It had the motto “The Home Of Heavy Metal” and for a long time it was my home.
I first visited the store when it was located in Martin Place, Sydney. It was basically a tiny hole in a wall. Actually the first location in Martin Place was from 1978 to 1980 and the second location in Martin Place was from 1980 to 1990. The second place is the one that I remember.
As mentioned it was tiny, but packed with metal and rock vinyl from every band I could ever imagine and more.
I’d never seen pictured vinyl before, well Utopia had them. I’d never seen 12 inch singles of metal bands before, well Utopia had them as well. And those yellow and black plastic bags with the logo and branding proved to be a badge of honor. It’s like we got patched in to the club the same way bike gangs patch in their members.
I remember the stories about the owner, how he couldn’t get a job at other Sydney record stores and he borrowed some money from his Dad, imported some boxes of vinyl, got himself a business partner and the rest is history.
Then from 1990 to 1995, they moved to Clarence Street, Sydney, not too far from the original shop. Instead of getting off at Martin Place, I would get off at Wynard.
It was bigger but below street level. Actually you walked in at street level and proceeded to go down a few flights of stairs. If I didn’t go up to visit, I ordered via mail. Lynch Mob’s “Wicked Sensation” on LP and Don Dokken’s “Up From The Ashes” on CD are two purchases i distinctly remember via mail.
I waited in line for a Sepultura meet and greet because my cousin Mega was a fan of the band. He took in his battered snare skin for signing. Even Igor the Sepultura drummer was impressed at the brutality of the snare skin.
Hours would be spent here and some big decisions would be made as to what to buy between my cousin and I. Then as soon as we got back to my cousins house I would dub the records he purchased and he would dub the records I purchased.
From 1995 to 2001, they moved to George Street, Sydney next to Hungry Jacks and then from 2001 to 2006 they moved across the road under the cinemas. For these stores I would get off at Town Hall.
Again, another step up in size and a lot of my money went Utopias way.
Between 2001 and 2003 I was working as an Insurance Broker in Sydney, about a 10 minute walk from the George Street store and I got a few of my band mates and some metal friends jobs with the same company.
Even though we had corporate haircuts and wore three piece suits, you couldn’t take the metal out of us metalheads. Twice a week we would venture into the store and of course we would get some funny looks like what the fuck are these guys doing here. But we always purchased something. After about a month it was the norm to be seen there in a suit.
But for some of the stuff I was after, the prices did border on the ridiculous. I remember the John Sykes solo albums listed as Japanese Imports and they had $50 on them. I already had downloaded them via Napster but wanted the originals. I got em eventually via Amazon in 2010.
And for the music I was seeking, the second hand shops, the record fairs and other smaller independent shops started to prove better value. Because the bigger Utopia got, the uniqueness culture it cultivated got lost.
Eventually online and especially Amazon proved to be the place to go and purchase what I needed. That was until Amazon closed their US site recently to us Aussies because they didn’t want to charge GST and the Aussie Amazon site is a total waste of space.
The last time I walked into Utopia was at an address on Broadway in Sydney. I actually drove to this store and parked at The Broadway Shopping Centre.
They occupied this store between 2006 to 2010. By then I felt it was a shadow of itself. Peer to peer downloading was at full swing. I still purchased some albums because that’s what I do but it felt weird being there. It felt barren and totally void of the culture that made Utopia popular.
But during this time they did things differently by having live bands in store and battle of the bands contests. They kept it going. They kept the name in the conversation.
From 2010, they have been at their Kent Street address and I haven’t been.
I either purchase from the bands directly these days those super deluxe box sets or I stream. And on Record Store Day, there is a shop locally called Music Farmers that stock the releases I’m always after.
But I will return, because that’s what us Metal fans do.