First appeared in The Woolf
Notes from the Unexpected
Profile: REC REC
It makes for the perfect Zurich triangle: REC REC, the Volkshaus and an outpost of Hooters. Or, a bit wider out: REC REC, the Swiss stock exchange and King’s Kurry. All are places where dreams can come true. And all are institutions in their own right.
But not all get a shout-out from the mayor and visits from touring rockers. REC REC owner Veit Stauffer, however, has little time for fawning. “I take it cool,” he says about the fame of his CD and record store. “Of course, I’m a little bit proud that the shop is the most reviewed in Switzerland. But I still need my daily cash and sometimes I worry.” From his folding chair next to one of the store’s listening stations, he assures me this happens only four to six times a year.
This is the man who, in his 2005 write-up of his 100 favorite CDs, recounts burying a Tim Buckley album in the yard the moment he bought it because he feared “too much obsession”. And the man who treats his window display not as a showcase, but a provocation. He likes to confront people, he explains, with a mix of emotional and intellectual music – the latter being the kind that “needs repeated listening, but as soon as I understand it… decide it has something to do with me.”
This itch to ramp up the tension makes sense given the origins of the shop and the record label that spawned it. As the Swiss offshoot of Chris Cutler’s pioneering Recommended Records, REC REC was born of revolt – against the hegemonic music industry and the Zurich establishment of the late 1970s. At a time when big acts played big venues, if they bothered to come to Zurich at all, REC REC tapped into the dissatisfaction, fueled an alternative scene and found itself at the core of a social movement.
“I see my music roots in the early 80s,” Veit says, citing Nick Cave and Tom Waits, “but I’ve always tried to mix the old and the new.” He pauses, trying to recall an old saying. “What is it? ‘Not everything new is good, but everything good is new.’”
With so much history wrapped up in the shop, I ask Veit if REC REC is more monument than record store. “It’s both,” he says, “but most of the time, I don’t care about the history.” If a visitor wants to know about the old days, Veit enjoys reminiscing – but only to a point. “It has always been my ‘spleen’ to open up the whole thing.”
Open up he has, with upwards of 9,000 CDs and 6,000 records (mostly second-hand) cramming the shelves and spilling onto surfaces, including the floor. “I wish it were better organized,” he laments, squeezing through the pass between the rarities and the front desk. “I am working on it.” At least, he insists, he knows where everything is.
Veit’s choice to hold on to the old and the new may explain why people, from Zurich and beyond, keep coming in and also supporting the mail-order business. I asked a serious music fan, who once won a bet by being able to deejay an entire evening with acts beginning with the letters A and B, what he thought of REC REC’s back catalog. “Madness lies that way,” he replied, maybe the ultimate compliment.
I look at the leaning towers of CDs and stacks of vinyl at my feet and wonder how Veit manages to pull off live concerts. He reports that Estonian folk violinist Maarja Nuut, who played at REC REC the previous week, was even better live than recorded. I nod, unable to hide my impatience for what I really came for: a recommendation.
Veit draws in a long breath and rifles through the rows of new music until he pulls out a Belgian electronic act called Pollaroid Patsi – one more humbling yet invigorating reminder of how much there is left to discover. He utters a few words, something about a Fellini soundtrack, and then jerks his chin at the listening station. His way of saying: it’s time to stop talking, pop it in the deck and hear it for yourself.