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Uncovered: The Independents of Our Music Scene: All Night Flight

Each of us has a part to play in keeping our beloved musicians and labels afloat. As listeners, we instigate the natural chain reaction between artists, labels, distributors and stores.

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All Night Flight Records in Stockport.

With the majority of us spending more time listening to music during this unsettling time, I want to dig deeper to see if this sense of solidarity that we're seeing online and through active listening is being reflected in physical and digital sales from independent outlets.

In this series, we'll be speaking with a number of independent record labels and stores across the UK to see how they're coping during the pandemic. We'll take a look at how the virus is affecting music publishing, the effect on online sales, and the changes in livelihood of each business.

Tom Houghton is the owner of All Night Flight Records, a physical and online record store located in Stockport. He speaks to us about the current changes to his business, as well as sharing his methods of 'lockdown' sanity and the music that's been keeping him company while at home.

When did All Night Flight begin and what did you do prior to having the shop?

Officially almost exactly two years ago as an online store first, and then with the physical shop in August 2019. Prior to that I was working for a different record store and had done some writing work for an online retailer.

What are the main ways lockdown has affected your business?

Well the obvious one is the complete loss of footfall since the shop has been forced to close. Online sales generally increased though, so overall it's about the same, luckily. Generally the supply chain for getting new stock has been much slower, with staff at distributors on furlough, although this isn't as relevant for myself as there's a heavier emphasis on used or old stock.

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All Night Flight Records in Stockport.

Have the majority of your sales come via Discogs or through the All Night Flight website?

Definitely the website but I'd say generally Discogs is busier. It's difficult to know how much is attributed to the coronavirus situation as it all depends on what's being listed and how much time is being spent on making records available. If more time is spent listing items for sale, you'd expect sales to increase regardless.

Have All Night Flight had to place anything on hold, like releases or events?

Yes, in fact there was an event planned to take place upstairs on 11 April with a DJ duo from London called Souvenir, alongside locals Jon K, Tom Boogizm and Annabel Fraser. Hopefully we can reschedule when the time's right.

Have maintaining stock levels been a problem?

Not yet, but as I'd usually have to travel to get stock the effect the whole situation will have on overseas trips is a worry. Certain countries have also stopped international post. The April date of the largest annual record fair in Utrecht had to be cancelled this year, which would have been a good opportunity to get stock both new and old. It's also likely to have a big impact on many dealers, shops, labels, etc.

The sense of solidarity among the online music community is extraordinary at the moment. Is there anything that All Night Flight is doing differently that promotes solidarity through online content?

Like many stores, there's been free shipping offers for UK and EU customers. Other than that, regular customers, friends of the shop etc have been sharing playlists to give an insight into what they're interested in and their influences. Maybe this has been beneficial? I'm really keen to expand the non-commercial side of the website - if people want to use it just as a resource to discover new stuff or read features, that's equally as satisfying as customers buying.

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All Night Flight Records in Stockport.

We've seen things such as Beggars Group encouraging listeners to buy from their local stores through the use of an interactive map. Are there any initiatives that are of particular benefit to help prevent the future destabilising of smaller pockets of the music industry?

I think any initiative that channels what little sales revenue exists into the pockets of artists and independent labels is a good thing, for example Bandcamp waiving the fees for a period of time. Other than that, just generally keeping things local and direct as much as possible has to be a good thing for the community.

We see an increase in listeners supporting artists by buying from Bandcamp. In terms of buying culture, do you think the lockdown will bring about a positive or negative socio-political change for the music industry? Do you think the commitment to buying music instead of just streaming will remain post-virus?

It's really tricky to answer. The music industry at large is a vast, multi-faceted beast and the shop occupies a tiny, super-niche fragment. I feel, somewhat optimistically, that the market for really marginal music is so small anyway that the really die-hard customers will remain no matter what as it's so important to them. Maybe the high-street market is more susceptible to shocks.

What's your method for staying sane?

Keep occupied! Luckily, I've always got something to do as there's always more music to discover, although I really envy the people who can just do nothing and feel really content. Limiting the time spent in the social media minefield can't be a bad start.

Is there a genre that you're particularly enjoying while at home?

Nothing specific, it's pretty varied, as it would be regardless of the situation. I'd say a recent pocket I've been in pretty deep the past few weeks is the work of this Osaka-based artist Shinji Shibayama. He runs a label called Org Records and was in a band called The Hallelujahs, and still releases as Nagisa Nite with his wife. It's quite varied but mostly really mellow, soft psych-rock and there's some noisier stuff from Yuzo Iwata and Naoki Zushi. It's a good wormhole to hunker down within the current climate.

Tom's recommendations for people to check out while at home:

Space Afrika - Somewhere Decent To Live (sferic)

Locally produced future classic of dubbed-out soundscapes and urban ambience on an increasingly envelope-pushing independent label.

Tara Clerkin Trio - Tara Clerkin Trio (Laura Lies In)

Genre-blurring debut from Bristol group TCT.

Grimescapes - An Iceman Junglist Produktion (YOUTH)

Street-level soundscapes with effortless melancholy from Stockport's YOUTH label.

ANA (label)

Young guerrilla label operating on the Mcr - London axis, shifting between mutant DIY techno and broken music concrete. Struggling to single out an individual release, as I recommend them all highly.

Liberation Through Hearing (label)

Stunning Manchester / Montreal cassette and digital label pushing emotive deep listening with a strong visual aesthetic.

Check out Tom's online store for daily recommendations.

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