A 40th birthday blowout for the Electric Fetus


Even among the many storied independent record stories in the Twin Cities—Treehouse, Eclipse, Roadrunner, Hymie’s, Fifth Element—the Electric Fetus, which turns 40 this week, stands out. From its 1968 founding on the West Bank through its 1972 move to 4th and Franklin to the present, the Fetus has cemented its place as one of the best music stores not only locally, but nationally.

For information about the Electric Fetus anniversary celebration, including a complete schedule of in-store performances, see electricfetus.com.

On Friday, which has been declared “Electric Fetus Day” by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, the Fetus takes over First Avenue. In the Mainroom will be Tony Glover and V3, The New Standards, Polara, and fan favorites the Hypstrz and Doomtree. In the Entry will be A Night in the Box, Jon Rodine, Moon Maan, and The Electric Fetus All Stars—a collection of Fetus employee/musicians coming together for a one-night-only performance.

Numerous in-store performances will take place during the week: Haley Bonar, Roma Di Luna, Charlie Parr, the Teddy Bear Band, Donald Washington, and the James Buckley Trio. Tuesday night featured a special private performance by Brother Ali and Atmosphere—their last local performance before shipping off to Europe for their “Three the Hard Way” tour. Lasting more than 75 minutes, it was the longest Fetus in-store performance in recent memory, and the crowd of over 400 loved every minute of it.

Slug’s tenure at the Fetus is well-known. Slug, of Atmosphere, even name-drops the store on the song “I Wish Those Cats @ Fobia Would Give me Some Free Shoes” (from the final Headshots compilation). As he launched into “Scapegoat,” the song that first broke Atmosphere onto the national underground scene in 1997, he laughed and said “when I wrote this song, I was working behind that counter.”

Most current and former employees, as well as dedicated patrons, have similar stories culled from hours spent at the Fetus. When I asked Bob Fuchs, who started in the music department more than 20 years ago and is now the store’s manager, what the Electric Fetus means to the Twin Cities community, he shrugged and said, “that’s going through my head a lot lately. What I hope it means is that it serves as a community center for people of a like mind who are interested in the whole concept of music as art and supporting musicians.”

Performing at the Electric Fetus, l-r: Ant (of Atmosphere), Brother Ali, Slug (of Atmosphere)

Long-time employee Paul Doherty told me that he “likes the feel of the store,” while fellow employee Kailyn Spencer says that it’s the store’s integrity that makes it stand out. “It’s really personable, everybody here knows each other. It’s a big family that extends beyond the people who work here.” Illustrating Spencer’s point, her own father started working at the Fetus this week.

The origins of the store’s name are murky. Fuchs related a string of responses given to him by store owner Keith Covart over the years. “We wanted something crazy, it was the 60s, we were a bunch of hippies on the West Bank, we wanted something for shock value, we were all into Dylan at the time, his band was going electric; we wanted something completely shocking.” The only firm answer the owner gives, however, is both coy and revealing: “If you were around in the 60s, you’d understand.”

Now serving a new generation of customers, the Fetus faces challenges from sweeping changes brought about by file-sharing and digital distribution, as well as from an economy that seems to worsen with each passing day. Yet for Fuchs, his employees, and his loyal customers, there will always be something special about a record store like the Fetus. Places like the Electric Fetus “can offer a service that you can’t get online,” says Fuchs. “The deep knowledge and the helpfulness and the catalog and the whole experience.”

“All the things that happen on a day-to-day basis in the store,” he continued, “just kind of blow me away. Music is a common denominator…it’s so broad that it just brings in such a diverse clientele here. I would hate to see that go away.”

Justin Schell is a freelance writer and a grad student at the University of Minnesota’s Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society program. He’s working on a dissertation on Twin Cities immigrant and diasporic hip-hop and plays the washboard tie with The Gated Community.

Also in the Daily Planet, read Justin Schell on Atmosphere and an interview with Slug.