Countertop Communication: Eastern Bloc reflect on a difficult year

Art & Culture

The pandemic has left much of the independent music industry in crisis, it’s been a torrid time for shops, labels and artists alike. We’re all in the same boat and whilst we all strive to retain optimism and perspective in the midst of what are utterly unprecedented circumstances it’s also important to reflect and reconcile the experiences of the past few months. 

Eastern Bloc is a record shop based in Manchester, an outlet which has become a crucial cornerstone of the dance and electronic music community in the city. It’s widely admired and respected based upon its curation and selection, where diggers hunt for the best in Techno, Drum & Bass, House, Jungle, Broken Beat, Electro, Dubstep, Ambient, Disco, Soul, Funk, Hip Hop, Latin, Afro, Reggae, Jazz & everything else in between.

We spoke with them about how they have been handling business during the pandemic and reflect on the value of the in person communication in a record store, that countertop communication and conversation if you will.


Photograph courtesy of Ben Williams

How has the lockdown affected your business? Tell us about the last 3 months.

“We shut our doors at the beginning of this as everyone did, our website was still ticking along but the majority of our sales are still done over the counter. We re-opened 2 days a week mid-June and are now open 4 days a week (Tues / Thurs / Fri / Sat and the occasional Sunday). We are now operating by appointment only as we are only a very small space. This is having great results as you get a real one-on-one time with the customer and you can really work out their taste. This helps when pulling out recommendations and suggesting music they may have never heard before. This obviously works both ways when having in depth conversations about music. The events side of the shop, which is a massive part of what we do, has completely stopped. We are now awaiting the official advice as to when we can start these events up again. The food and drinks side has been steady, there is definitely a huge advance when the sun shines. Stevenson Sq. is now pedestrian friendly which has helped trade massively.

What do you think will change about the way you do business going forward? How have you adapted?

We are launching a new website in the next month or so, this will tie in all areas of our business (Record Shop / Events / Cafe), this will be a far more user friendly experience and also loads of features and charts etc from us. You will be able to listen to clips, add to basket and shop collect, all the usual things you would expect from an online store. With more people staying / working at home this is really the only way we can look to expand our business.

What is your strategy as you begin to open?

As set out above really, but we will have to wait until we have more info on opening up the events side of things.

Have you had any famous guests or unexpected customers over the years?

We have had many many big names through the doors over the years including: Jeff Mills, Mike Huckaby, DJ Marky, Marcus Intalex, Todd Terry, Jazzy Jeff, Carl Craig, A Guy Called Gerald and a huge number of other guest DJ’s and record enthusiasts. 

What role do you feel that the record store itself plays in the present given that the online realm has boomed, what does online lack?

I think communication is the most important thing, sharing knowledge, experiences, jokes and laughs. Just that human element that doesn’t exist online. Also you are getting records honestly recommended on the basis of this interaction, not necessarily reliant on best selling charts and user data etc. I go into more detail here

What three records should we buy from the shop? 

Incredible Latin Influenced house music on the untouchable NDATL label.

Out there experimental D&B / Electronic music. Inperspective going from strength to strength this year. Look out for the forthcoming releases from Phuture T and the next one from Earl Grey.

Manchester’s own Bill Szajna on Phuture Shock. Instant broken beat classic! More incoming from him later this year!

2020 has been pretty horrendous. We lost Weatherall, the global pandemic has taken lives and caused the most ridiculous amount of hardship, the tragic killing of Floyd George – what is your message to the world from your store?

Massive shouts to all of our customers who have supported us over the years and to the labels, distributors, couriers and everyone else involved in the music industry during these fragile times. We have lost so many loved ones this year, it is hard to make a statement about what has been going on in the world. Stay strong, be positive & don’t be a dickhead.

Visit the Eastern Bloc website HERE