Remember it for what it was.
These are the words I hear (eavesdrop) manager Andrew ‘Fang’ de Lang say to the plaintive customer in front of me. It’s Tuesday, the day after the announcement, and like many at the store, I’m here to grieve (and eavesdrop, apparently).
Last Monday night, iconic record store and Perth institution 78 Records announced that they would close their doors for the last time on the 3rd of March, after a staggering 47 years of serving the Perth music community.
To the untrained eye, the store may be nothing but a sign overlooking the street and a door in a sketchy alleyway, but for generations of music fans, 78 was a treasure trove of imported rarities, the latest and greatest as well as indie gems; a haven for audiophiles, collectors and musicians alike. It was a place where collectors and punters could enjoy lounging on beanbags listening to the latest albums on a Saturday afternoon, deciding if the most recent Stones record was worth their hard-earned cash. Teenagers would brave long bus trips across Perth’s sprawling suburbs, businessmen would browse during their lunchbreak and record fanatics would come from anywhere and everywhere.
78 Records became renowned for its uncanny ability to import titles that, at the time, were seemingly impossible for locals to find. Opened in 1971 by three mates who themselves could never find what they were after at local stores, 78 became the perfect solution and carved out a niche for itself by stocking the albums that enthusiasts could only read about in Rolling Stone and only dream of owning. Electric Light Orchestra. The Rolling Stones. Neil Young. Jethro Tull.
The ARIA award-winning store was also arguably the godfather of the Perth music scene, championing local and indie releases and giving them a chance when no one else would. Even today, within just weeks of impending closure, the store still stocks an admirable selection of local records, which would otherwise be relegated to obscurity in the vast seas of YouTube and Spotify. Unlike some of the major corporation-owned stores of our time, 78 Records had the power to change and the power to influence the local music scene.
Then there were the gigs. The West’s music editor Simon Collins recalls a concert by Oz alt rock band Jebediah, where the crowd moshed so hard, the building’s foundations were literally rocked and the plaster on the ceiling below began to fall. 78 gave its patrons a rare glimpse at their heroes, with gigs and signings by industry heavyweights such Weezer, You Am I, The Living End, They Might Be Giants, Rollins Band, Slipknot and Birds of Tokyo staged in the store’s intimate surroundings.
In addition to performances, the store’s returning customers included legendary chart-toppers such as Elton John, Van Morrison, Lou Reed, Tommy Ramone, Bette Midler, Joe Cocker and Elvis Costello.
However, all things must pass. While we could fantasise about saving the store Empire Records-style, the damage may be too deep. ‘It’s a sign of the times,’ de Lang says, when I offer condolences. In his announcement of the closure, de Lang attributes the rise of streaming services at the expense of physical sales as reasons for 78’s fate. ‘Keep the faith people!’ he signs off. However, in recent economic times, our faith has been shaken. Perth has only a handful of record stores left, and while there has been a noticeable vinyl revival in recent times, the rate of small business closures has hit hard and its effect on the music industry has left many fans understandably upset. Following the store’s announcement on Monday night, Facebook and Instagram were flooded, with hundreds of customers paying tribute.
‘Very sorry to hear. Thanks for being there musically for so many Perth teenagers, myself included!!’ one user posts.
‘We can’t bear the thought of you, our niche idols, closing down,’ Harry Schmitz of Elizabeth’s Secondhand Bookstore writes, before generously offering their entire cellar for nothing more than a case of beer.
‘I remember spending so much time there in my college days. So sorry to hear it’s closing down.’
And that’s exactly what we should do. Remember 78 Records for what it was. An iconic Perth institution, a wealth of opportunities for both musicians and record collectors and the very heart of Perth’s music community.
Keep the faith, 78 Records.
Words by Susannah Wong