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Records Let Off a Bad Smell When They Burn.

This week, with neither the debonair and vaudevillian charm of Guido Fawkes nor the noble composure of Martin Luther King, "Broken Britain" decided to protest. I was accidentally in London while the riots swept the streets like a big violent anti-broom, leaving a trail of shattered shops and charcoaled cars in its wake. I was, however, fortunate enough to be tucked away in the Docklands working long days so remained happily ambivalent toward the unrest - not caring much for the views of the Daily Mail-subscribed tutters nor the hooded revolution they so inaccurately maligned. From Hackney to Salford, many communities were shaken by the indignant tremor of a people embittered but one nationwide collective suffered an indiscriminate and particularly unfair tragedy. Then I took notice. "This is a disaster that is an act of riot, but it falls into the act of God category," laments Alison Wenham, Chairman of the Association of Independent Music (AIM). Wenham is referring to the total destruction of stock belonging to over 150 independent record labels when a warehouse used by specialist distribution company PIAS was razed to the ground in the early hours of Tuesday 9th August. Among those worst hit were the Beggars Group (comprising of XL, Rough Trade, 4AD, True Panther, Young Turks and Too Pure), Sunday Best, Sub Pop and Domino, all of whom have lost a vast majority, if not all, of their UK stock. Also affected were Big Dada, Border Community, Brainfeeder, Drag City, FatCat, Matador, One Little Indian and Soul Jazz Records. "There was a lot of limited editions and first runs that are always very collectable and quite a lot of that stock will never be seen again," Wenham adds, obviously distressed by the loss. Tuesday's events created a massive setback in an otherwise burgeoning UK vinyl culture, with 2011 seeing the fifth consecutive year of growing record sales - nearly 170,000 LPs were sold in the first half of this year compared to 100,000 in the same time last year. These numbers make sense. In a time when popular music is increasingly homogenised and offensive, accessible to millions with the tinny click of a mouse, the satisfying crackling journey of a needle over the lovingly crafted grooves of a 12" creates an actual music experience - not a cheap threeminute fix. Records don't need justifying, so back to the matter at hand. Despite a mere 24 hours having elapsed since the incident, Wenham's head is full of potential lifelines for her labels. "I'm looking at ways to get shortterm funding," she says, implying a personal effort - and I don't doubt it. That being said, whilst the lost CDs can be replaced in just over a week, the vinyl catalogues lost could take up to three months to begin replenishment. This means that some labels will have to walk a financial tightrope for the immediate future. "There's a distinct possibility that some of the smaller labels could go under," Wenham grimaces, before adding, "though we will move heaven and earth to prevent that." This biblical guarantee is repeated several times in our conversation. Wenham's attitude is exemplary of a community that bases its affair with music on care. I can't imagine a typical Cher Lloyd fan salvaging their Lloyd CD before "swagger jaggering" their way out of a burning building, nor can I imagine Lloyd's management considering the least amount of financial loss in order to save her career. However, if my house was to go up in flames and I had the time to grab one thing, you could guarantee my prized selection of Factory Records first pressings would avoid a roasting. Wenham is merely an industrial embodiment of this level of dedication. Her labels and their stock are to her what any record collector's hoard is to them - priceless. Evidence for the strength of the independent music community is the rapid response to the disaster. Fans are being urged to purchase whatever they can find of the affected labels' physical stock as well as purchasing their digital albums. Wenham and the labels she nurtures are reliant on alternative music fans to support them, and I don't think they'll be let down. Get yourself to this link and buy something good for a worthy cause. )

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