Out of Tune

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So you’ve just been paid. Or, you’ve elected to dip into your overdraft, aka Mum and Dad, so you can buy the brilliant new Tame Impala album. (Yes, I’m shamelessly plugging here. Sue me.) Having successfully avoided the manifestations of evil incarnate that are River Island and Superdry and bypassed the latest apocalyptically appalling Two Door Cinema Club and Adele releases, you arrive, bruised and weary, at the Rock & Pop section of your local HMV. Wincing at the price but undeterred nonetheless, you walk to the counter, anticipation building at the prospect of feasting upon the psychedelic voyage in your hand. However, you are then overcome with horror at the sight of some Mark Corrigan impersonator behind the till, smiling greasily and offering you various lending products with your purchase. You leave, bewildered, and enter into a period of self-imposed exile. It’s a dystopian nightmare forged in the darkest recesses of marketing departments.

HMV are in a state of terminal decline. It had a disastrous 2011; forty HMV branches were closed down due to ever decreasing sales and in a bid to raise money in the face of mounting debts, the Waterstones arm of the group was sold to Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut. Now, following the immaculate example of the Metropolitan Police, bosses are ordering staff to cover up their tattoos, as well as polish their shoes and tame unruly hairstyles. The hope is to encourage “more diversity of customers”, according to marketing manager Mark Hodgkinson. It’s a far cry from when I used to work in HMV three years ago, when personal hygiene was regarded as taboo.

The decision has to go down as a terrible move that will only serve to damage the company further. Opponents of the move, myself included, have asserted the ragged look of HMV staff compliments the relaxed environment of the business. In the incredibly image conscious world we live in, there’s something comforting about walking into HMV and seeing employees adopting a style which contradicts the soulless ensembles of other retailers. Chances are, they will know about the obscure bands you like that stop you from becoming a fully functioning member of society. Admittedly, some of the trendies working in HMV know little about music and got the job purely based on image. Nevertheless, it would be distressing to see them replaced by slick investment banker drones whose idea of entertainment is reading a copy of The Economist with a J2O, and who can’t tell Jack White from Jack Johnson. I know I enjoy being served by someone that looks like they’ve escaped from the reptile enclosure at London Zoo. However, the worryingly stale makeover bosses seem keen on reminds me of when a band changes musical direction for the worse and haemorrhages fans; see Muse’s contemptuous new dubstep riddled atrocity of an album for example.

HMV is being slaughtered on the cost, choice and convenience fronts by online retailers like Amazon. For years, people have been downloading music and watching films online, legally and illegally, and the £16.2 million annual loss announced in August personifies the damage done to the company. The cost of new releases and games have soared as a result. Independent record stores, despite seeing a rise in their numbers in 2010, have suffered greatly due to the online revolution, with 90 per cent of them closing in the last 25 years.

The idea that outlawing scruffiness will rejuvenate the company’s revenue and attract a ‘better class’ of consumer is ridiculous. Are a dirty pair of Converse the cause of HMV’s miserable financial situation? No. Why not ban the use of colloquial language and sack those who bite their nails while they’re at it? Bosses are creating a new problem for themselves. The decision will demoralise staff and put off potential candidates from applying, worried they’ll be stifled by the baffling restrictions.

If anything, this whole episode proves how obsessed with image we are. I would personally love it if a tattoo adorned metal head presented the BBC News at Ten. But this ludicrous act of self harm will only see HMV’s plight worsn, and lose the remainder of young people who shop there. The death knell has been sounded.

By Rudi Abdallah

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