As I stood casually in the CD section of the newly-reopened Hi-Voltage Records, shyly flipping through the C section looking for a Cure album that wasn’t the 2004 self-titled or one of their many remix/comp albums, I couldn’t help but be taken in by their unique choice of background music. What sounded like a dusty gramophone pulled out of a bin from the late 19th century, whose music consisted of a sensual male-female R&B duo trading extremely explicit verses about fucking, filled the store as I and a handful of people around me all stopped to take in the oddity that filled the airwaves.
On the 20th of May, Tacoma’s premier independently-owned record store, Hi-Voltage Records, reopened following a couple-block move down the road to a bigger, more inviting building. A 6th Avenue staple, Hi-Voltage is the most popular and well-regarded record store in the City of Destiny. Sure, Seattle has quite a few options when it comes to your record store of preference, but in Tacoma your options are a bit more limited, which makes the existence of Hi-Voltage all the more special. Even a handful of days after their grand reopening, quite a few people came and went to the store to check out the new building and pick up a few CDs or records.
Whether you’re a diehard for classic rock, landmark indie rock, leftfield electronic music, or down-and-dirty street rap, I tend to find that Hi-Voltage has something for you. As a CD collector who’s yet to convert to the highfalutin world of record collecting, I can usually depend on the store to have at least a handful of unique finds. It feels pretty special when you can score a CD copy of All Hands on the Bad One one moment and two Squarepusher albums you’ve been looking for the next. I was really surprised this time around to be finding such modern local greats in the CD section. Sure, you always have your locked-in classic locals like Pretty Girls Make Graves, but to see the 2016 releases from bands like La Luz, So Pitted, and Tacocat was pretty impressive.
Like a broke college student tearfully staring at the outside of the Ritz in jealousy, I decided to scope out the vinyl section of the store, and was pretty amazed with their selection. Their alt/indie section was overflowing with basically every name you can imagine, and their electronic selection was no small potatoes. I was particularly taken aback by their wall of rarities, which boasted everything from an extremely rare official vinyl copy of Death Grips’ Exmilitary mixtape to first-pressings of the “Purple Rain” single and Mother Love Bone’s Apple. I once asked the cashier how much difficulty there was procuring that last one, and her answer was, “A lot.”
As a Tacoman, Hi-Voltage has been my go-to record store for a while now, and the new bigger location only makes things better. For all the talk of physical media going the way of the dodo, places like Hi-Voltage and Seattle stores like Silver Platters and Easy Street continue to thrive off the backs of their passionate customers, whether they’re newcomers that just caught the stores at a glance or regulars that come in every week looking for new finds.
More than anything, going to a record store like Hi-Voltage and seeing all the activity and enthusiasm from both the customers and the employees gives me hope. For as much as I love the convenience and endless options of the streaming generation, there’s something about the feeling you get walking into a room full of music, not knowing where to start, and knowing you’ll be there for at least an hour looking at everything more than once. Looking through all the miscellaneous alphabetical rows hoping you’ll stumble across something you wouldn’t expect to find never gets old.
While we have things like Record Store Day reminding us to get out and check out our local music shop, I’d encourage everyone to check out the magic of their local record store at least a couple times a month; you never know what you’re going to find, and you may come away from it with your new favorite album in-hand.