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Kismet Records: From Artistic Vision to Music Community


The story of Kismet Records, from its inception as a potential art space to its current status as a unique record store in Dutchtown.

Tom, what was the inspiration behind the creation of Kismet Records, and how has your vision evolved since its inception in the Cherokee Neighborhood to its current location in The Wink Business Incubator in Dutchtown?

It’s interesting because the name Kismet Creative Center came out of our initial intent to make an art space on Iowa Ave—something very much in my partner Sonia’s wheelhouse after her many years of working at the City Museum. However, A-Pop, the only record store in the area, and a pretty cool one at that, was closing down at the same time as we were trying to open. I had opened a record store years before in Durango, CO. And after that, in Denver, I worked a couple more years in an established record store. I guess I’ve always had the dream of running my own shop. But Kismet Creative Center became a venue, an art-space, a community center. With our move to Dutchtown, we’ve pared down a lot. Our focus is primarily selling records. Also, the time in the incubator, as with anyone who becomes a member at The Wink, is limited. So we will have to move on. But that also means we get to do the dream again elsewhere, and maybe reincorporate some of the cool stuff we did before. The dream is, as it has always been, to acknowledge the power and importance of music. I think Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And I believe that.

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Kismet Records has a clear focus on more obscure and underground music genres like psychedelic reissues, shoegaze, and experimental releases. Could you expand on why you chose these specific genres and what you feel they add to the music culture in St. Louis?

Well, shoegaze music is blowing up and St. Louis is no stranger to the trend. Kismet has already done one St. Louis Shoegaze Series at The Annex venue around the corner of the shop, and we plan to do a couple more. Shoegaze and dreampop are genres of music that wrap one in a blanket of sound. They’re simultaneously loud and quiet. And, like psychedelic music, shoegaze can have a kind of narcotic or mind-altering effect on the listener.

Psychedelic music has so many subgenres—Acid folk, sunshine pop, and prog rock to name a few. When I’m listening to a psychedelic album, I’m looking for it to tick a few boxes. I’m not sure I can put into words what those boxes are. My first introduction to psych music came from a Pearls Before Swine album I bought when I was in college. Psych music is exploding, too. There are all kinds of neo-psych bands coming out and small press discoveries are being repressed all the time. I think psych music has a tendency to transport people to realms of …discovery, I suppose (there’s a theme here). I also believe there may be some elements of nostalgia that attract me. As far as local psych bands go, I think there’s tons of room for more.

My experimental music story is this: I got introduced to experimental music when I discovered a band called Iceburn on Revelation Records, a label whose main focus was on hardcore music (what I was listening to at the time). It blew my mind. Flash forward a few years, I’m in college going to the local record store in my city and find this very random bin of records titled, “Experimental, Avant-Garde and Modern Composers”. From that point forward, every time I went to that record store, I would buy whatever was on my list, and, before I left, I would grab something, anything, from the experimental bin. This was how I approached music then and how I approach it today. I take a risk. Experimental music is very easy to take a risk with. I love experimental music because it challenges me and gives me a chance to hear sounds that go beyond what most people would describe as music. I think St. Louis has a thriving experimental scene right now and certainly did back when Kismet was on Iowa Ave. New Music Circle is something going on in St. Louis that most other cities in the world ought to be jealous of.

With a mix of obscure music selections, art gallery features, and event hosting, what makes Kismet Records a unique destination for music lovers compared to other record stores?

We focus entirely on independent artists and bands. There is so much good, new (or reissued) stuff coming through to be excited about. Our attitude is to be adventurous in our selection. We don’t need to know a band to like them or bring them into the shop. We probably take more risks than other record stores in that way.

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Reflecting on your history as both a venue and a record store, what types of events have proven most successful or memorable for Kismet Records, and do you have any upcoming events that patrons should look forward to?

You know, the weirdest ones were the most memorable. We had one where a guy stripped naked while he read a poem then played a 20-minute drum solo. There were ones where the artist would scream in people’s faces. One woman rolled around naked in black and white paint and another time she wrestled with a ladder. There was a travelling game show. We had an independent filmmaker debut a couple of his films. There was a trumpeter that played environmental sounds often very quietly for long periods. The Lo-Fi Cherokee shows were pretty profound. I remember having a lot of fun watching the new episodes of Twin Peaks on a small movie screen on Iowa Ave. I could go on.

The only shows we’ve got for sure are for Record Store Day— Deaddigital, Inc, Drew Gowran / Dave Stone Duo and Blue Herring. Currently working on St. Louis Shoegaze Series 2. The sky's the limit, but we’re very much only at the beginning stage of what we hope we can do.

With the option for international shipping, it seems Kismet Records aims to reach a global audience. How has this service impacted your business, and what challenges and rewards have come from catering to international clients?

It’s definitely inspirational. Sonia and I joke about travelling and keeping an eye out for the Kismet stickers we include in all of our shipments.

For those interested in selling their record collections to Kismet Records, what genres or types of records are you most interested in acquiring, and what conditions or criteria do you consider when evaluating a collection?

I am open to anything. I don’t care if I don’t like it. Everyone’s got their gig and that’s cool with me. That said, obscure psych albums and modern indie anything would be cool.

I like my records to at least be in very good condition. I won’t turn away yacht rock, either, lol.