If you’ve ever gone to the back of a convenience store selling dazzling inventory to jostle amidst a rabid crowd of DJs and other music lovers for the latest vinyl on a Thursday afternoon, chances are you have entered legendary Toronto Play De Record vinyl record store.
It’s memories like these that proliferate everywhere Drop the needle, a new feature-length documentary from director Rob Freeman and co-producer Neil Acharya that puts into context the social and cultural impact the vinyl store has had on Toronto’s music landscape for over 30 years. Against a musical backdrop of vintage Toronto hip-hop from Ghetto Concept and Citizen Kane, an impressive cast of influential luminaries such as Kardinal Offishall, Saukrates, Russell Peters and Skratch Bastid among many others speak openly about their love for Play De Record in the film.
However, the person at the center of the film is the owner of Play De Record, Eugene Tam. The film traces how Tam, who immigrated to Canada from Trinidad, opened the store in 1990 at the concentrated downtown junction of Yonge and Dundas in Toronto and positioned itself as the go-to vinyl stop for DJs. , having a crucial impact on the hip-hop, house, dance, electronic and black music scenes of all genres in the city and beyond. It’s an effect that Tam himself had largely rejected until recently. “People were always like, ‘Oh, the store is an institution,’ and I was like, ‘OK, okay. Okay, cool, no problem,'” Tam says at the start of the film. when we started making this documentary, [I thought] “Oh, maybe we have something to do with it.” I mean, I’ve never seen it. You know, when you have to back up, you see the picture, right?
In addition to reminiscing about the aforementioned Thursday afternoon vinyl Darwinism, the sepia-tinged memories of Toronto pioneers such as Ron Nelson, Mastermind and DJX also include commentary on how the store has changed and survived over the years. . Over the years, a record label, a music school, a rivalry with neighboring store Traxx, and an infamous mixtape raid on the store in 1999 that made headlines in the hip-hop world are part of the story of Play De Record that continues to this day. As the store moved to Toronto’s Spadina Avenue from its historic location at 357A Yonge St. in 2016, the resonance of Play De’s existence, fueled by Tam’s seemingly endless dogged determination, clearly transcends any location. physical. Drop the needle has two upcoming screenings on October 22 and November 6 at the Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto. Complex spoke with director Freeman about the film. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What are the most important things people associate with the store, what are the most important things you feel when talking to people? What are the things that make it more than a store?
The fact that everyone meets on site every week. And you know, Thursdays were obviously very busy, but you know, people went there on Saturdays – it was a ritual for people going downtown. Get off the subway at College and Dundas, go to Traxx, go to Play de Record, go to [TMU radio station] CKLN, maybe go to the Eaton Center. He would also find food there. Everyone remembers the food in this region. People have spent a lot of time in this neighborhood, and it has become like a second home for many people. They loved going there. This experience that so many people have had for years I think is what led it to become more than just a brick and mortar store. It contained many unique memories and many experiences. And more than anything, I think Eugene Tam and his family really brought a lot to it. Something that I hope to show throughout the movie is Eugene as a character, what his family was like and having them in that mix. It just added a little unique vibe, where there were other record stores, but there was only one Tam family. And I think the Tam family really added a lot to the experience of going to Play De Record then and now.
You spoke to about 50 people from Tam. What was the recurring theme you heard from everyone you interviewed?
Eugene loves music, and it really is the basis of everything. Before opening Play De Record, he had a huge record collection. He was going to Starsound. He used to go to Carnival Records, which are two popular places before Play De Record opened in 1990. He was a regular at those places, so he loved the music. So when he opened the store, I think he obviously cared about the business side of things, but he loved being part of that community as much as anyone else. So for him it was a business, but for him it was a way for him to be a part of it because he loved music as much as anyone else who walked into that store.
There’s a lot of classic Canadian hip-hop featured in the film as a soundtrack. Why was it important that it was there?
It was really important because even before Play De Record was the favorite subject of our documentary, I already knew that hip-hop was going to be something that I would use, because the origin of this film was a way for me to show off my style. And you know, my point of view, my styles, having my DNA kind of in the mix. I like hip hop music. So if I’m going to do a movie – as a first movie, specifically – I kind of want to do that home run in terms of things that I really have a vested interest in. So using hip-hop music was always going to be, even before it was Play De Record. It was always going to be a subject that could fit this type of music. That’s how I like to make movies, especially the boom bap, the New York style of the 90s. It was something that really appealed to me, so it was always going to incorporate that.
The other thing that you capture very well is the evolution of how things have changed for vinyl record stores in general over the last 20 to 30 years and the challenges they’ve had to overcome to exist even at this stage. Eugene withstood all those things and Play De Record is still here. What do you sense is for the future?
I am not an expert. But I’ve had some time — you know, two years now — to hear from people who are much more expert than me on the subject, so I can at least develop a little idea. The reality is that all good things come to an end, but that doesn’t mean they can’t evolve into something else. What it is now, I’m not 100% sure, but I think we can’t seek to recreate the 90s and 2000s. It has to have its own identity. It must have its own participants in the future who could integrate those who were involved at the time, but it must have its own identity in the future. My film stopped for all intents and purposes in 2016, when [Play De Record] moved to Spadina. That’s where I kind of end my version of telling the story, but I think there’s an evolution happening. I think it can evolve into something different, something new, and it can be just as special on its own. So what is it, I don’t know, but I hope it turns into something because it’s a special place. So in order for Play De Record to stay, an evolution has to happen and hopefully people can come into the store and find out what it is and what the character is today and how it’s going from before.