Record Store Day at Criminal Records!

Hey, as I type this, it’s 2am, which means it’s officially Record Store Day. Woo! Earlier in the week, I was feeling a bit bummed about not being able to participate in the festivities. Since I’d be covering Axpona, I figured there’d be no way that I’d get out of the hotel and down to a record shop. Don’t ask me why, but after 33 years of life, I continue to rob myself of opportunities, enforcing upon myself limitations that need not exist. It’s as if I’m still punishing myself for having been born. What is up with that? I don’t know. Good thing I’m getting soft in my old age, succumbing to peer pressure with much more enthusiasm than when I was a kid. A friend here at the show convinced me that I’d be out of my mind to pass up an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the country’s greatest independent record stores. So, at around 5pm this evening, he and I snuck out of the show and made the quick trip to Criminal Records in the colorful, entertaining Little Five Points section of Atlanta.

Outside the shop, tattooed skaters were falling all over the ground; one dreadlocked dude was using a machete to carve script into a small piece of wood; long-legged, tulip-shaped women in very short shorts were tip-toeing back and forth along the winding walkway; an old street punk was teaching a scruffy dog to play guitar; young couples sat smiling outside of The Porter, getting drunk on Victory Ale; and the highest person I’ve ever seen in my life twirled down the street pulling rainbow-colored ribbons out of thin air. Inside the shop: pure magic.

I could live in Criminal Records. It reminds me a lot of my own favorite record store, NYC’s Other Music—Criminal has everything I want and need, as well as everything I don’t yet know I want or need—but it’s bigger than Other Music, with high ceilings and sky lights and Sonic Youth posters and a stage for in-store performances and racks and racks of gorgeous vinyl.

I chatted with store owner, Eric Levin, who was vibrating with energy in anticipation of the big day. In the back room, we saw staff members, dwarfed by enormous shelves of vinyl, sorting, stocking, pricing, and alphabetizing the latest shipments of Record Store Day releases. “We’re just volunteers trying to make sense of this wrangly beast,” Levin said. Because no one is absolutely sure which titles will be available at specific stores, the event is touched with mystery and adventure—understandably frustrating, yet also representative of one of record-shopping’s greatest joys: The hunt.

Like other stores and labels, Criminal Records has become suspicious of buyers eager to make a quick profit by immediately auctioning their limited-edition Record Store Day purchases on eBay, thus spoiling and defeating the entire purpose of the noble celebration. “We call them eBay dickheads.” To counteract such practices, Criminal limits their customers to one of each title and is implementing a raffle for those items that are of especially high demand. “We don’t know if it’ll work, but we’ll try it out and see how it goes.” The store has also circulated a special Record Store Day Pledge, which basically amounts to, “Don’t be a dick.”

“Will you have in-store performances?” I asked Levin.

He smiled and nodded: “A few.”

In fact, Criminal Records will throw wide their doors at 10am tomorrow morning—the staff expects customers to begin lining up outside the door as early as 6 or 7am—and will remain open until midnight. In between, there will be a series of live performances, beginning at 2pm with Atlanta’s own AkuYou and closing at 10pm with the extremely attractive Em Kempf, a local performer Levin especially admires. (Personal note: I am a fan of AkuYou. Members of AkuYou previously played together in Pineal Ventana, a group which combined goth, punk, industrial, jazz, noise, and bodily fluids, a group that was a huge influence on me during my college years.) Also performing at Criminal Records will be Oryx & Crake, The dB’s, Fan Modine, British Sea Power, and Turf War.

Just as we were saying goodbye, staff members were preparing the stage and checking the mics. Of course, I couldn’t leave without buying a t-shirt and a few records. I picked up the new James Blake album, the deluxe edition of Massive Attack’s Heligo Land (which I heard and enjoyed in the Classic Audio Loudspeakers room earlier in the day), Harald Grosskopf’s stunning Synthesist, the new Seu Jorge and Almaz LP, and a couple of little things for the girls back home (who seem to be just as popular here in Atlanta as they are back in Jersey City. Heh.)

Remember: You only regret the things you don’t do, and you only regret the records you don’t buy. So, please, if you’re in Atlanta for Axpona or for any other reason, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit one of the country’s greatest independent record stores, Criminal Records, located at 1154-A Euclid Avenue, in the Little Five Points section of Atlanta, near the hippies, skaters, and severely stoned. You’re sure to have a great time.

robertaich50's picture

If you make it out to Criminal, don't miss the even larger trove of vinyl just around the corner--there's not even a street to cross--on Moreland Avenue at Wax And Facts. They've been packed with vinyl since 1976 and never lost the LP faith.

criminal records's picture

One parking spot, two awesome record stores. Say high to Wax N Facts for us and don't forget Decatur CD is also participating with us on Record Store Day.

criminal records's picture

Why did I type "You got that right?"

Thanks, uhm, Stephen for the love letter, was I really vibrating with energy? That's not a typical description of me, usually people just assume I'm stoned.

Glotz's picture

Dying over here.... you two soooo got stoned!

MatthewSTL's picture

Hey Stephen,

What a wonderful piece of writing. Criminal Records is new to me, but our local Euclid Records just posted a link on their Facebook page to a video retrospective from the scene at Criminal yesterday. Man, seems like a great place to spend an afternoon looking through the stacks:

It's interesting seeing the Stereophile posts from Axpona and then your report from Criminal interesting (and hopefully, promising) juxtaposition. Long Live The Entry Level.

deckeda's picture

Prior to all this I had visions of shepherding Stephen and crew to some of the shops around the ATL, after the show ended some night---why should I not be surprised they found at least one anyway? :)

I left AXPONA Saturday at 6:00 and headed for Little Five Points and a slice or two at Savage Pizza. Nowhere to park elsewhere. I got stuck in traffic for a long time and decided I'd drive into the neighborhood and hoof it back to Criminal.

No dice. People were walking from every direction into the area from at least 1/2 mile away as if going to a Braves game or major concert. At 7:30 I had to give up and trundle back to the 'burbs.

Sorry Eric, I tried to support Criminal on RSD but it wasn't going to happen that way.

TNtransplant's picture

Hey folks, expensive audio and lotsa vinyl is great .. but it still isn't live music. I grabbed a cab at the hotel and made it in time to get a dead center vantage point to hear what for me was far and away the highlight of RSD: the original line-up of The dB's playing live for what I think was the first time since 1982(?)

Perhaps not quite on par with Young, Stills and Furay reuniting as Buffalo Springfield but definitely a major event as far as I was concerned. (Actually dB's share some parallels with BS in terms of 2 great albums plus a third with key member missing, but probably a better reference would be the dB's being the Big Star of the 80's ... would do you think?)

If you're not familiar with the group definitely hunt down Stands for Decibels or Repercussion preferably on the original Albion label import LP's. I'm looking to their new album slated for next year and really bummed that their RSD limited 7" was sold out in like 5 minutes.