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Friday, October 22, 2010

Aquarius Records Celebrates 40 years of Weirdness on Monday

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 3:53 PM

Aquarius Records' co-owner Andee Connors - JAMIE SOJA
  • Jamie Soja
  • Aquarius Records' co-owner Andee Connors

Aquarius Records, that delightful retailer of uncommon music on Valencia street, is celebrating its 40th birthday party on Monday with a show at Cafe Du Nord.

Not, mind you, because that's actually 40 years to the day of the store's founding. After several ownership changes, no one still working at the store remembers the actual date in 1970 when Aquarius was born.

But Monday will have to suffice, and likely it will more than: the lineup includes such fine locals as fuzz-pop practitioners the Mantles, electro-mind-benders Lumerians, and a host of other handpicked sound producers, all which will be capped off with the sunbaked girl-group-stoner-punk of buzzy Best Coast. The lineup is so fine, in fact, that all the tickets are gone. (You may also blame the promise of birthday cake.)

Or, you might blame the fact that Aquarius has rather dedicated customers, many of whom, according to co-owner Andee Connors, show up weekly to buy records. There's even one known to come in several times per weekend. And since Aquarius' business is half mail-order, run through its review-filled website, these buyers live all over the planet. Occasionally, the far-off ones even stop by in person.

"We have a lot of people come straight from the airport with luggage," co-owner Allan Horrocks explains. "And we're like 'Did you just come from the airport?' And they're like, 'Yup, first stop: Aquarius Records.'"

The cause for all this enthusiasm is a small but carefully curated selection of CDs and vinyl, all of which is handpicked by the staff. A big part of what keeps the store's seven employees happy in their not-exactly-lucrative line of work is turning on their customers to new, rare, underground and otherwise unlikely music. Much of that happens through the weekly review-filled newsletter and website, but a lot of discovery occurs through casual conversations in the store itself.

Years of championing new music have given Aquarius a reputation for stocking certain specialties: strange field recordings (see the aforementioned deer mating calls), "drone-y metal-y stuff" (as Connors puts it), and, of course, the best of independent local bands. 

Connors explains: "We've been doing what we do for so long that people who make that stuff seek us out: 'We made this insane record of these weird sounds and who else is going to sell it except Aquarius?'"

The store was founded on Castro street, next to Harvey Milk's camera shop. It was moved in the early 1980s to 24th St. in Noe Valley, where it resided until the mid-'90s, when the owners moved Aquarius to a larger space Valencia Street near 22nd.

In 40 years, the business has seen a lot of changes. Although Horrocks and Connors say they try not to dwell on it, the rise of digital downloading has had an impact on sales -- although not as concerning an impact, they say, as the current recession.

But the owners are optimistic about the future. As a testament to the devotedness of their customer base, the 40th birthday party sold out even before Best Coast was announced as the surprise headliner. There's even talk of another, larger 40th birthday party later in the year, or a 41st celebration next year. 

And why not? It's not like Aquarius is going anywhere. Horrocks and Connors say they hope the store one day sees its 80th birthday -- though they may not still be working behind the counter then.

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Ian S. Port


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