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I am writing to express my regret at Strangeland Records being involved with the 1/18 Show & Tell column (“Brick and Mordor”). Had I known that my shop’s closing would serve merely as a backdrop to Amanda Hess’ biased and ill-researched foray into the metal genre, I would never have consented to being a part of the article in the first place. Reviewing six completely random titles from our metal selection hardly constitutes a scene report. Likewise, using my opinions as a “metalhead” was also questionable, especially considering that I informed the author more than once that I was not the best person to talk to regarding the metal scene given my background in electronic-based music. I even went as far as to provide Ms. Hess with the names and contact info of a few individuals who are much more well-versed on the local metal scene than I am. Sadly, their input, short of that of my employee Dan Boyd, was not included in the article.

When talking with Amanda at length regarding the shop, I was under the impression that the article would be about the troubles independent music is facing in the modern economical landscape due to an eroding support structure from its “alleged” fan base. Indie record store closures are just a symptom of an overall problem of declining economical support. This issue extends well beyond the brick-and-mortar store level as bands, promoters, labels, mail order, clubs, venues (and more) are all feeling the stress. This was definitely a missed opportunity to shed some light on this issue, which is getting little attention apart from random blips when yet another shop (or club, label, etc.) shuts down.

Likewise, I thought the article would have had some mention of our role in the local music scene over these last couple of years. This includes our strong selection of genres outside of metal (punk, industrial, electronic). Even more so this includes our dedication to hosting weekly free/all ages live events here at the shop. In two years I’m proud to say that we’ve hosted over 200 local bands and over 150 local DJs and displayed the works of over a dozen artists on our walls. Very few establishments in this area give voice to new music projects and artists, and our departure in that arena will definitely be felt.

What I found, however, was that the author chose to bypass all of the above for an article that states in the first two paragraphs that she doesn’t “get” metal and that apparently “most of D.C. is pretty much with (her) on this,” a notion that essentially implies that I’m a fool for opening up a “metal” store to begin with. The article then goes on to imply that my shop is closing because the D.C. metal scene wasn’t large enough to sustain it. Truth is that my metal customers were also my most loyal customers of all the genres that we carried. And while, yes, there weren’t enough of them to keep us operational, to imply that they and they alone are at fault is simply false. Finally, I found it to be in incredibly bad taste to have my credit line and debt load mentioned specifically given that I had asked that those details be kept “off the record.” In the end the article felt absolutely condescending toward the metal scene as a whole and Strangeland in particular. What purpose does kicking us while we’re already down serve?

After spending the weekend apologizing to my customers for this rather short-sighted article I’m left wondering what the actual point was. If the author doesn’t know or have any interest in the metal scene, then why write an article in which she and her half-hearted exploration of said genre is the central focus? It just doesn’t make any sense. I enjoyed my conversations with Amanda, and she seems like a genuinely pleasant individual. I can only hope that her future columns will be better thought out than the one Strangeland appeared in.

Ryan Hill, owner
Strangeland Records
Annandale, Va.

Amanda Hess replies: In my conversations with Ryan Hill, he mentioned several times that he would be assuming six figures of debt and that he was forced to take out a line of credit to finance the shop. He mentioned these details without stipulating that he’d like them off the record. Hill told me early on in our conversation: “The thing that keeps me up at night isn’t the fact that Strangeland is going out of business; it isn’t the fact that I’m going to owe six figures; it’s not the fact that all the work I’ve put into it three months from now is going to be a memory.” Later, when I asked Hill how much he would owe after the shop’s close, he asked me not to print the specific values of his debt or his line of credit, and I honored his request. Hill did not ask me to consider our previous discussions of financial issues off the record.

Critical Miss

I am sorry to see that Mark Jenkins is no longer doing film reviews for the City Paper. Jenkins is one of the more thoughtful critics in the field, and I am sure that other readers will miss his incisive thinking. This change, along with others (e.g., disappearance of most of the comics), is probably caused by budget cuts, but it is sad to see the City Paper hollowing out like this.

Bill Burr
Dupont Circle