Cassettes stretch along the wall, accompanied by rows of records, demo tapes and 45s, all blanketed under the careful watch of a Sonic Youth Washing Machine sign dangling from the ceiling.
Similar to the aesthetics of a washing machine, the store is bright with white walls covered in hangings ranging from a Microphones poster to a Dinosaur Jr skateboard. The records, cassettes and CDS all hum with their own distinct droning washing cycle.
The sound of reggae music trickled along with the rain sliding down the windows that take up the majority of the storefront, a rusty brick face from the outside. Move further into the store and the sound of punk music with dribbling, storm-cloud vibes can be heard slithering from the back from a room lined with zines and stacks of boxes of merch waiting to be sorted through.
It’s here that the co-owners of Torn Light Records can be found, nestled into the unassuming street of Fairfield Avenue in Bellevue, KY.
“Would this be considered a meme,” Alex Ramirez asked, showing an edited photo he made of Dan Buckley; both are co-owners of Torn Light Records.
The handcrafted meme feels at home in a place whose roots are in the DIY, do-it-yourself, music scene.
The store itself, which has been in its current location since November, is centered around DIY and experimental music culture. For Buckley and Ramirez, Torn Light was made to be a local center for this community, a place where the underground and oddball could be accessible.
“Opening a store was to fulfill something we both wanted that we didn’t have around here,” Ramirez said, wearing a worn-out flannel and black hair tucked under a baseball cap. “Whether it’s a punk record or even just going to a record store and finding demo tapes by bands, you couldn’t just go do that. [Torn Light] creates a tangible space where bands come through town and drop off a demo tape.”
The store lives up to its premise; perusing through one can find records and cassettes tucked away in handcrafted packages, be it a burlap cover with a stamped cat or a record accompanied with lyrics and track names scrawled in the artist’s own handwriting.
Not only does the store carry demos and tapes from music within the experimental and DIY music scene, but it also houses smaller shows in order to give underground musicians a place where their music can be heard.
“We both grew up in DIY, so we’re still rooted in it. People that tour through, it’s starting to be known that we’re the store somebody can come to and we’ll take a couple copies of the demo. We’ll trade records. We want to support what gave us our base,”Buckley said, tapping the back of his cell phone as he talked, complete with a straight edge punk sticker.
Before the store, Ramirez was already selling records online. In November, it moved to its current store-front location from across the street, above a pretzel store in an attic-like location.
The move has made the store more tangible, and according to the duo, they’ve continued to be busier and busier.
The store, however, started with a nearly year-long road trip across the county, scouring through towns’ independent record stores.
“[Ramirez] was on tour and i was with them, we would go to a town and just look up a record store,” Buckley said. “We just saw all the things that we wanted to do, and wished we had. We thought we’d give it a shot.”
From there, they’ve gone from online to a full-fledged brick and mortar store.
With the Washing Machine sign dangling from the ceiling, the store’s presence is more than a run of the mill record store. It’s a center for a music and diy community to find support in their artistry, far beyond the reach of Greater Cincinnati, run by two people doing and sharing what they love to do.