Celebrating Glasgow independent record shops: Monorail Music
“Part of why we started Monorail was to reflect community.”
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In the lead up to Record Store Day on 22 April, we will be tracking down Glasgow’s best independent vinyl retailers, looking into their history, and conducting exclusive interviews with the teams behind their mission. To launch our new series we headed down to Monorail Music to chat to co-founder and manager Dep Downie.
Beneath the old railway track at Kings Court sits Monorail Music, an independent record shop opened in 2002 by Dep Downie and Stephen McRobbie (formerly of the Pastels).
Dep previously worked at Missing Records (city centre and Byres Road) and Stephen at John Smiths (Byres Road), but as their employers’ business models evolved they grew detached from the product.
The simultaneous experience of each individual phenomena was a reflection of the times. Politics had changed and social attitudes along with it - the close of an exhausting chapter of Conservatism, repercussions of which were still being felt; the rise of New Labour; Scotland was establishing it’s own parliament, it’s voice was getting louder.
The convenience of CDs had a deteriorating effect on wider interest in vinyl, thus altering the format of music retail operations. Artists were experimenting on untrodden territory, the impact of which rippled through Glasgow’s music communities and the spaces they occupied.
Neither of the pair wholly identified with those new spaces, but their condition was not a longing for what was, rather a desire to pave their own way. They came together with ideas which developed into an obtainable vision. This vision was then executed, and Monorail moulded into existence.
“Part of why we started Monorail was to reflect community,” said Dep. “In the 80s and 90s, there was a culture in record shops where they were quite male, quite DJ-orientated. Exclusive to a certain point.
“We didn’t want that, we wanted to be very open and friendly. We wanted to be attractive to both males and females, we wanted kids to come in, we wanted families.
“We wanted to represent what we do.”
The shop’s distinct personality is the driver of its custom. While it does not hold the most extensive music collection it does stock a generous variety, even catering for niche tastes that tend to be underrepresented. It also provides a welcoming platform for newer and local artists still finding their feet. It seems the main criteria Dep and Stephen follow for selecting what music they sell is whether they like it.
“We don’t stock all types of music, but what we do stock we wanted to try and support those around us and feel part of it.”
“A lot of people who shop here we sell their music.”
When I spoke to Dep, he was in the midst of planning this year’s Record Store Day event. They usually collaborate with their next door neighbour, plant-based restaurant Mono, and host a gig.
“Record Store Day is important because it supports independent shops around the world and gives us incentives. It’s not the chain stores who ordinarily get access to deals, discounts, sale of return advantages.
“It’s harder for us because we don’t receive the same cash flow.
“The thing about Record Store Day is that you can’t buy these records on Amazon during that day, there’s certain releases that you can only get in maybe five shops in Glasgow.
“It’s also a fun day, we have a party, we have bands, DJs, and it’s a celebration that we’re here and there’s some great records that get released.”
Record of the Week
We gave Dep the courtesy of choosing our Record of the Week and his selection was Late Developers by Belle and Sebastian. The album was released in January 2023 after an unusual marketing approach.
When bands - particularly those with sizeable acclaim - share their music with the world, the traditional strategy is to build hype during the months before it is put out. This involves interviews, sending tracks to reviewers, social media coverage, and so on. The key is to grow excitement in order to drive sales at the initial release. However, the consequence of this model is that commercial potential often overshadows the artwork’s essence; the core message becomes lost among the manufactured glitz.
With Late Developers, Belle and Sebastian only announced its release on the Monday and the record was shared the following Friday. Audience experience responded to this stripped back process and it was all the more endearing for it.
“This was huge for the shop”, said Dep.
Monorail was the only shop in the world where you could buy a blue version of the vinyl, a perk granted through it’s long standing relationship with the Glasgow Group.
“It’s really nice and supportive. It really puts us on the map and it’s exciting that a local band would recognise us and do that.”
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