Melbourne’s best and most bizarre record store has got to be the sadly-demised Gaslight Music. What other music store was famous for annual nude days, semi-secret promotions which involved making a spectacle of yourself in the store for free CDs and in-store appearances that constantly resulted in the store’s destruction? Although it closed in 2005, it’s sorely missed amongst an ocean of closed record stores. Here’s why it was so great.
1. They imported music which nobody else would
Established in the 1970s by Michael Coppel, Gaslight quickly gained a reputation throughout the years as a bawdy music store for obsessive music fans. With a speciality for imported CDs, vinyl and rare t-shirts, you could always rely on Gaslight to stock the rarer cuts of music that you’d been scrambling around to find in the days before internet downloads. Before online retail really became popular, it was pretty much your best shot in Melbourne for finding, say, the rare debut EP by the band Live. If you were obsessed with them in your teens. Not that I was. AHEM.
My true “WOAH!” Gaslight moment came when I noticed they stocked almost every single KMFDM album, in various limited European editions to boot. If you’re familiar with KMFDM at all, you’ll know that their back catalogue easily fills the space of a small warehouse, so I was mighty impressed.
2. They rewarded customers for getting naked in-store
Gaslight’s annual nude days are what Melbourne music lovers remember most fondly. According to Gaslight’s archived website, they admittedly only attracted a modest 50 people (the first people through the door won free albums and door prizes), but the event always resulted in breathless coverage by the media. Footage of bare arses wiggling around to bands awkwardly playing starkers in-store were guaranteed to make the nightly news, even outside of Australia.
Yep, this was definitely not a store for prudes. After looking up the store’s old website on archive.org, I spotted the photo above. This was a Gaslight store window promotion for the self-titled Buckcherry album, the artwork of which featured a tattooed lass. Their cheeky promotion involved Miss Nude Australia being painted with a replica of the album artwork and lolling around without a stich to her name in the store’s windows.
3. They truly supported live music in Melbourne
When it came to supporting music fans and local artists, Gaslight walked the talk. Their chaotic in-store shows were always treated as tiny concerts and not the blatant promo acoustic tours you see these days at music chains. Every act from the smallest local Melbourne bands to international touring juggernauts appeared on the Gaslight stage. My personal highlight was witnessing a metal band play such a thrashing in-store set that the attending throng began flying headlong into the neatly stacked aisles of CDs and vinyl and nearby store fittings. Yet the store’s security simply shrugged and let the mayhem continue uninhibited, seemingly under instruction from management. (I seem to recall that the metal band in question was Sepultura, but surely they were too big back then to be performing instores? Perhaps it was Strapping Young Lad… my pickled memory fails me.)
4. Their calendar instructed you when to perform bizarre acts for free CDs
Melbourne residents may also remember the famous Gaslight Calendar, which you could grab for free in-store. Featuring a smattering of bizarre daily facts, the calendar also listed a disturbingly creative series of semi-secret competitions on specific days. For example, on a particular day of the year, the first bunch of six people to form a human pyramid in-store would all receive free albums. Other bizarre challenges included barging into the store and singing opera at the top of your voice, or dressing up as the Queen in exchange for a gift voucher. On a forum I found dedicated to the memory of Gaslight Music, one prior customer recalls taking part in a challenge that required balancing a pumpkin on your head while waving an American flag on Halloween. The things students would do for free CDs…
5. They tried… but they sank
Eventually, the store was bought out by the growing Chaos.com empire prior to the dot com bust. Chaos never seemed quite sure what to do with Gaslight, and tried a number of strategies to merge it into its online fold. A former employee told the media at the time of closure that the online business had caused too much of a distraction when Gaslight finally closed for business – indeed, the Internet Archive shows the Gaslight website flip-flopping between general information, a bloated online retail store and then a simple Top 10 Albums list across the years. In the end, they probably should’ve stuck to the imports and specialties that made them famous than try to compete with the faceless music chains.
Gaslight is sadly missed, and we haven’t seen such awesome retail stunts on a regular basis at any Melbourne retail outlet in some time. Retailers take note! Hold some nude days of your own in honour of Gaslight and you’re guaranteed some great PR.