18 April 2006

Mute pilgrimage

So here's Wendy and I getting off the Underground at Edgware Road, because we don't know where in Harrow Road this place is. All my life I've had LP's, CD's, VHS cassettes and DVD's with the words:

429 Harrow Road, London, W10 4RE, England

on them, and a feeling in my stomach that this place might be something special. And therefore we need to go. So we start walking by the Harrow Flyover, past a police station and a churchyard. No numbers yet. Finally the numbers on a block of flats reveal that we've started at the very beginning of this road that cuts across several pages of maps in the AA KeyGuide. We walk past Pakistani greengrocers and shops selling kitchen appliances spilling out onto pavement. My feet are killing me and we stop at a little shop with a name in Arabic, so I can buy a Coke. We walk some more. The area seems cosmopolitan, which is a politically correct term for unsafe. But we carry on nevertheless, Wendy joking that I attract violence, and me arguing that I emit fear and that there's a distinct difference. But all goes well, and soon we hit the high 300's. On the opposite side of the road, the numbers are still in the 200's, which is worrying. Where is this place? On our side of the road the numbers climb into the 500's, with the opposite side lagging behind at the 300's. So much for urban planning. Suddenly amid all the shops and blocks of flats on the opposite side there is a small design studio, where you can have wallpaper printed to your specifications. I started wondering why the studio would have a Depeche Mode display in one of its windows, but then realised that Mute Records is right next door. There is no indication that these are the offices of the world's largest independent record label. It just looks like a shabby little office, estate agents maybe, or a business fixing broken dishwashers.

We go in and find two ladies behind the counter. We're told that there really isn't much to see, apart from the catalogue for Mute Bank, the online shop. I don't need to see a catalogue. I ask if I can buy some singles, and they make me wait for the woman who runs the online shop. I explain what I want. I'm informed that she might be gone some time, as she has to run down to the warehouse in the basement to get all of it. While I wait, I see framed multiple platinum discs for Moby's Play behind the counter as well as for Depeche Mode's The Singles 86>98. They're still wrapped in plastic, just leaning against the wall; not even put up yet. There are boxes and things lying all over, it's like a mail room floor. I see many things addressed to Daniel Miller, the head of Mute and feel a thrill of excitement. I am such an anorak. The woman returns with a box full of discs - all the Goldfrapp and Recoil singles, this wealth of superior electronic music, singles you just cannot find in South Africa, where nobody listens to vinyl, buys singles or can enjoy un-playlisted radio shows. How many people in South Africa even know what a B-side is?

The people working at Mute are the friendliest, warm people I met in London and they even got the guy who runs the Erasure Fan Club to give me a promo for Union Street, their new acoustic album. Wendy bought the three new Depeche Mode Remasters, I bought all the singles I asked for (they gave me limited edition paper slipcases for some of them) and we had such a nice time just standing in an office. But it's an office out of which has flowed some of the best electronic music, by artists that produce the theme songs to my life. It would be unimaginable without it.

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