Vinyl Lives

L’Oblique Record Store Celebrates 25 Years in Business

Boutique L’Oblique celebrates 25 years in business. Photo Michelle Pucci

Only few years ago, music lovers seemed to be mourning the death of vinyl and CDs. Yet Montreal record store Boutique L’Oblique has continued to thrive in the music scene for 25 years.

A block south of Mont Royal Metro station, L’Oblique is a small store that welcomes audiophiles and new music collectors while providing up-and-coming musicians with the opportunity to market and sell their work in-store.

After seeing the avant-garde Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in 1984, Luc Bérard, Guy Mongrain and André Beaulieu decided they would also help promote indie music.

“We discovered a lot of new music, and the music of each musician was not available in Montreal,” said Bérard.

The lack of selection in Montreal led the three friends to open L’Oblique in 1987. While Bérard, Mongrain and Beaulieu remain friends to this day, by the 1990s, the trio’s different aspirations left Bérard the sole owner.

Initially, L’Oblique only sold vinyl, until the re-emergence of punk music in the ’90s increased the demand for cassettes. CD sales also started to pick up, after advancements made them easier to produce.

“At the end of the ’80s, the CD was not very present. Only a few releases were available on CD and they were very expensive.”

Despite a decline in vinyl sales and production by the early 2000s, L’Oblique continued to stock LPs and EPs.

“We never stopped selling vinyls because the indie music business keeps the vinyl alive,” Bérard said.

Julien Sagot, former drummer for the Polaris Prize-winning Montreal rock group Karkwa, released his solo record earlier this year titled Sagot Piano Mal. Sagot was one of the artists that performed at L’Oblique’s 25th anniversary celebration.

“Right now, I don’t have the means to produce vinyls,” he said, explaining that today records are still
considerably more expensive to produce than CDs.

It’s no secret, however, that the LP has made a comeback despite high production costs. In 2011, LP sales increased by nearly 40 per cent compared to 2010. Vinyl sales for 2012 so far have increased by 16 per cent compared to 2011, while CD sales continue to plunge.

“A good part of my customers still buy CDs,” Bérard said, explaining that his sales remain equally divided between CDs and vinyl.

“I think some people come to my store because I have a good selection of CDs and also a selection of vinyls, so I have both worlds.”

Norwegian-Canadian singer songwriter Nina Nielsen, who also performed at the 25th anniversary event, has recently released her first album Love And Terror In The Wilderness online, on CD and on LP.

“Most of the sales are online and digital,” she said. “But if you want to sell physical records, it’s more vinyl than CDs.”

According to Bérard, the clientele of record stores has aged over the years. The major music industry is targeting Boomers for this reason. Labels recently reissued popular records from the 60s and 70s including albums by David Bowie, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones as well as the Velvet Underground and German-rock band Can.

And although, l’Oblique has a decent supppy of the big names, their bread and butter is the indie and the underground.

“We sell less music on vinyl by major bands like the Black Keys,” said Bérard. Since the band signed to a major label four albums ago, their vinyl records sell for $10 more than their CDs.

“In the indie music business, the price difference between the CD and vinyl is between $3 and $5, so it’s not so bad.”

Alexis Charlebois, a frequent customer at L’Oblique and writer for online alternative music magazines and BangBang, said that in the long-term, vinyl is more interesting than other formats.

“Some say vinyls sound better, but personally I don’t see that much of a difference,” he said. “It’s more of a question of the object. Sometimes companies release limited edition LPs, coloured records, etc.”

“Records are alive compared to digital music,” said Sagot, describing the movement of a spinning record. “With its imperfections and popcorn sounds, records are certainly more charming.”

Although Boutique L’Oblique has expanded over the years, Bérard said his mission as a music store owner is still the same.

“I want to keep the vinyl alive.”

Boutique L’Oblique (4333 Rivard St.), Mont Royal Metro. Website