Originally published to Happening in DTLA August 2016
If the closure of Echo Park’s Origami Vinyl slightly dampened your enthusiasm for the recent vinyl revival, fear not. Former musician, LA local and owner of Downtown LA’s new and only record shop Pop Obscure Records Dustin Lane has further secured the revival’s continuation for the city for years to come.
A new hub for audiophiles, Pop Obscure Records DTLA is the new home to thousands of records that Lane and co-owner/wife Sherry Lee have collected from their own personal finds, online purchases, and garage sale road trips specifically for the shop.
“We had about 1,000 that we put in of our own and we’ve got roughly 10,000 on the floor, Lane says. “We’ve gone out on buying trips throughout California—Craigslist, garage sales, all that stuff.”
The small, cozy space nestles just behind the Historic Core District of DTLA off of Broadway and 8thStreet, an area that is voluminous in apartment complexes and only now growing in retail spaces. There are a good 10-12 rows of shelves filled with vinyl ranging in genres from reggae to jazz and a listening station for the records themselves. Its simple, vanilla walls are covered from top to bottom with a massive variety of posters Lane has collected over the years.
“Finding two copies of any of these is near impossible,” Lane says when asked if any are for sale (a question he gets on a ridiculously consistent occasion since the store’s opening a month ago). “I wish we could, but putting them up almost killed me. I’d have to start at like a hundred dollars for them,” he laughs.
As a former musician and concert photographer, it made sense for the couple looking to escape their film industry jobs to start a record shop. As their first business, the beginnings of purchasing vinyl were a whimsical thought process.
“It was weird because you’re used to shopping for yourself so I had to put myself in this mind frame—That I’m shopping for Downtown LA,” Lane explains. So buying has been like…’Well, I haven’t heard of this, but maybe somebody else has, especially with something like jazz, and I’m not the biggest jazz person. The night before I’d go online and look up the top 100 jazz artists and tried to memorize that so I’d know what to buy and how to stock up.”
A tasteful feature that Pop Obscure Records has is a small, black stage that will host live, free music performances for the public in addition to other music-related happenings. A roughly 12×12 square, the stage sits in the back corner of the shop and should be an extra amusing sight to witness.
“We’re going to have little in stores with our tiny stage, book signings, even artist lectures. Being a kind of hub for all of that would be great. We have an acoustic Sunday that we’re toying around with too. It’ll just depend,” Lane brainstorms.
Another unique addition to Pop Obscure that sets it apart from other vinyl hubs is its back loft space carved out specifically for a photo gallery. Upon entering the back of the store, a narrow staircase leads you to the second floor/loft of the record store, another simple space where a single line of photos of musicians cross the walls.
Lane and Lee searched spaces in Downtown for months, looking for a place that would specifically work for the gallery concept. Pop Obscure will regularly host music-themed artist shows that they will switch out every couple months or so, with later incorporation of skateboarding and surfing photography. Their first featured photographer is Dennis Keeley, a friend of Lee’s and former percussionist-turned photographer who is the current Chair of the Photography & Imaging Program at Pasadena ArtCenter College of Design.
Despite Pop Obscure and other record shops’ contributions to the vinyl revival, many remain skeptical towards its high price tag in comparison to free, downloadable mp3s. Lane’s business model isn’t for the money, though. He isn’t looking to convince the average consumer to purchase his product, but to rather become a space for music lovers in general. However, in order to convert a non-believer, his method is to get someone to listen to vinyl for themselves to truly understand why they should make the added investment in their music collection. For this reason, small listening stations of record players are carefully placed in several sections of the store.
“[The difference is] night and day,” Lane claims. “Not even something subtle like the average listener couldn’t tell. You can really tell the difference between a CD and a record, it’s crazy…You start to feel tired and you don’t get that from records. Just the sound quality and the vibe with it is kind of a main thing.”
Lane’s explanation for vinyl over mp3 not only stems from the singular experience of listening and comparing, but also the tangibility of it.
“You go to the artwork, the jacket. It makes a big difference. When I was a kid, you get to your bedroom. You put your headphones on. You have album covers all over the floor. You’re looking at this album cover for an hour. That’s pretty rad. It takes you back to when you were a kid but it also puts you in the mindset of the artist’s head.”
As another addition to the club of vinyl in Los Angeles, Pop Obscure Records stands as yet another space for audiophiles to bask in the glory of tangible music. However, it also exists as a new and unique space for Downtown Los Angeles to gather, talk, watch, and most importantly, listen.
Address: 735 S. Los Angeles St, Los Angeles, CA 90014 // Hours: Tue-Thur 11am-7pm, Fri & Sat 11am-8pm, Sun 11am-5pm