florida Songs of 2011 list, t-shirts (ours will be in there soon!), locally pressed books, and even pungent bags of Panther Coffee.
So, my fellow well-meaning procrastinators, before you subject yourselves to third-degree Kindle burns on Amazon, peruse the local produce and consider using your hard-earned greenbacks to bolster a local, independent business. There are many more worthy options than I mentioned here, so feel free to shout out your favorite local vendors in a comment and to share your 305 finds. You’d be doing me a big favor, since I’ve yet to buy my family, my friends, and my pet a single thing.
You can find anything you need — or want — on Florida State Road 976, locally known as Bird Road, an approximately eight-mile column of shadeless traffic connecting US-1 to the Turnpike near FIU’s main campus. Banks, auto repair shops, infinite diners, cafeterias, hot dog stands and seafood joints, a discreet edifice with a bold sign declaring “Best Oriental Massage”, guns, ammo, Bird Bowl, Simbad’s Bird House, and multiple exotic aquariums are a small fraction of the establishments I noted on my way to Yesterday & Today Records, which is located in a two-story plaza adjacent to both a lingerie boutique and a headshop.
“You get sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll,” quips Evan Chern, Y&T’s owner, and half of its staff. The Dad-humor notwithstanding, Chern is soft-spoken and humble. At various points of arranging and conducting an interview with him regarding his shop’s 30th anniversary, he did everything he could to take the focus off of himself, offering the weekend clerk, regular customers, and previous articles on the store as substitute points of departure. When I mentioned I would like to take some pictures to run with the piece, Chern half-joked that it was a “terrible time [for a photoshoot] because there are records everywhere.”
There are records everywhere. All of the bins are packed to capacity, leaving just enough room for browsing. The spillover starts in crates below the regular sections, and continues into piles and containers arranged for maximum efficiency all over the store. Stacks of LPs tower above your head. Even the bathroom is fair game for storage.
This bounty hints at the once mighty Yesterday and Today empire, which, at its height, boasted three separate South Florida locations, including a South Beach branch in the ‘90s called “Y&T Dance”, which specialized in techno and DJ singles.
Rich Ulloa opened the first Yesterday and Today in June of 1981. After a decade of expansion and relocating up and down Bird Road, Ulloa teamed up with Chern, who had been involved with the shop since its inception, to split into two storefronts with distinct focuses: yesterday and today. Ulloa would man the “today” store, a source for new music and local artists, while Chern, who says his specialty is “obscure ‘60s and ‘70s stuff”, would run the oldies-focused “yesterday” location.
A native of Coral Gables, Chern started out as a pupil in his older brother’s school of rock, “but quickly surpassed him” when it came to buying records.
“The first album I ever bought was from a clearance rack outside of a store,” Chern says. “My mom bought it for me. It was More of The Monkees in mono.”
Monkees LPs eventually gave way to Frank Zappa concerts, and soon Chern was photographing bands like blues rockers Hot Tuna and prog ensemble Renaissance at Pirate’s World, a swashbuckling-themed amusement park in Dania, the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall, and other South Florida venues.
Before joining the Yesterday & Today team, Chern landed a gig as a DJ on community station WDNA, a position he pursued at the suggestion of Bob Perry, owner of the now-closed Blue Note Records in North Miami, and held for 13 years. The program was called “Notes From The Underground” and showcased oddball, mod-era garage rock that beat psychedelic rock to the punch before anyone in the U.S. had heard of Jimi Hendrix and blared like punk a decade before Iggy first dumped his mic in peanut butter.
When Ulloa decided to split the shop in two, Chern’s subterranean expertise was a perfect fit for the idiosyncratic Yesterday & Today.
“We were a little different than your mainstream record shop,” he explains.
In addition to the inexhaustible inventory of standards and classics, the store could — and still can — be counted on for exotic represses, elusive imports, and holy grail original copies. Chern adds, “Bands would play too. They had the Ramones signing records. Yesterday & Today, back in the ‘80s, was an ‘indie record store’.”
Today, Sweat Records, opened in 2005, is widely acknowledged as Miami’s “indie record store”, a title earned because of its contemporary selection, non-music inventory (collectibles, vegan treats), and the hip, Biscayne-and-Wynwood demographic that utilizes the shop as a multipurpose space for concerts, film screenings, and activist meetings.
Even so, Chern doesn’t view Sweat as the competition. “I don’t mind sending people to Sweat for new artists,” he says.
When pressed to describe Yesterday & Today’s demographic, Chern champions the internet-savvy youth that, in addition to old heads and lifelong diggers, are a major part of his clientele. Where some business models — like the absurdly overpriced CD stores of the 90s — have been practically eviscerated by downloading, Chern encourages pirating on the grounds of knowledge.
“We have a younger crowd that buys classic stuff like The Doors, Zeppelin, and the Beatles,” he says. “Then they read online about who influenced [those bands] and come back for more.
“The coolest thing is, if I’ve got something in the store and it’s sealed they can go online and see if they like it.”
It’s the kind of statement that outs Chern as a music lover first, business man second.
Standing around the piles of albums, the majority of which are used and unsealed, I wondered what the total running time would be if you dumped Y&T’s entire inventory into iTunes. But Yesterday & Today is not a valve in today’s instant hype-and-gratification machine. Having amassed an incredible volume of merchandise — diverse enough, perhaps, to stump even a Steve Jobs algorithm — the store looks like what it is: 30 years of records in one room.
The bulk of its inventory is a veritable library of rock, jazz, and pop classics, with robust sections of Female Jazz and Blues Vocalists, Surf Instrumentals, and Poetry/Narrative/Sound Effects, among many others. Yesterday & Today has records you may dismiss as Herb Alpert-like detritus. But those same records are housed in fresh slip-cases and cost about as much as some of the popular psych titles — because somewhere out there is a collector looking for this particular ‘40s lounge compilation in Mint condition.
Meanwhile, Chern has put his own crate-diving days behind him.
“You can’t be successful [running a record store] being a collector,” he says.
These days, Chern barely has a chance to listen to music anyway, with his inexhaustible drive to keep Yesterday & Today’s reserves stocked and new material out on the floor precluding much tune-in, drop-out time.
“I’m just overwhelmed with vinyl,” he says.
Reports of Will Oldham’s supposed elusiveness have been greatly exaggerated. Several notable past press accounts have found Oldham, who performs most often as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, reticent in discussing himself or his works. In 2009, his own mother described him as “ornery” to the New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh, in a story whose narrative hinged largely on a city mouse following Oldham to a secret concert given in the rural outskirts of his native Louisville.
Maybe this is a result of confusing the music with the man. Oldham’s overwhelming body of work, starting with the material he released as Palace Music (or Palace Brothers, or Palace Songs) in the early ’90s, can seem hard to penetrate.
There’s no clear starting point for the new initiate, although any is equally good. While certain discs, like 1999’s I See A Darkness, have by now been critically canonized, they’re not dramatically better or worse, or more or less accessible, than the rest.
Oldham’s material is, in most simple terms, folk, but often with a marked Southern gothic bent, and the easy acceptance of mortality that runs through so much of the music of Tennessee and Kentucky. Songs amble, bend, and wander around, sometimes at a dirge-like pace. They obliquely recount tales of drinking, love (usually lost), and other misfortunes, in a way that allows you to be sure Oldham is speaking directly to your pain and nobody else’s.
But the thing is, it’s not all gloom and doom if you pay attention. At the end of all that twangy rambling, there’s usually a light at the end of the tunnel, whether in words or pure sound. Even the title track of I See a Darkness — a song that mournfully repeats the refrain of the title — turns brighter in the end. Oldham turns hopeful as he sings, just as some major-key piano chords take the song out to a question-mark end.
And when I spoke with Oldham recently by phone, he was downright cheerful. Maybe it’s because he really, really likes Florida, or at least the idea of it. This month kicks off his Free Florida tour with pal Emmett Kelly (a.k.a. the Cairo Gang), which finds the duo performing a series of free record-store performances throughout the state. Two of those are here in South Florida: Monday, May 30, at Radio-Active Records in Fort Lauderdale, and Tuesday, May 31, at Sweat Records.
But with Oldham launching one of these free tours, by his own account, about once every dozen years, why Florida, of all places? I reached him by phone at his Kentucky home to find out. Birds chirped loudly in the background as we spoke.
What is your personal experience of Florida? How much time have you actually spent here?
Will Oldham: I’m 41, and I probably started going there when I was seven or eight with the family. Then when I got older, I’d go there to play music, and I know we went to Cuba a couple times and had to do that with Miami as a starting point. So that’s been it — spending time there on intense family vacations, and playing music.
You’ve actually been to Cuba? When was that and how did you manage it?
WO: The first time we went, we kind of snuck over and we got nailed on the way back, which kind of sucked. Both trips were in the late ’90s, probably like ’96 and ’98. The second time, my friend Bob Arellano, who’s a musician, assembled this quasi-supergroup, and got us a gig at a music festival in Havana. We got special licenses from the U.S. government to go to Cuba for 10 days or so and played three shows. So the last time was totally legal and totally awesome.
You’re known for having wide, deep, and obscure musical tastes. Were you into any Cuban music before you went there, or did the trip spark any further interest in it?
WO: I don’t have a deep knowledge of Cuban music, although I definitely had a rudimentary knowledge, and more from records Bob had played for me. The first time we went there I did a fair amount of record shopping, which was very exciting, and not very expensive. Unfortunately, since we didn’t go legally that time, on the way back in all those records were confiscated by U.S. Customs. They were actually broken in half.
Hats off to Sweat Records for another amazing Sweatstock cum Record Store Day celebration. While early rain threatened to drown the festivities (and maybe electrocute a performer or two), the skies eventually cleared and the free all-day jamboree went deep into the night, with 36 acts (bands, DJs, comedians, poets) on four stages rocking out for the love of vinyl and its shiny cousin.
Unlike Sweatstock 2010, which boasted L.A.’s No Age as headliner, this year’s all-local roster proved that the Miami river is running deep and wide. I didn’t see every act but Beings, Little Beard, and Panic Bomber stood out with killer sets, and the DJs spinning inside Sweat kept the energy going all day.
It really was an inspiring display of talent considering that several solid local acts (e.g., Rachel Goodrich, ANR, Jacuzzi Boys) did not perform for one reason or another. It’s a damn good thing when a city has too much worthy music to fit into a 12-hour, multi-stage festival, and I have no doubt some of next year’s performers were bobbing their heads in the crowd on Saturday. With Miami’s music scene in the family way and Sweatstock 2012 already set for April 21, the only question is whether Sweat should make it a two-day event.
With Sweatstock fast approaching, Sweat Records took a gut check this weekend when someone(s) broke into the Little Haiti landmark on Saturday night/Sunday morning and stole cash, a computer, and other electronics. Sweat’s recently launched online store, Sweat Shop Miami, which offers local music, books, fashion, and gifts, is also a casualty of the break-in as the stolen computer was the store’s mainframe. The site is off-line until further notice.
This is the second time the bastion of local music has been ransacked since September, when “unknown assailants” broke in and stole the store’s computer, credit card terminal, video projector, DJ equipment, cash drawer, and then literally poured salt on the wound by destroying Sweat’s saltwater reef tank.
The aquarium went unharmed this time around, but the break-in is still an untimely setback for one of Miami’s essential local businesses as it prepares for Sweatstock, its biggest event of the year. In a blog post fittingly titled “Ugh”, Sweat Records owner Lolo Reskin asks sympathizers to come out to the fest on Saturday, April 16, to “have a great time and buy yourself some presents!” You can also support Sweat by donating through a Paypal button embedded in the blog post.
To learn more about Sweatstock, check out our podcast preview, which features tracks from many of the participating bands and an interview with Lolo. You can also see the festival’s schedule (as reported by the New Times) below.
This week’s podcast is a wee bit different than the usual. With Sweatstock around the corner on April 16 — Record Store Day! — we rounded up mp3s from a handful of the performers in the festival lineup, including The State Of, Panic Bomber, and Furious Dudes. We also have Sweat Records owner Lolo Reskin dropping knowledge on the evolution of RSD from humble beginnings, the origin of the FREE goodness fest that is Sweatstock, and the healthy state of music in Miami these days. If you don’t know about Sweatstock, here’s your chance to get wise. If you do, here’s your chance to get excited all over again.
Make sure to subscribe to our podcast RSS feed to get a free mp3 download beamed your way every other Thursday morning. If you have any suggestions — a person to interview, an event to forecast, a raven to quoth — please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.