Locality is a series about places and spaces. In this instalment we speak with Chris Gill of Northside Records in Fitzroy.
Located on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, Northside Records is a staple hub for DJ’s and music enthusiasts alike. Operating in the same location for 15 years, Northside Records owner Chris Gill has continued to champion local musicians and artists, physically via the store and also by playing their music on his weekly 3RRR community radio show Get Down. Chris is an advocate for heralding soul music along with associated genres within the local music scene. With assistance from international labels, Northside Records supplies Melbourne with the hottest independent soul, funk, and hip-hop vinyl. With Record Store Day approaching, we get an inside understanding from Chris about vinyl culture and its importance to music.
What inspired you to open Northside Records?
Northside Records opened in 2002. It took me a while to find the location – I had a kid and I was working at a video store and I was like “I can’t be a dad in a video store, fuck!” so I thought “Yeah, I could be a dad at a record store”. Also, I realised that we didn’t really have soul music represented in town, so it was a good opportunity to help herald the music.
What is your favourite vinyl in your own collection? Do you still have more vinyl grails that you are trying to acquire?
Oh yes, constantly. It’s one of those things personally, where you never stop looking as a collector. At the same time, I’ve got to make sure that the shop is a nice shop and I can’t take everything from the shop. One of my favourites is the Harry Whitaker Black Renaissance record, it’s a Japanese pressed record. My most important stuff would also have to be the local stuff which has a special place in my heart.
I understand that Northside Records also operates as a record label. Is this a project that you initially intended to pursue when you opened the store?
Technically no, I haven’t really thought that far ahead. My friend Bernadette who managed Saskwatch at the time helped me make it happen in 2012. We have the agreement on the wall and the agreement says “Keep It Real”. Once again, it’s another platform for kids who are good and who put their heart into their music.
Currently your record label has a focus on soul and funk music. Would you ever be interested in signing artists from different genres?
Soul music itself is a broad term. Hip-hop and soul music are hand in hand the same thing – to me, that’s not crossing genres as such. If it’s great music in our sphere then I’m up for it, whether it’s jazz, a freaky afro beat, or dub, I’m still there for it. It’s just whether it fits for us. We could put out everything and anything but sometimes the finances get in the way.
What are some other labels that you gather inspiration from?
To watch Hope Street Records come up has been great, they’re good people. International wise, Daptone Records, who I have a close association with have been great whenever I need advice. Big Crown Records have also been great too.
How do you feel about the current Melbourne music scene? How has it changed since you opened your store in 2002?
The music scene right now is wildfire compared to 2002 when it was quite a dip. We had lots of quiet nights and empty dancefloors. Everything sort of goes through periods – there was a big music scene in the ’90s which calmed down for a while. There’s a lot of good elements such as community radio, who started pushing soul music more. There’s also a lot of kids coming through music schools who are all competent musicians. There’s a good camaraderie in Melbourne which helps people support each other. It keeps musicians constantly hungry for music, allowing people to constantly listen to music and vibe off each other. Things do not happen in a vacuum, you need constant noise which creates content. Hard work and luck are a big part of it. I’m still learning things every day.
How long have you had your show with 3RRR? Does this champion a certain sound or do you usually just select songs you are vibing?
7-8 years. I did PBS before that and before that I did 3CR. With the radio show, it’s to try and give a voice to the local stuff. It’s a two-way thing, sometimes musicians are ready or they’re not, sometimes I don’t play their singles because it’s not funky. You still have faith in the band and keep mentoring and pushing them.
Do musical acts often come to you for advice since you are such a veteran within the Melbourne music industry?
Yeah for sure, I’m always up for speaking to people. Whether it’s advice about physically pressing stuff or whether they need costumes. I’m always happy to offer advice, even if they don’t want it. Sometimes you just have to talk to people and bounce things off each other. There’s no consultancy fee in this town, we’re all here for each other and we want to make music good. By putting out bands like Hiatus Kaiyote, whenever we go out we get to hear mind blowing music. People lift each other up. People make each other good.
With Record Store Day approaching, how excited are you to celebrate the importance of physical copies of music?
It’s super important for culture that there are artefacts around, I think if you just leave music digitally things get lost and aren’t appreciated properly. The other importance of physical copies of music is that they’re near physical people. When you come into a record store, you’re standing near people who are on the same page as you – people who dig music.
With us living in the digital age of music, talk us through why you think vinyl is a more worthwhile way to own music.
It’s a sweet contract between the fan and the artist. It’s basically a way for fans to support artists and show their appreciation for what they do. It’s also an optimal form of music, you can get shitty digital copies of music, whereas vinyl is always in a beautiful format. Also the artwork is represented well. It’s a representation of a long-standing tradition of over 100 years of recorded music.
Any last words?
Stay funky, stay freaky. What we try to push is just to be weird, be yourself. Let that come through your music, the dance floor and the crowd that goes and sees music. Music is such a tangible, obvious option for entertainment and by going out you are helping music. You make music good by being in an audience.
Celebrate Record Store Day at Northside Records this Saturday with bands and DJs performing all day. Get all the details here.
Listen to ‘Get Down’ on 3RRR here.
Follow the Locality series here.