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A monthly tour of Melbourne's Music Swop Shop

Words by Baz Bardoe

The Music Swop Shop in Elgin street Carlton emanates history. I always wonder how many instruments bought there have wound up on some of the nation’s stages, in the hands of who knows. The shop has been at the centre of a complex web of exchanges for longer than anyone seems able to remember, playing a pivotal role in Melbourne’s music culture. Many years ago I made an agreement with a fellow electronic music producer to only use items purchased here and the results were extremely good. You can literally find almost anything you want.

As an electronic music maker I find trawling through the items which turn up at the shop fascinating. Currently they have a Korg DDM-220 for example. Originally created in the mid 80s, it is a percussion oriented rhythm machine designed to complement the DDM-110 drum machine. Like so many products from this era it disappoints in terms of what it is actually intended to do, yet it is completely fabulous in terms of unintended consequences. Much in the same way as the Roland TB303’s  ‘gimmick circuits’ didn’t make for very good ‘bass accompaniment’, this little box fails in terms of the authenticity of its sounds, but wins because they are so cool, cheesy and at times robotic. People seeking that retro sound may find this unit quite endearing.

By the time the 90s came along electronic music, especially dance music, was at its zenith. Plenty of kit from the 80s were being used to make the archetypal sounds and hence, prices skyrocketed.  The frenzy of interest meant that product makers developed whole new items that would reference popular kit and in some cases, entire new product lines. Roland, whose vintage kit had wound up at the centre of the explosion, released their ‘Groove’ gear. First there was the MC-303 which aesthetically bowed in the direction of the iconic TB-303, while being a very different kind of unit. It is a digital machine and the sounds and filter sweeps can’t compare with vintage kit, but it was an affordable option for those wanting to break into hardware and live work. For me it was a turning point and yes, the shop has one.

But better still, the shop has the next generation: The MC-505 and the SP-808.

The MC-505 had much better sounds and control parameters than its predecessor.

It was a serious bit of kit that made its way into many studios and live rigs. Around this time Roland also released the superb SP-808 which is a sampling based production workstation, designed to complement the MC-505, or stand alone. The shop has examples of both of these and they still stand up quite well.

For a while it looked like software would replace hardware altogether, but as Brian Eno once opined: there is an ergonomic element to making music that is central to the whole experience. We have seen a great many robust and playable set-ups that combine software with hardware interfaces. A good example is Native Instruments’ Maschine. A very twenty-first century approach to loop based music making, it neatly encapsulates the advantages of these hybrid set-ups with the flexibility and detail of software. Yes, the shop has one.

In fact, the shop seems to have almost everything at the moment. When you first walk in you will most likely notice the guitars — there are a LOT of them. Beyond that is every permutation of amps, recording devices, various hi tech and curiosity items you can imagine. A creative continuum that stretches way back, Music Swop Shop is well worth exploring.

Check out what’s in stock at www.musicswopshop.com.au


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