In the village I grew up in, my friends and I got a couple traditions. One of them is, to camp for at least one night around May 1st. I like this tradition, because it means spending some time with my childhood friends, whom I don’t meet ever so often anymore. However, I always hated sleeping anywhere else but in a real bed. In fact, I usually go with them to the camping place - which is close by to our village - and then later sneak back to my home after the drinking and chatting and laughing is done, usually around the time when the sun is already rising again. Yeah, I’m that much of a chicken. A lover of warmth and electricity and showers and all the commodities you get used to ever so easily.
This year, on May 1st, I was camping again. Though it wasn’t on the meadows with my childhood friends, but on the streets of London with people I met for the first time just a couple of hours before. And instead of a sleeping bag and a tent, I had some cardboard and was wearing a second pair of trousers. But how did it come to this?
It all started in January, when the band CHVRCHES announced that they’d take part in this years Secret 7”. At that point in time, I had absolutely no clue what Secret 7” was (and chances are that neither have you). Well, in a nutshell, Secret 7” is an art exhibition paired with a record sale and a charity event. Seven musicians/bands each release one 7” single limited to 100 pressings. So if you do the math, that’s 700 7” singles. Now, each of these singles gets its own unique artwork, done by an artist. Everyone can submit their design, no matter if they’re already well known and famous or if it’s their very first submission. The Secret7 people pick the best submissions and put them on the shelves. And if all this wasn’t special enough so far, then take this: The musician and the artist who does the artwork must not be named on the artwork and are a secret until the moment you bought the 7” single. Hence the “Secret” in Secret 7”. So if you’re either collecting musician A or artist B, you’ll have to take your best guess which of the sleeves could be the right one for you.
For a record collector, like I am (occasionally), that is both a dream and nightmare. The dream is, that you can own a one-of-a-kind release of your favorite musician, which will further on grace your collection. The nightmare is, that you can say bye-bye to the illusion of ever fully completing your collection, as you’ll never manage to get all 100 different designs.
The record sleeves are presented at an exhibition for a couple of days and then sold for £50 on a first come, first serve basis, while all the profits go to a charity. This year, the charity was Amnesty International. And the sale was on May 2nd at 10 AM, which brings us back to my camping trip.
A Different Kind of Vacation
As you probably guessed by now, I’m collecting CHVRCHES vinyl and I couldn’t do anything but book a flight to London and be there for the sale. And as I still owed my parents a family vacation (the last one was about 10+ years ago), I just took them along for some sightseeing. Though my original plan wasn’t to camp there. I thought: Heck, how crazy can people be? If I just show up at maybe 4AM, I should be the first in the queue!
Well: wrong. It turned out that the first ones in the queue already started camping in front of the exhibition two nights in advance to the sale. So when I read this on twitter, skipped the sightseeing with my parents and panicky joined the queue around 20h in advance, I was #10 in line. Well, technically, I was the 9th one to arrive, though the first spot was drawn in a raffle where my name wasn’t picked.
Funny enough, the people I met in the queue already knew each other from the last Secret 7” events, where they also queued many, many hours before the sale, in order to be able to fetch their favorite pieces. Surprisingly for me, most of them weren’t interested in the musicians at all, but in the artists who did the artwork for the sleeves. Apparently, there were some very famous artists amongst the contributors and many hours were spent speculating which art piece could be by whom. And — more importantly — who of the rivals in the queue would be hunting for which pieces.
Me, I was just the noob who wanted CHVRCHES records, while these guys were serious art collectors on the hunt for a bargain. After all, £50 is a laughable amount of money for an original artwork of a famed artist. And their chances were much slimmer than mine. If I grabbed a record blindly, I’d still have a 1/7 chance to pick a CHVRCHES record. For them, it was 1/700 if they did it blindly. Though trust me: None of them went in blindly… Hours of research were spent. Maps were drawn and battle plans were laid. Alliances were forged on the edge between trust and mistrust. All eventualities were accounted for.
“Should I go upstairs or downstairs?”
“What’s the best route to the art piece I want the most?”
“Should I change the route if the person before me decides to take the same route?”
“Should I go for a save bet on a moderately famed artist or should I take a gamble that could result in getting a work of Sir Anish Kapoor?”
And the big unknown: “Who is the raffle winner? What motivates them and what pieces are they going for?”
It was truly fascinating to witness these discussions and inner struggles, which reminded me of game theory lectures and political thrillers. But back to the camping part!
It’s Getting Cold
So I showed up with a winter jacket, second pair of pants, second pair of socks, some gloves and a space blanket (like the ones you probably got in your car in case of an emergency). Others brought camping chairs, sleeping bags, air mattresses… There was even one couple who put up a tent on the sidewalk! The Secret7 and Sonos Studio folks brought us coffee and snacks outside and had a security guard out in the cold with us until around 1 AM. Aside from the rivalry concerning the different art pieces, there was camaraderie and solidarity in the queue. Wine, beer, and snacks were shared and around 10 PM we went on a collective scavenger hunt around the neighbourhood to find cardboard and styrofoam to keep us warm. By midnight, we had ourself so convincingly camouflaged, that pedestrians tossed us some coins, as they mistook us for homeless people.
It was cold during the night. Not as cold as the night before (I was told), though still cold. I got about 3 hours of sleep and was listening to music to pass the time in between. When I got up from my resting place at around 6 AM, the queue had grown considerably. The sun had risen, it became warmer and more lively, while still more people arrived. During the night, time was creeping slowly. In the morning, it started to fly. We tore down our little cardboard village, cleaned up around us and returned to the English national sport of queueing.
The raffle winner arrived around 9:15 AM to take his pole position. To everyones relief, he was neither particularly interested in the artists nor in one of the musicians. His motivation for buying a raffle ticket was to support the charity and to help his girlfriend to get some vinyl she liked. So that took one big uncertainty out of the equation.
Now it was about time to make the final decision on where to rush to when the doors opened. Even though I had a lot of choices to pick from, where I was fairly certain to score a CHVRCHES record, I still had my favorites, of course. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a reason to join the queue that early! Lucky for me, my two absolute favorites (Lucy Sparrow’s sewed sleeve and Timothy Winchester’s wink to the Power Puff Girls) were on the same floor and not too far apart. As it was only allowed to pick up to four pieces at a time before paying and getting back to the very end of the queue, I also added Stuart Tolley’s sculpture sleeve and Jamie McKelvie’s girl swimming in the ocean. Both amazing pieces of art, as well!
My adrenalin was pumping when the security started to count down before opening the entrance door. The first five treasure hunters rushed in. A short pause of about 5 seconds was enforced before the next wave of five was allowed to enter. Riding that second wave, I managed to score all four of my dream pieces and was the first one to pay. At that very moment, I was probably amongst the happiest people on the planet! And as it should turn out later, all four pieces were in fact CHVRCHES records! Pure bliss!
With the support of my parents, who had joined the queue around 9:20 AM, I managed to get 16 Secret 7” in total, 13 of which were CHVRCHES. 2 were John Lennon, and 1 turned out to be Jack Garratt. I had spent some time beforehand thinking about what to do with pieces that turned out to be something else. One of the options was selling them at a later point or trading them with someone else. Though now that I have them, I just fell in love with the artwork, so I can’t give them away anymore. And anyway: Who am I to complain about a one-of-a-kind John Lennon record?
Epilogue & Thanks
I was happy to see later that most of my new queue friends managed to score at least some of their favorites. The overall emotions were happiness and relief, eventually followed by fatigue, once the adrenaline wore off. So I carried my treasure (carefully!) to the hotel, got a shower and fell asleep exhaustedly with a smile on my face.
Thanks to the people from Secret7, Sonos Studio and Amnesty International for the great event and all the hard work that went into it! Thanks to the contributors for donating their awesome art to charity! Thanks to the people in the queue for support, kindness, and interesting chats about art and music! And last but not least: Thanks to my parents for sparing me of the sightseeing and even joining in on the queueing to fetch more CHVRCHES singles for me!