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Plates Records Now Trading at Malt Cross

11 July 16 words: Bridie Squires

"We want to build and maintain a music community, because that's what's important. It motivates and inspires people"

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Nottingham has historically been a proper hotspot to get your hands on tunes. When the legendary Selectadisc closed down in 2009 following the introduction of cheap chain shops and digital downloads, many a Nottingham soundman and soundwoman suffered with a broken heart. Earlier this year, The Music Exchange, a social enterprise ran by homelessness charity Framework, was also forced to shut shop not only to music lovers, but to volunteers who had the chance to gain valuable work experience.

Despite a vinyl revival in the UK, with analogue record sales edging their way back into action, as well as Record Store Day being thrown into the mix, it’s clear shops have struggled to keep afloat. However, in 2014, the famous Rough Trade opened up in our city, all inclusive of its record shop, gig space, cafe bar, photo booth, and various floors of beatless wares. Obviously places can’t simply rest on their waxy laurels any more.

One chap who’s had first-hand experience of the struggle is Nick Strang of Plates Records. He moved from the humble village of Knowle to study film in Nottingham. Eventually leaving for work, he couldn’t ignore the itch to return to the city and open a record shop. “I didn’t think the city had any good shops and I knew that it did before, so I wanted to rebuild it,” says Nick. “Nottingham obviously has a lot of people who want to buy records here, and people who are generally into music. When we opened, it had nothing to do with the vinyl resurgence. We opened at the same time as Rough Trade too. Everything just happened at exactly the same time. To be honest, I think it’s good. It’s starting to rebuild.”

It started life off the beaten track, at The Irish Centre just off Canal Street. The venue had started linking up with local promoters to run more underground club nights, with the creative community Mimm setting up some massive names to play there, from Bonobo to Mr Scruff to Craig Charles. It was at their Gilles Peterson gig that Nick clocked it as a place with potential for a shop.

“I was intrigued by it. Most places in town were way too expensive, and we wouldn’t have opened without [The Irish Centre], so it was really important to us,” says Nick. “Unfortunately we didn't get enough trade. We didn’t make the rent for quite a while and then we had other weeks where we couldn’t break even. Basically it got to the point where we had to move. It didn’t bother me about the passing trade thing at first, but we couldn’t survive there any more.”

Where one story ended, another began. Nick was DJing at the Malt Cross earlier in the year, when he spoke to one of the venue’s music programmers Brookln Dekker about his endeavour to move. From a casual conversation, Dekker pushed to get the record shop a place within the building. “It’s worked out pretty nice,” says Nick.

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photo: Raphael Achache

It seems to be the perfect fit, what with the ‘Cross running workshops and events like WahWah, which celebrates everything analogue, and their huge nod to the vintage-inclined populace of Nottingham. Plus, they’re dead community-focused, which is something Nick wants to pursue further with the business, “We want to build and maintain a music community, because that’s what’s important. It motivates and inspires people. It makes a difference. So the fact that these guys do workshops from all sides of the arts is really good, because now we can do that for music.”

The end of June saw the very first workshop take place, all centred around using samples to create tunes – something Nick is quite passionate about. “I wanted to learn about sampling, and I always thought I was going to get into trouble until someone sat me down and told me not to worry about it. There wasn’t anything like [the workshop] for me when I was trying to find out about all this stuff. It was like ‘you go to college and you do this’, but I’m not sure there’s a lot provided for people who just want to experiment.”

Nottingham is home to swathes of institutions that provide a musical educational experience, but the Plates and Malt Cross linkup might provide a good platform for a casual messabout, with equipment and expertise at hand, plus a drink down the pub afterwards. “You’ve got to have fun with it – that’s the absolute key to making music,” says Nick, who plays both guitar and drums, but is obsessed with his MPC at the moment. “I was using Logic on the laptop for a while and started getting bored of it. Then my laptop got robbed. That was actually an important turning point – I found it quite refreshing to get rid of it because I was getting so bored. I feel like it’s something other people go through too, people deserve to know how you can have fun with samples. There’re other ways you can learn to play an instrument.”

On top of the workshops, Plates plan to fire up a dubplate cutting service with their rare machine, eventually incorporating it into their learning experiences. “People are dying to see this, so we really want to show people how it works. Most people want to keep it as a bit of a dark art, but it’s an important thing for people to learn. The guy who sold it me luckily taught me. He used to run a pressing plant in Nottingham about fifteen or twenty years ago. I'm still learning to be fair – I still make mistakes and they’re pretty expensive. It’s not working at the minute as we had to move it from The Irish Centre and it got broken in transit, but we’re going to be up and running in about a month.”

When all is go, Nick plans to cut limited runs for musicians. “Hopefully it will turn Nottingham into a place where you can get music you can’t get anywhere else in the country,” says Nick. At the moment, the shop’s got everything from hip hop to rock, from popular mainstream artists like The Beatles, to more independent artists like Sleaford Mods, and loads of DIY stuff – the main criteria is that it pleases Nick’s tabs. “We try keep a pretty broad spectrum. I like all types of music, so I have to stock everything.”

Given all the closure stories, it’s a pretty brave endeavour to keep going with the record shop, but Nick’s learned a few things from his previous experiences. “I probably started out with a much more extremist view. I was pretty uncompromising. I didn’t want to do any marketing because I thought it was too corporate, but we’ve changed in that sense. You have to engage with stuff like that. I think we’re still representing what I wanted to represent – a record shop that’s underground, rough and different. I just want people to be chilled and feel comfortable. And that’s the same as when we started.”

Plates Records, 16 St James’s Street, NG1 6FG

Plates Records website

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