Where We Live: Crooked Beat Records – Washington, D.C.

No matter how you feel about actually buying music, the experience of going to a record store will always top staring at a computer screen chasing stolen copies of a new record. The smell of the place, the looks the store employees give you as they quietly judge the records you’re buying– it’s all part of the charm, but until recently, record stores were about to become history. Thanks the renaissance taking place in the music world, people are re-discovering and reviving the record store. There was a period where I thought the end was near, but times have changed, and it’s all of a sudden cool to buy vinyl again.

When Tower Records closed its doors in Tyson’s Corner (the giant city-mall outside D.C.), it took with it the last of my youth. Late night trips to buy stacks of music became memories, and I had to move on. Finding a record store these days can be tough, but every major city has one; you just have to look a little bit. Within its city limits, D.C. has four. All are tiny and nondescript with only a plain sign at the not-so-easy-to-spot entrance. While they’re far from the behemoth warehouse stores that Tower had, one in particular is moving away from the classic beat-up used record store and becoming a haven for indie-rock followers of all ages and the spot for new and used vinyl.

If you were to casually pass by Crooked Beat, you would probably miss it. Located on 18th St. NW, it’s a stone’s throw from the famous Madams Organ in the heart of D.C.’s favorite spot to drink and fight, Adam’s Morgan. Tucked below street level, the entrance is down the short end of twisted, crumbling stone staircase. The store itself is a tiny ramshackle basement retail space that, by looks alone, is the definition of ‘hole in the wall’. Inside, the ceilings are low and the walls are fire-engine red. The place carries the sweet smell of new records mixed with a musty basement. The uneven, beat-up wooden floors creak as you walk from front to back. Evidence from a series of unfortunate floods is there as well with soft and swollen floorboards that flex and bow on every step as you shuffle from crate to crate. All that character, though, is thanks to a lively history.

The store was opened in 2004 by Bill Daly and his wife Helen after being relocated from Raleigh, North Carolina to the 18th Street location thanks to the advise of a longtime friend. The building itself carries a much longer history that goes deep into D.C.’s music and punk culture. Once the location of the famed Madam’s Organ (now just diagonally north a few buildings), it served as a birthplace to many of the city’s hardcore legends. It was a place where Bad Brains would play almost every Monday helping the rest of the scene grow around it. It was the home of D.C. punk rock through its heyday, and even now some of its old regulars stop by to play an in-store show or just shop around. As Henry Rollins told Daly when he showed him the shop, “This place is magic.”

When it comes to the music, Crooked Beat maximizes its small space by focusing on obscure alternative legends and the new must-haves in independent and not-so-independent music. In the same run, you can get Talking Heads 77 with Surfer Bloods’ debut, and even that T.V. on the Radio record that’s finally twelve bucks. They also feature a key locals-only section. While just one crate deep, it’s filled with old local gems from D.C.’s best known bands. Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Scream 7’s are regularly scooped up, but of course it’s all about the rarities and random gems.

Being only one tiny room, Crooked Beat has an intimate feeling that make you think this is your secret spot. The truth is, though, that this is every D.C. music nerd/collector/college hipster’s spot. When I arrived this past Record Store Day, I found a line half a block deep with thirty minutes still left until show time. When the store opened, the line was down the block and around the corner, a couple hundred deep, with over an hour wait to get in. For a space that comfortably fits 30, this was mayhem, but all the attention just means they’re still alive and thriving. Maybe now they can afford to fix the leak from Maggie Moo’s next door.

When I saw what RSD had become, it seemed impossible that record stores could fully die out. Why this is happening now during the Internet takeover of music seems only the result of a backlash from those who still remember life before MP3’s and thought the mini-disk was the way of future. We crave a tangibility that will never exist on the Internet and can only be found in actual record stores. For those in D.C., Crooked Beat fills that need, no matter how beat up it may be.

Crooked Beat Records
2318 18th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009-1842
(202) 483-2328

For more information, please visit the store’s official site.


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