This is the first of a new series on infinitestatemachine called “Record Store Memories”. It’s a highly subjective account of my relationship with various record stores over the years, and will appear appropriately infrequently until I’ve covered all the important ones. For the first one I had to choose the record store that changed my life in so many ways.
Hypervinyl was not the first dance music record store in Pittsburgh (that would be Turbo Zen, followed by Future Sounds at some point before HV) but it’s timing and location made it by far the most consequential of all thus far. I met a pretty large number of my current friends at Hypervinyl, and bought a ridiculous number of meaningful records there. In terms of places in my life, only a few have had more impact on me as a person. I could go on forever about this place, but instead I’m going to highlight a few of my favorite moments.
The original location of Hypervinyl was on Atwood St in the Oakland neighborhood. Oakland was where all the colleges in the city are located as well as the high school I attended, and at that time it was a very gritty area with many underground shops, punk houses where basement shows occurred, and what can only be described as a thriving counter culture. This was the time of Club Laga, people smoking cloves at the Beehive, hanging out on the wall acting like assholes, and a general feeling that if you just hung around for a while something interesting/insane/disgusting/entertaining/illegal/etc (pick as many as you like) would happen.
If I remember correctly, my first visit to Hypervinyl was within days of it opening in the spring or early summer of 1997. Since I went to high school up the street, the world of Oakland had become quite familiar to me over the past few years even though I was 17 and was just about to graduate from high school. My crew and I had been frequenting all these underground spots for years and blended right in. We had been going to raves and listening to dance music for about a year at this time, and before Hypervinyl the only dance shop operating was out in Forest Hills, a place that we rarely were even close to so it basically didn’t exist for us. Word of the new shop opening in Oakland was great news.
On my first trip in, the goal was to find a place locally to purchase some Technics 1200s and to check out the record selection. This was clearly a stupid question to the seemingly angry short man behind the register. He was kind of a dick, but this wasn’t my first time in a record store so I didn’t take it too personally. I picked up a couple flyers for raves and club nights and bounced.
Within a few months I was regularly purchasing records (even before I was able to locate turntables) and hanging out, talking shit and listening to music. The owners Csilla and Trevor (The Instigator) were strange but entertaining individuals. One cat who worked there was a friend from high school John Brommage who had started throwing raves and djing the previous year, so that was a cool connect. Another weirdo working there was a cat called Ed Umm. I remember one day I was chilling in there talking about old records with Trevor and Ed when the record shipment came in. They threw some LP on that started with what sounded like someone flipping through the radio dial, tuning into various strange voices speaking and old songs playing. Only much later did I recognize that this was Moodymann’s Mahogany Brown album.
Since I was so young, my money situation was not hot, but these were the days of $5 domestics and $9 imports. I would bring all my cash from my shitty jobs and spend everything I could. Early on that was mostly jungle and some harder techno. Whatever money I had left, usually change, would typically end up pooled together with whomever else was hanging around so we could walk up the block to Antoon’s, home of the $3.75 large pizza to grab a pie and a two liter bottle of pop. I’d often get suckered into running to the post office to pick up missed packages of records.
By spring of 98, my clique and I had decided to move past throwing house parties into doing dance music events for the general public. We had somehow stumbled on this clothing store out in Monroeville past the mall called Suburban Trance which sold your typical late 90s gear like Freshjive, Ecko, etc. This wasn’t really our hood in any way, but the guy who owned it seemed really chill and he asked us to do some parties in his store on Friday night. One of our guest djs was Trevor, and that ended up being a fateful evening. He got to chatting with the owner of the clothing shop and told him about a space that was opening up in Oakland and wanted to know if he would be interested in sharing the whole floor.
I can’t recall exactly when this move happened, but I’d guess it was somewhere close to fall of 1998. The spot was at the corner of Forbes and Oakland Ave, a much more prime spot and what I would consider to be the most classic of Hypervinyl’s locations. It was on the third floor above the GNC, in the space that had previously been occupied over the years by such underground institutions as Turbo Zen, Ice Nine Publishing, and Pop Bus Records. This lent itself quite well to playing music very loudly out the window over the busy street below, as well as general harassment and throwing of shit at the public. This is where I would meet friends like Jwan, Arnie, Akil, Curt, Shawn, and so many more.
The original setup had you turning left at the top of the stairs to go into Hypervinyl which took up that first room and the room to the left. Going from that main room to the right is where the clothing shop was set up. I don’t recall how long it lasted in there, but it wasn’t very long.
I remember a poster for Underground Resistance “Interstellar Fugitives” as well as a mannequin torso and head that sported a UR bandana. By this time I had started buying a wider variety of music from old funk to broken beats and Detroit house like Recloose’s Spelunking EP. I vividly recall walking out of there one day with Phylyps Trak II, M7, and “Na Fe Throw It”, and another day where I got “Nude Photo” and “Knights of the Jaguar” 12”s.
Eventually, a number of people I was friends with eventually ended up living in some of these other rooms on the floor. Parties were had up there, including one where every dj who played had to drop “Big Pimpin” by Jay Z in their set. One party featured Trevor in a quite inebriated state walking around saying “This is my record store I can do what I want” and then punching holes in the drywall. My friend Akil was doing a lot of the graphic design for Hypervinyl in the back room, and that ended up coming into play in another weird facet of my life at that time. Around late 1999, another friend and I were about to go try a new promotion idea we had: wheatpasting posters. We met up at Hypervinyl and were chilling with Akil when we had the idea to make some other posters of weird shit that didn’t make any sense and to put those posters up next to the ones for our party. This ended up evolving into a cool guerrilla art project the three of us did whose name I’m not going to put out there in the public. I also remember Trevor having his studio set up in one of the rooms which is where I first saw an MPC and an analog synthesizer.
The very first record label I saw be birthed was also thanks to Hypervinyl. Trevor and Shawn put together a number of releases, all of which are emblazoned in my mind as some of the best examples of real Pittsburgh techno and electro.
At some point in 1999, another record store moved into the one side room. This one was hiphop based, and called itself 720 Records. I would go on to start working for them in 2003 in another location, but at that time it was cool to just have underground hiphop records more easily available. My first time meeting up with Curt was at Hypervinyl so I could give him a ride to a rave we were both djing at in Johnstown PA which I would place in summertime 1999. He had just purchased Kool Keith’s “Sex Style” album at 720 and brought it with him to the gig.
To say that all the personalities involved in these places were volatile would be a severe understatement. The aggression combined with a serious lack of giving a fuck led to all kinds of disagreements and fights. One day around New Years 99-00 my homie Vinnie was in the shop just going off about how weak the lineup was for some NYE rave in Philadelphia. He almost started a few fights. There were megaphones and duck costumes. Another time, I was in there with Trevor and Akil when the record shipment came in and we all fell in love with a new record called “The Man With The Red Face” and took all three copies, even though all were reserved for other people who ordered them. There were far more things that happened that I’m not even gonna try to air out in public, but the end result was that that best time there ended sometime around fall of 2001 or so. One by one, people got fed up with crazy behavior and other nonsense and it all kinda fell apart. The store continued, but it wasn’t the same.
Eventually the store would move out to Dormont, which I entered only once to say hi to my man Eric Justin who was working there. I purchased a Jazzanoza remix of MAW and Roy Ayers. After that it was sold to someone else and moved to Squirrel Hill, a location I never set foot in.
While this really only covers about three to four years’ time, those years were right around the meteoric rise of Pittsburgh’s rave scene and then the beginning of its fiery death and movement into clubs. It is the first time that Detroit techno especially had a real presence in the city. Hypervinyl crew was responsible for bringing Shake to town for the first time, and then the second time as part of I Love Techno along with Dan Bell. The roots of Pittsburgh’s current taste in house and techno all go directly back to Hypervinyl in my opinion.