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A monthly tour of Melbourne's Music Swop Shop

Words by Baz Bardoe

Photography by Indya Connley


When John Batman negotiated with the Kulin people in 1835 to ‘rent’ some land for what he described as a possible ‘village’ – later to become the city of Melbourne – he noted in his diary with some puzzlement that the Music Swop Shop was already in existence. The Kulin were unable to shed any light on its origins and gradually the city grew up around it until it had an address – Elgin street, Carlton.  Ask anyone – the Music Swop Shop has been there ‘since forever’.

The Shop presents a bewildering range of things that make, record and mutate sound. Take for example the Tascam midistudio 688, the last successful iteration of a long lost trajectory of professional cassette based recording. Don’t laugh. It was first produced in 1990 and it is amazing how many hit singles and albums were recorded entirely on cassette. And they are incredibly durable. I recently found the demo that got me my first record deal and it sounds a lot better than the more recent CDRs that don’t even play anymore. This piece of kit takes cassette based recording to the most professional level possible, and in the very early 90’s you could reasonably suggest recording a release quality album on it.

It has its shortcomings of course, but they are probably not what you’d expect. The control panel will have you reaching for the manual for one thing. The 688 allows for up to twenty simultaneous inputs, with four effects returns, and incredibly it is an 8 track. And in what was a groundbreaking move for its time it had MIDI so it could be synced up with other devices. With the move back to analogue and old school approaches to music making I could easily imagine this becoming a sought after item.

Lovers of Techno will know what a TB303 and TR-606 are – iconic bits of Roland kit that defined the emerging dance music culture of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Whilst the 606 is a drum machine, the 303 was intended to provide bass accompaniment for guitarists working on music alone. Produced for just eighteen months between 1982 and 1984, only 10,000 units were ever made. But the question remains – who put such an extreme filter sweep on what was meant to be bass accompaniment? At the time the ability to adjust the tone in such a radical way was attributed to what Roland dismissively termed ‘gimmick’ circuits, but even such a visionary company was clearly unable to predict the uses it would be put to and the tremendous influence it would have. It is an insane little box and modern software doesn’t even come close to imitating what it can do. There have been numerous attempts to copy it and some have gotten very close, but ultimately it stands alone – a bizarre example of an initially under rated product doing something entirely different to what it was designed for. The Shop has a TB 303 and TR-606 drum machine in pristine condition and in their original carry cases. But you’ll need a few bucks – they are much sought after these days.

I will be regularly updating you on all things Music Swop Shop, but in the meanwhile make sure you drop by – you will be pleasantly surprised by what is on offer and imbued with a great sense of the history of music in Melbourne and beyond. It is an institution.

To check out what MSS has in stock, head to: www.musicswopshop.com.au


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