Far from the “boring green” of Soundclash’s younger days, the electric blue and outrageous orange of the shop’s exterior never fails to attract the roving eye of the unwitting shopper on St. Benedict’s Street, home to some of the best vintage media and fashion outlets Norwich’s hallowed streets have to offer. Somehow managing to be packed with avid-record enthusiasts even on a dull Tuesday afternoon, perhaps such an outrageous colour scheme is the secret to the store’s longevity? Not so says owner Paul Mills.
Known as one of the country’s premier independent record stores ever since it’s break from Rough Trade led group, ‘The Chain with no name’, Soundclash is at the forefront of a recent revival in the vinyl trade, representing Norwich as the centre of the massively popular annual Record Store Day, a recent import from the States. Whilst the store “used to sell a lot of dance records to DJs”, Mr Mills reveals “that seems to have pretty much disappeared now”; an odd revelation considering the growth of house music in the city recently. Replacing this aspect of Soundclash’s sales are youngsters, with “a lot more younger people buying retro and alternative LPs now.” Whatever the trends, it is still a commendable feat for Paul to be still open for business when so many similar shops have closed down in the previous decade. Throughout the 2000s, numbers of independent record stores fell dramatically from around 1000 at the start of the decade, to a pitiful 150 nationwide by its climax, a quite stunning statistic.
Despite this, Soundclash continues to prosper quite remarkably; Paul has even managed to build himself up a national reputation. When prompted it becomes clear how proud he is of this, waxing lyrically that “many bands come in here, and people visit Norwich to visit Soundclash… we’re forever having various bands pop in to browse our record collection, and I’ve had some pretty impressive name-checks from some pretty important people over the years.”
Paul, dressed in typically understated black, oozes passion for his craft, and is quite obviously a man in his element. For him, music began with punk, “my whole world started with the Clash” he claims emphatically over a sound system blaring old reggae hits from the 70s, and the Jamaican influence doesn’t stop there. “Soundclash is actually a Jamaican sound system.” “It’s when two sound systems would battle each other out with the freshest and newest tunes.” “So the meaning of the shop is that and also it’s a clash of sounds, like dance music mixed with rock music, or you’ve got black music mixed with white music together, so it’s a clash of sounds that melts together as one, that’s what the whole thing is, it’s a double meaning.”
This attention to detail is prevalent throughout the shop, from the carefully priced and labelled vinyl LPs and CDs to the elaborate testing facilities available, consisting of two store-branded turntables and sets of pristine headphones. However, to Paul music is music, and he doesn’t necessarily go in for the whole collector’s item business himself. “I was once given an Oasis LP, a platinum disc for the first LP, Definitely Maybe, and I had it as a mirror in my toilet, because it was of no interest to me.” This refreshing dematerialist attitude is something found rarely in today’s consumerist society, and perhaps says rather more about the quality of the Gallagher brothers’ musical output than Mr Mills own musical taste. He still regards the vinyl record as the ultimate listening experience however, and when prompted explains, “Absolutely, it’s physical, it’s actual, it’s real, it’s warm, it’s got everything going for it. It’s not digital, digital is just noughts and ones, noughts and ones sound shit.”
A seemingly severe distaste for our current social media generation is an undercurrent of our conversation throughout. “People are isolated on screen,” Paul claims, as well as that “there’s less of a sense of community spirit.” Accounting for the increased vinyl sales of recent times, he describes that “there’s a backlash on the Facebook generation, kids are wanting something from the real world to collect again.” The glee with which he details this story is apparent, Paul is a man whose love is music at its purest form, even relegating the vinyl form which he has dedicated his life to. Rather tellingly, when the question of which record he would save from a flood in his beloved Soundclash is put to him, he cheekily quips, “I’d let them all sink and claim on insurance.”