I finally visited one of the best record shops in the country, a little place called Gramaphone Records, nested in the north end of Chicago. This place feels tailor-made for my tastes, focusing on house and techno, providing room for all the weird corners of electronic music that most shops tuck into a dark corner.
Gramaphone is a groove music mecca, and appropriately enough, the place where I found one of my personal holy grail records. I can’t wait to go back some day soon, when my life looks very different.
Last weekend, I drove to Chicago with my fiancée, Kaitlyn, for a few days of exploration, food, and relaxation. That’s her in the header image. We checked out museums, fancy restaurants, bars, hot dog places, and all the sights we could see. On our last trip, we wandered into an anti-Trump rally. This time, the streets were a bit calmer. We’ve spent a lot of time in the city, but this time was extra special. It was our last trip before our baby arrives this summer, and we wanted to make it count.
Yeah, I’m about to become a father. I hadn’t mentioned it here before, so consider this my announcement. It’s also the reason I haven’t been writing as frequently on the site. But rest assured: music is always going to be a huge part of my life and I will always be writing about it. I’ve just had to make room for a new type of adventure. It’s going to color my life in all sorts of new hues; I’m still wrapping my mind around the enormity of it all.
Still, I’ve always got love for a great record shop, and this one felt like the perfect final visit before my life changes so completely.
Upon walking in, Gramaphone felt immediately inviting. It has that shaggy, cluttered-but-organized feeling that the best long-lived shops cultivate, a welcoming mishmash of posters, sleeves, endless racks, and art running floor to ceiling. The employees were impeccable, answering my questions, making recommendations, and setting me at ease right away.
I’ve always felt that the best first impression a record shop can make is this: they’re playing music over the PA that is both A) wonderful and B) completely new to me. It’s rare that this happens, which makes it even more special. Gramaphone was looping a deep house compilation that I regretfully forgot the name of, and the guys at the counter were all too happy to run to the DJ stand, figure out what’s playing, and show me the sleeve. I was hearing what sounded like a mixture of groovy Can-style krautrock and spacey house music, setting the tone perfectly. In terms of cozy, highly specialized record shops, this one jumped instantly on my list next to aQuarius in San Francisco, the sadly now-closed heart of that city’s music geek scene.
Similar to that legendary west coast shop, Gramaphone packed an expansive variety into its confined space. The difference was that nearly everything on display was tilted toward my particular tastes, honing right in on the sort of nerdy dance music that I thrive on. As far as deep genre dives go, this one felt infinite. I could have spent hours there, but I had a time limit thanks to expensive parking and hungry cats waiting at home. So, I decided to hunt for something timeless, something familiar that I nonetheless never owned.
I found exactly that when I picked up Quadrant Dub by Basic Channel.
This little album is one of the most transcendent pieces of music ever recorded. Recorded in 1994, this 12″ vinyl-only release was the point at which Basic Channel perfected the dub techno genre, raising an art form into the realm of religious experience. It belongs on a very short list of the most important dance records in existence, and I was ecstatic to finally purchase it.
The album isn’t particularly rare these days, having been quietly repressed a handful of times over the past couple years, but it’s one that rarely stands out for a couple reasons. First is the fact that, being so monumentally essential, I’ve listened to a digital copy dozens, maybe hundreds of times. It’s become part of the fabric of my music life, a strand often taken for granted, like a favorite pair of shoes. When it comes to record shopping, it simply hasn’t been on my mind. The second reason is that the record, like all Basic Channel vinyls, is found in an anonymous sleeve with no indication as to the artist, album, or label. The disc itself notes, in cryptic, blurred lettering, the title and artist, but it’s hard to spot when leafing through stack after stack of music. Thankfully, the guys at Gramaphone had stuck a bright red piece of tape to the cover, announcing exactly what treasure it was.
I snapped it up, held it close, and spent another half hour browsing before deciding that I should do the responsible thing and save some money. There were simply too many amazing, rare, and essential records for me to drop cash on, and only so much time before my money begins pouring into the bottomless pit that is parenthood. I’m excited for the journey, but I have no illusions about how my income is going to be spent in the coming years. I’m almost proud of myself for being relatively frugal in such a tempting place.
This final out-of-town journey was a nice subtle ellipsis to this part of my life, a quiet last hurrah before straightening up and strapping on my dad helmet. Now that there’s a nice record shop in my own town, Third Coast Vinyl, I’m free to drop in for a few minutes, a new release, or a handful of old jazz gems. The urgency of a special record shopping trip is gone, no longer necessary. In its place is the blooming anticipation of fatherhood and the comprehension that, in a few years, I’ll be imparting my music knowledge and enthusiasm on a new life. I can’t wait to share this love with my future son. I look forward to the day I can bring him to Chicago and show him the greatest little place to buy house, techno, hip-hop, footwork, and so much more. It’s an image that will incubate in my head until I make it real.
If you’re ever in Chicago, I urge you to take the time to find Gramaphone Records. It’s one of many fine record shops in the city, but the only one with such a specialized, spectacular selection. If you’re not traveling anytime soon, they’ve got a vast Discogs store to browse, with an equally impressive online offering. Until I return, I’ll be browsing there when time and money allow.