Ratio; Size Matters

By George Kowalik

Ratio, proportion, size – these terms are not always considered in relation to the arts but should be. Especially music. Its creative process completely relies on size: the scope a piece of music will be written with, the scale it’s designed to be listened on, the levels the sound will be recorded at. It’s also important at the other end, when we experience the music as live event.

Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. The huge-scale arena can be tremendous fun, but so can the limited capacity venue. Here, ticket prices are more affordable and the culture of “ticket touts” is less prevalent. The artist’s tech team won’t have to compete with the immense space of a stadium or festival stage. Smaller venues offer something entirely more intimate, an experience as close to the studio session as a concert performance ever could be.

This is where Rough Trade come in. The group of independent record stores, once affiliated with the record label it spawned but now functioning separate to it, frequently host events in their “live + signing” series. The shows take the intimate concert further and provide the rare opportunity to meet the artist you’ve just listened to. The pricing is modest: you pay the standard rate for the newly released CD/LP (between £10-£20), which becomes your gig ticket and access to meet the artist and get your record signed.

Rough Trade East (interior)

Of the company’s five stores, four are here in the UK – London’s Brick Lane and Notting Hill, Bristol, and Nottingham – and a fifth opened in New York in 2013. Since 2007, Brick Lane’s Rough Trade East, located in the former Truman’s Brewery, has doubled as a 200-capacity venue. 2019 has already seen album release shows for everyone from Pete Doherty, Ian Brown and The Specials to Local Natives, Loyle Carner and Little Simz. Historically, it cultivated a reputation through its celebration of local and overseas Punk, hosting performances from the US’ Ramones and Talking Heads and attracting high-profile customers such as Patti Smith, a key figure when it emerged in ‘70s New York.

Rough Trade East (exterior)

The company embraced cultural moments both underground and over, celebrating music appreciation over commercialism like it still does today. Rough Trade East’s signing events offer a concert experience like no other: you queue up, receive your record, browse the shop with a beer from its bar, before getting a spot at the small stage in the shop’s centre in time for when your favourite band come on. It’s perfection.

Rough Trade East (stage)

In the next two months, the venue will see sold-out signings with the likes of Lewis Capaldi and Mac DeMarco, signings from Cate Le Bon and black midi that haven’t, and departures from the format like Ryann Donnelly’s “special performance-based event” to celebrate the release of her new book (Justify My Love: Sex, Subversion and Music Video). The store is also a keen participant in the rapidly expanding, bi-annual “Record Store Day” – which sees music artists all over the world release limited-press vinyl, distributed exclusively to a selection of independent record stores in the US and UK.

Rough Trade champions independent business and its stores advocate this by remaining different to the other venues on an artist’s tour: tickets are sold directly through the company and artist’s sites, rather than through external sales and distribution companies such as Ticketmaster or Gigs & Tours. The “live + signing” concerts prioritise the benefit of the people responsible for the art and those who consume it: us. After all, the music is what’s important.



The full programme of events at Rough Trade East can be found here

For more details on Record Store Day and its associated record stores, visit here

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