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Memories of Cargo Records, Montreal

In the early 90s, I had the good fortune of working at a couple of record stores in my hometown. One of these gigs was working at the flagship HMVstore in Montreal and part of my job was buying and selling the imported records for out “imports” department, which was generally anything alternative or outside of the mainstream radio. It was generally all the weird stuff that either wasn’t being released locally by the major labels in North America, or it was independent stuff from Europe. We were also the only department in the entire store that still sold vinyl.

Once a week I would trot over to the local Cargo Records warehouse to see what had recently arrived. I sometimes had a list with me, but most of the time it was a lot of poking around to see what was new or restocked that would be good to add to the shelves in our “import” department. Of course, one of the perks was that I could also add things to a “personal” basket as well and buy a few records and CDs directly from the distributor at cost. The Cargo records warehouse was not open to the public, but because I worked for HMV and was ostensibly there on their behalf, the staff at Cargo knew me and had no problems selling me a few things now and then. Needless to say a majority of my paycheck ended up at Cargo records!

One item that thrilled me to no end was coming across a special issue of a magazine called “Bucket of Blood”. I wasn’t so much interested in the magazine as I was interested in the promotional 7” single that came with it: R.E.M. “Academy Fight Song (Live)”. I also came across some great 12” singles, which I still own I might add. One item I was really thrilled to come across was a rare CD by the KLF called “MU”, which was an import from Japan!

Going to Cargo Records’ warehouse was always fun! It wasn’t a particularly large warehouse, but it was packed from floor to ceiling with records and CDs. No Britney Spears here! There was, however, a lot of Nitzer Ebb, Depeche Mode, Front 242, Anne Clark, Siouxie and the Banshees, Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, KMFDM, Nine Inch Nail, and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. The CDs and vinyl were in cardboard boxes on the floor, as well as placed haphazardly in vaguely alphabetcial order on the shelves that reached to just above my head. There were three or four rows of metal shelves running the length of the warehouse, as well as a couple of tables for brand new arrivals that hadn’t been shelved yet. Needeless to say there were also quite a few boxes under those tables as well. It was a special kind of chaos, but that was part of the charm.

I usually allotted about an hour and a half for browsing at Cargo, plus about an hour for traveling there and back. Of course, this was never enough time! These were the pre-internet days and so the option of going online to check out new arrivals didn’t exist. To be honest, this was much more fun, anyway! Since the weekly visit to Cargo records was during the work day, I was expected to do it as quickly as possible and then get my ass back downtown to the store for the end of the day. There was a total of three employees in the Import department and although there was only one of us working during the afternoons, as of 5PM two of us would be there to manage everything, so getting back from Cargo before 5 was appreciated.

I’m not entirely sure what prompted this little visit to Cargo Records in my memory this week. Maybe it was all the reorganizing I have been doing lately. I recently bought a couple of Kalax shelves from IKEA for my vinyl collection (I can see now why people swear by them!) and it has prompted a lot of reorganizing and revisiting of records in my collection. Coming across a few Depeche Mode 12” singles put me in mind of Cargo. This week I was listening to a couple of my KLF 12” singles. Maybe that’s what did it?

Of course, I wish I knew then what I know now and had picked up a few extra copies of some records I saw lying around like imports from Sarah Records and the original KLF White Room UK import.

Although Cargo Records ended up going bankrupt in 1997  (for reasons too numerous to get into) they were a huge part of the music scene in Canada and the United States, bringing the latest sounds from Europe and Asia to eager ears in North America.

Below is a fun little playlist of some music that I would have originally bought at Cargo Records… I hope you enjoy!

Be sure to post in the comments if you have any similar memories or if you have any favourite music that most of your friends would think of as weird, LOL! Did you ever buy imported records or CDs? What were your favourites?

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