Local Gems: Utopia Records
Whether you're a resident of Sydney, or are merely visiting, if you're a metal fan you should be very familiar with Utopia Records, the home of metal. A staple for any music fan, it caters for a huge range with an impressive selection of vinyl, CDs, merch, DVDs, signed collectables, and books, ensuring anyone who has walked though the doors for the last 39 years will be sure to find a treasure or two. Playing host to a myriad of international and local musicians, the shop has also been a haven for musical heavyweights to meet and greet fans for years. In short, Utopia Records is an institution - the beating heart of the Sydney metal scene.
We had a chat to Paul Murphy, who runs the show, who gave us an insight into the history of the store, some of the best moments he's experienced in his time working there, and the stores frequent run-ins with naysayers.
How did Utopia get started from humble beginnings almost 40 years ago to where it is now?
Utopia Records was originally started in 1978 by two keen music fans John and Richard in a TINY store in the Challis Arcade just off Martin Place near the Sydney Cenotaph. In 1980 we moved across the arcade to a slightly larger TINY store and that's when things really took off. After a couple of years John bought Richard out and he remained the owner of the store until about 8 years ago when the current owners Garry and Sue took over and basically saved the store from extinction. Over the years as the popularity of all forms of METAL and PUNK skyrocketed we moved to larger and larger locations. The decline in physical sales and the rise of downloading over the last 15 years has lead us to our current medium sized store which is packed to the rafters with killer stuff.
How long have you been at Utopia for and how did that come about?
I was a UTOPIA kid, in fact, I was one of the very first UTOPIA kids, Richard told me the first time I walked in with my older brother he thought I must have been lost until I started asking him about Van Halen and UFO. Remember, this was before the NWOBHM even started so the customers then were overall older guys into Uriah Heep and Deep Purple. As soon as my mates and I were allowed to leave the suburbs on our own we were at the store at about 9.10 am every second Saturday morning. I started working at Utopia in 1995, I left for a bunch of years and then made my TRIUMPHANT RETURN in 2012. I guess I have managed the store for about 10 of it's 39 years.
Who's the biggest name or group in metal that you've had the pleasure of seeing in your store?
Oh my God where do I start? Gene Simmons? Carlos Santana? Slayer? Deep Purple? Billy Joe Armstrong? Ghost? Deftones? Machine Head? Joe Satriani? Alice In Chains? Suicidal Tendencies? Sebastian Bach? Glenn Hughes? James Hetfield? Steve Harris? Blackie Lawless? Yngwie Malmsteen? Zakk Wylde? Devin Townsend? Opeth? Anthrax?, Ministry? Napalm Death? Amity Affliction? Frenzal Rhomb? Parkway Drive? HIM? Chris Jericho? Cradle Of Filth? Behemoth? Escape The Fate? You Me At Six? Frank Iero? Paradise Lost? Cathedral? Lamb Of God? Testament? Black Label Society? Mudvayne? Pantera? The Descendants? Fear Factory? Exodus? Cannibal Corpse? Falling In Reverse? Fall Out Boy? Megadeth? It's easier to think of who hasn't been here in all honesty. Even the fucking DUNE RATS have graced us with their presence.
What's your fondest memory working at Utopia that you can recall?
So many amazing things have happened... Standing in the middle of the store talking to 3 members of GHOST and some kids coming up asking if I knew where GHOST was staying comes to mind. A kid telling me that I changed his life with my amazing music and me having to calm him down to tell him that I wasn't actually in Slayer but was just standing next to them to make sure no one did anything stupid. The guy who used to get every band to sign his artificial leg back in the 1990's was another winner, I cannot remember the actual show but I remember seeing his leg being hoisted high above the pit one night at the Metro. One of my all time favourite moments was when I was explaining the Melvins solo albums to some bewildered KISS fans and I look up and all three members of the Melvins were standing in front of me. My very fondest memory of all would be the AMAZING people I have had the pleasure of working with, serving or being served by along the way.
In the last decade, has the demand for band merch and collectibles increased or taken a decline?
Well that's an interesting one as we are so often cheaper than going to the band's own site and those postage charges now are just RIDICULOUS out of America and Europe so we are currently doing great business with merch.
What do you think makes Utopia such a landmark store for metalheads to come and visit?
Well Metal is a universe built on artistic creativity, passion and opinion I guess, so we kind of tick all those boxes for many people in many ways. We really have noticed in the last five years that we have become a world store not just a Sydney store. People come from all over the planet to see the store, kids from Nepal walk into the store for the first time with tears in their eyes, they have heard about Utopia their whole lives and finally getting here is a big moment for them. I love it, I see the unyielding passion for Heavy music in their eyes and it takes me back to being the 15 year old I once was who basically used to run to the store from Wynyard train station to see what new stuff had arrived.
What do you see for the future of Utopia? Are there any special events or appearances that people can look forward to?
We basically want the store to continue forever and so far we are having a pretty decent go at it. As long as people want us here we will be here. As you know yourself the days of the free (or next to free) instores are becoming a rarity rather than a regularity with the day of the Super Mega Deluxe VIP Backstage Experience age upon us but we still have some tricks up our sleeves. We do have something AMAZING hopefully coming up in September but in all honesty it hasn't been confirmed yet so no use blabbing about it now.
What 3 items or 3 bands (past and present) would you say that you sell the most of at Utopia?
Oh wow, that's kind of a hard question spread over 39 years but I can tell you that certain benchmark albums have been selling solidly here since the day of release. Iron Maiden - Number Of The Beast, Metallica - Ride The Lightning and Slayer - Reign In Blood all come to mind as albums we NEVER stop selling.
What has made Utopia stand the test of time with some many other music stores closing down across the country?
Well we got in pretty early just as music was becoming a major concern in most young people's lives and have just never given up. We have had some major hurdles to jump over the years but we are still here. As I said earlier when the current owners Garry and Sue came along they 100% saved the store from a certain death. Not a day goes past that I don't thank them in my head at least once.
What are your thoughts on the current state of metal music in Australia?
The scene seems to be very fragmented in some way but then again there are some pretty huge bands within our ranks, Karnivool, Psycroptic, Thy Art Is Murder, Portal, White Widdow, Airbourne, Voyager, King Parrot, Ne Obliviscaris, Gypsy, Sleep Makes Waves, Northlane, Radio Sun, Elm Street, Aversions Crown, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and a ton of others are totally kicking arse all over the planet.
Have you ever had any righteous anti-metal people come into your store and tell you that you're all going to hell and to turn the music down?
Oh, all the time. It's AWESOME! They leave flyers at the top of the stairs saying stuff like "Only God can save us". Until they work out who the one true God is and everyone agrees we are gonna sit on the fence and sell all the hell-fueled Satan rock we can to corrupt the children of earth into a bottomless sea of utter hatred and depravity. Funny thing is if all these Godbotherers actually came into the store they would find all sorts of Jesus approved Christian Metal, Christian Punk, Chrisso Hardcore and even Hare Krishna rockers like Shelter.
Last but not least, do you have any words for all of your loyal customers and those that support Utopia and Aussie heavy metal fans in general?
Thanks to everyone who graces us with their presence whether in person or over the phone or on the world wide websternets. The customers both legit normal and absolutely bat shit crazy have always been the lifeblood of Utopia and that will never change. The stories I could tell...
You can visit Utopia Records yourself in person at Lower Ground Floor, 511 Kent Street (entrance on Bathurst St), Sydney, Australia or online at https://www.utopia.com.au/.
Find them on social media