Berwick Street vinyl fetishism is celebrated/satirised in Stewart Home's anti-novel Memphis Underground, with its semi-autistic narrator:
'I found a dozen collectable punk singles in a charity shop. I paid one pound twenty for them, and sold them for three hundred quid. I made the money in Berwick Street and half of it stayed there, because I spent it on rare groove. It was a potlatch, deliberate waste, what, after Bataille, I might call solar economics if I didn't find this theorist's attraction to the sublime aesthetics of tragedy and sacrifice so unpalatable. It wasn't as if I'd actually listen to the original vinyl pressings I'd bought. I didn't need to, since I already possessed what I'd purchased on cheap CD reissues. Besides, playing the records might well reduce their value. Certainly overplaying them, so that they ended up scratched and worn, would lessen their financial worth...
Analogue and digital are two quite different things. A vinyl record wears away: every time you listen to it, you never hear quite the same thing. Flaws are gradually introduced and these increase with repeated plays. Whereas a CD either works or it doesn't. If a CD plays you always hear the same thing. With CDs change is absolute. A damaged CD is useless and worthless. What I coveted was obsolescence as the ultimate luxury product, so my distaste for ruined CDs is not quite as odd as it may at first appear. Vinyl records possessed me and the only way I could undo this hoodoo voodoo was to purchase the items by which I was enchanted. It was a fatal strategy. The revenge of the object became the object of my revenge. A dialectic of metaphysics with Jean Baudrillard and Rudy Ray Moore battling it out at an all night blues party saturated with gut-bucket funk. It could have been worse, since unlike some people I know, I'm not into the eight track cartridge- a fetish that greatly restricts the choice of music available to you'.
For me going to record shops is as much about getting a sense of what's going on in different music scenes as actually purchasing produce - picking up zines and flyers, hearing what people are playing and seeing what's on the racks. So I guess I'm part of the demographic that doesn't buy records and then complains when record shop disappear!
The loss of a single record shop is no big deal, but it is important that there are zones of the city where you can wander in search of lost treasure - which in my case means books and music. You could plot my serial obsessions by mapping the routes I have taken across London at different times in search of particular zines or singles. Berwick Street, with its various record shops, has often featured on these itineries - for instance at one time there was a good techno shop where I used to buy datacide and nearby Vexed Generation, with its mid-1990s anti-Criminal Justice Act clothing. Whatever happens to Sister Ray, it would be a shame if Berwick Street just ended up full of generic bars and coffee shops like much of Soho.
Sister Ray photo from jereoen020 at flickr . Update 8 October 2008: there's a thread on the decline of Berwick Street over at dissensus - noting that Reckless Records closed its two shops there last year. Sister Ray remains open for now, but seems fairly certain to close - though whether it goes bankrupt or manages to move to an area with lower rents remains to be seen.