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Meet Armageddon Records, The Record Store-Turned-Label For Punks And Metalheads

Photo courtesy of Facebook/Armageddon Shop Boston

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Meet Armageddon Records, The Record Store-Turned-Label For Punks And Metalheads

Quietly situated in a Harvard Square basement, Armageddon is more than just a place to dig through the punk, hardcore and metal bins — it's a community haven for musicians and fans alike

GRAMMYs/Jun 28, 2019 - 01:04 am

If you weren't looking for it, chances are you would walk right by Armageddon Records in Harvard Square without noticing it was even there. The Boston-based record store is a staple — the kind of place that's recommended by any music junkie living there, particularly to fans of punk and hardcore — and yet its public-facing storefront is modest at best, invisible at worst. It’s burrowed underground in a basement space. Its front entrance, an inconspicuous apartment door jammed between an eyebrow threading service and an eyeglasses shop, reveals a descending stairway and a few Armageddon-labeled records hammered to the sloped ceiling. Occasionally a black sandwich board is propped open on the sidewalk to get your attention. 

Perhaps that's why Armageddon feels like a vinyl oasis when you step into the store. It doesn’t get much sunlight underground, so it allows you to lose track of time, almost like hanging out in a friend's cozy den. Rows of new and used vinyl snake around the store, boasting a healthy collection of punk, hardcore and metal alongside a surprisingly well-stocked rock section as well as small electronic and hip-hop sections. All 7"s are organized cleanly, with a massive row solely for local artists. Old hard-to-find band T-shirts hang along a wall. Stacks of magazines, local zines and offshoot papers burst from a bookshelf in a corner. Every inch of wall space is covered with old flyers, basement show signs and iconic memorabilia. And there, behind the counter, are its heavily inked, all-knowing, always friendly staff ready to offer help.

To understand the importance of Armageddon in Boston, you must rewind a few decades and reroute to Providence, Rhode Island. Back in 1991, Ben Barnett and his friends formed the hardcore punk band Dropdead. They were quick to gather fans, playing the type of frenetic powerviolence that gets crowds going, all while repping the do-it-yourself ethic to their very core. When he wasn’t touring, Barnett worked at a local Providence record store called Fast Forward until it closed in 1998. Dropdead toured for the next year, and that’s when he began to notice a trend: local record stores were closing elsewhere too. 

Once the band returned home, Barnett began saving money for a new goal. "Nobody was selling punk and metal or crazy weird sh*t anymore," he recalls. "I wanted to open a shop to represent that, because it simply wasn’t being covered." So he teamed up with his then-wife to buy a record store of their own. It opened in 2001. He was 30 years old.

"We had a lot of friends across various scenes who came out that first year," he recalls. "Providence was, more than it is now, a big scene or different bands helping one another. Garage rock people, metal and punk kids, people making weird art — they all came here. They were really supportive of what we were doing.”

In some ways, the store's success was to be expected. Barnett spent his 20s creating fanzines, sharing music, and, eventually, putting out records. He ran a label back then, Crust Records, that was "a product of its time." In 1997, he decided to get a fresh start. He dropped the record label's name, replaced it with Armageddon (a reference to a song by Siege, the prolific ‘80s thrashcore punk band that Dropdead got their moniker from), and started releasing his band's records on the label. By the time he opened his own record store, it made sense to extend the Armageddon name to the physical store itself.

Barnett would go on to release groundbreaking records through Armageddon Label, like The History of Aids by noise act Prurient in 2002 and the self-titled cassette by doom metal duo The Body in 2000. He offered them a platform that few others extended that early on in their careers. 

After a few years of steady growth, Barnett needed a new co-owner to fill in the gap his ex-wife left. When word got out in 2004, applications began flooding in. As a local college radio DJ, a loyal customer, and an overly interested applicant, Chris Andries stood out from the bunch. According to Barnett, having Chris buy in to the business as a partner was a no-brainer. Perhaps the biggest testament of such is that the two are still co-owners to this day. 

Armageddon's growth continued to shoot upwards. Barnett had been running Armageddon Label for years at that point, but Andries had some ideas of bands to sign, too. So a new label was formed, Armageddon Shop, for the two to co-release records by bands like Brainbombs, Elder, Churchburn. "Sometimes it's more logical to have two ways of doing things," Barnett explains. "I don’t want to spend Armageddon Shop money on a record that may not sell as much as it needs to in order to profit, which is why Shop records must be releases Chris and I both agree on. I don’t want any projects to cause the store any physical distress, you know? But sometimes you just want to help your friends out, and Armageddon Label gives me room to do so."

Every artist who has teamed up with Armageddon in the past not only speaks highly of it to this day, but often credits it as being a major stepping stone in their career. It’s one of the reasons why both the store and the label continue to be successful almost 20 years later. 

"Not only was Armageddon a personal gateway to a lot of music for me, but also the owners, Ben and Chris, are active fosters of the local scene who helped Elder a lot in our formative years,” says Nick DiSalvo, the singer-guitarist of Boston stoner metal trio Elder. "What makes Armageddon special is the pure commitment to music for the love of music, and the genuine love that is reflected in their work. Armageddon’s employees and owners are of a dying breed — people who are immersed in their scene but don’t act as gatekeepers, but who really want everyone to enjoy music."

In 2013, they reissued the famous self-titled 7” of Deep Wound, a shotlived hardcore punk band that disbanded when members J Mascis and Lou Barlow left to form Dinosaur Jr. It’s the type of work that Armageddon does: preserving the history of local scenes that deserves to be upheld.

"Dropdead were easily the best post-first-wave hardcore band I had seen or heard, so [working with Ben on the reissue] seemed promising," says Barlow. "A visit to that store would make anyone want to be involved in their mission. You gotta respect the urge to document and disseminate the artifacts of the movement."

Finally, after five years of scouting spots in Boston to open a second record store, Barnett and Andries opened the new Armageddon Records in Harvard Square in 2010. The Boston community was enthusiastic, as many were already familiar with the Providence location. According to Barnett, there are patrons who shopped there the first week it opened who still return to the store regularly. Now music-loving tourists make it a point to stop in to check out records, as do touring bands performing in Boston. "It's a destination record store, definitely" confirms Lee Buford of The Body. The fact it happens to be a social place just adds to its allure. 

For others, like Buford, the growth of Armageddon seems logical. Why would a business run by good people achieve the success that goodness merits? "A bunch of us used to live in a warehouse in Providence, like 60 of us, pretty much the entire Providence music scene," he says over the phone. "We were evicted and we had two days to move out. One of my best memories is of Ben and the rest of the Dropdead guys showing up with tools in their hands and saying they would help us break down our rooms. They offered to help shuttle our items in their van to find a new spot. That’s the type of guy Ben is: very community oriented. That's what I think of when I think of the label and the store, too. They’re so focused on the community and want to help with the local scene however they can."

As the Boston location of Armageddon Records nears its 10th anniversary, it feels particularly special to look back at what it has brought to the surrounding areas. For most, it’s easy to remember the early days of the store — and in turn, it’s exciting to see it still going, as successful as ever. "I was probably in my first year of high school when an older friend told me about the shop. It sounded too good to be true — a haven for hardcore punk and metal just about a 30-minute drive from where we lived at the time," recalls DiSalvo. "The first time I actually made it there, I couldn’t have been much older than 16. I remembered immediately feeling overwhelmed by all selection and relieved by the non-threatening, friendly faces at the counter. Funny that years later they would become close friends!"

Barnett himself is similarly baffled by time. He no longer has to work a side job doing construction, nor Andries working at a local venue, to get by. Armageddon is their sole passion and job now — and it happens to include helping fellow artists in the area thrive. "Watching Elder grow up has been really fking cool. The Body, too, who I saw play in basements to 15 people," he says. "Seeing your friends work hard and succeed with the thing they love doing is pretty cool. You can’t fault that."

As Harvard Square experiences rapid changes, as do many areas of Cambridge and Boston, there's the possible threat of a rent hike or something worse down the line. Barnett and Andries have a good relationship with their landlord, especially after fine-tuning their basement space to stop it from deteriorating. "That said, it seems like it will be harder for stuff like us to hang on there as these buildings all get bought out," Barnett admits. But getting to watch the cities change — both Boston and Providence — is a treat, even if it may eventually feel like a threat.
Armageddon doesn’t plan on leaving Harvard Square anytime soon, and the regularity of business would suggest the locals don’t want them to either. It's an equally rewarding exchange that’s allowed them to outlast other record stores for a reason. 

"There’s no debt or financial reaper hanging over us, which feels pretty good should we have to leave quickly or anything," says Barnett. "The things I feel best about are the times I get to see someone come in stoked about a record, someone saying they found out about a band through our store, or a local musician coming in to buy their new record at the store. It’s such a great type of excitement. After all the days of grinding away, things like that make the stress go away. It always makes it worth it. Always."

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

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"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17.