On the Record: Hub 301

HUB 301 is the latest in a string of record shops to open in the Inner North. It’s brought to us by Greg Molinaro, charismatic Melbourne vinyl merchant, electronic music purist and all-round good bloke. Greg has been peddling records in Melbourne for 30 years. I had the privilege of meeting him to chat about his story and the intricacies of the vinyl industry.

First and foremost I’m interested in how Greg got into electronic music.

“I started collecting properly from a very young age, just at local junk shops in Prahran,” Greg tells me enthusiastically on a sunny winter’s day at the store. “I grew up in Prahran in the 70s and 80s and there was heaps of junk stores and records stores so you’d sort of go digging. We could never afford to buy new records but you could pick up general records back then at a very reasonable price.”

Greg was also blessed with an elder cousin named Adreno who harnessed his interest in music. “He used to give me a stack of records every time I’d go and visit him, Giorgio Moroder records through to Bowie, he sort of gave me my first strand of education. He DJ’d at a club in St Kilda which was quite famous at the time called Bojangles, which had a history with Chopper and those kinds of characters. It was a heavy club & bar, a few shootings, kneecappings, but my cousin was just an eccentric gay boy that played records there.”

After a quick google search it becomes apparent Greg’s portrayal of Bojangles is understated at best. Mark “Chopper” Read shot and killed drug dealer Siam “Sammy the Turk” Ozerkam outside the venue in 1987. Conversing with Greg, I’m intrigued by an era of Melbourne party culture I knew little about.

“Originally in the 80’s it was all about the Melbourne super club, we probably had about 30-40 venues back then. Each one of those venues could hold up to 1500 people, it was all about going to the disco. The gay scene of the 80s, they were the first ones to take it on-board. By the time techno came around in the 90s, some of the straight kids started doing techno parties at the sheds.”

The 90s brought techno further into the mainstream. Warehouse parties became popular with the masses and towards the end of the millennium parties at the docks were superseded by one day events, run by the likes of Future Entertainment and Summerdayze. Greg tells me “They all became a bit sterile, boring and suburban. As soon as you were surrounded by Yobos taking ecstasy tablets then that was it for us. It’s funny, because if something starts off underground, if money gets to it, it loses the whole essence of it. You lose the balance of what appeals to a small select audience as soon as it starts appealing to a bigger audience.”

A young music aficionado, Greg landed his dream job shortly after finishing High School in 1988 at Central Station Records. At the time, Central Station Records was Australia’s go to for underground music from Europe and the States.

“We were bringing in the early Larry Heard, bringing in the first Trax records, we were getting the new romantic records out of the UK…so your Depeche Modes, This Mortal Coil, all that New Wave English stuff, then we were getting the Italo stuff coming out of Italy in the mid 80s.”

Greg worked there for five years as a store assistant, developing an understanding of record store dealings and machinations. After that time he felt it was time to go at it alone; and founded his own record shop Rhythm and Soul in 1993.

“I just started off as a one man show really, focusing on the first waves of House music coming out of Detroit and Chicago. There was a bit of House music coming out of the UK and Italy, but my fascination was definitely with the US strand of House”.

Rhythm and Soul’s business rode a steady incline until the turn of the century. In the late 90s Greg had over twenty staff members and his shop had cemented itself as the one stop shop for House, Techno, Soul and Disco records. Greg stated “If you didn’t come to my record shop in the mid 90s, your next option to buy that great record that I had in my shop was to jump on the next plane and fly to New York and buy it yourself.”

LIke many record shops of the time, Rhythm and Souls sales spiralled downwards with the rise of MP3s and CDs.

“I remember the first day a kid came into the store and mentioned a ‘WWW.’ and I thought this kid was on acid; World Wide Web I couldn’t work out what he was talking about.”

By the 21st century power within the music industry had firmly shifted from multinational labels and distribution arms to artists and consumers. MP3s could be shared for free in minutes over file sharing programs such as Napster and LimeWire, whilst the internet incentivised artists to share the music with fans independently at a fraction of the price, circumventing the need for labels, distribution companies and to a large extent; record stores.

“It was not as if iTunes came along and offered us a platform” Greg tells me. “No individual record shop in the world had the millions to invest into creating a digital platform, because obviously the digital platform requires infrastructure, computer nerds and people understanding the back end of distributing, the publishing and the money side of things and I don’t think any record shop was in the position to offer that.”

Fixated on his adoration of vinyl, Greg was convinced digital mediums were just going to be a phase. He watched on while night clubs tore their hardy and reliable Technics turntables from DJ booths, replacing them with the Pioneer CDJ. Record sales around the globe dwindled and vinyl looked set for extinction.

“By 2007 and ‘08 I had well and truly had enough of what was happening to my shop.” An Australian electronic music institution in Rhythm and Soul was obviated by the internet and forced into closing in 2008.

Fast-forward eight years. Vinyl sales reached a 25 year high in 2016. Simultaneously, Greg made a comeback in Hub 301.

“It felt right to enter the space again, hence here we are. I opened in July 2016, in a whole new space, marketplace, a whole bunch of new distributors and exciting labels. It’s more exciting than ever. In all my time selling music I can’t ever remember it being as exciting as it is today.”

The internet ensured Rhythm and Soul’s demise and eight years later it assisted in resurrecting Hub 301 from the ashes. Record store owners have monumentally better access to information, music and individuals. Draconian, monopolising distribution companies are becoming obsolete, as labels and artists can establish supply chains directly with store owners. In essence, it’s easier than ever for artists to set up their own labels and correspond with pressing plants themselves, incentivising musicians to press records.

Yet, the vinyl resurgence isn’t merely a business opportunity for Greg Molinaro. It’s a second opportunity to pursue his life’s passion. “My joy, whether I’m at home or playing out is taking the record out of the sleeve and playing it. I still get total satisfaction out of that. I’ve never indulged in the digital world, I get confused by the whole digital thing, I’d probably press the wrong button and be playing some porn instead of a digital satellite,” he tells me with a laugh. “I try and stay as far away from little buttons as possible, even though I encourage people to contact me via email.”

I’m curious if Greg is concerned about the fragility of music formats and if he fears Hub 301 could suffer the same fate as Rhythm and Soul.

“Vinyl has survived because it hasn’t been replaced. The digital act of sucking down a file wasn’t satisfying the new generation. Hence they reverted back to the old tried and tested physical format of engaging with a human, exchanging money and walking out with a piece of music. Until we find a way to replace it; vinyl is here to stay.”

Greg Molinaro stocks a range of House, Disco, techno, Soul and New Wave records. Check Hub 301 out at 301 Johnston Street, Collingwood.