Amoeba Music: An analog oasis


The neon marquee outside of Amoeba serves as a beacon for the ecosystem that is the Sunset Strip. Photo credit: Michael Reza

Michael Reza and Bianca Martinez

On the corner of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood stands Amoeba Music, its red and orange neon signs acting as a beacon for those seeking nostalgic refuge in this world of digital streaming.

An Amoeba is described as a single-celled animal that is free-living or parasitic; this store possesses qualities that mimic that description.

It’s a space where everyone is welcome to express themselves freely however which way they so choose, without fear of judgment or castigation. That is made clear when you walk in and above the stage, it states, “Welcome all races, religions, genders, orientations and countries of origin.”

The place is an inclusive hub of art and pop-culture that encourages uniqueness.

Its atmosphere engulfs you as you walk in and out of aisles that are inundated with music and memorabilia, old and new. It’s a living and breathing organism that is nearly impossible to escape once inside its entrancing walls.

Since 1990, Amoeba Music, with two other locations in San Francisco and Berkeley, has established itself as the one stop shop for anything music and movie related.

Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood has been at its location since 2001. It is the largest of three stores and after all this time it is on the move. Though no location for the new store has been realized, Amoeba plans on sticking around the Sunset Boulevard area.

Store manager John Liu explains, “Well we used to own the building, but we don’t own the building anymore. The owner is planning to put in a hotel and some other things, so we’ll be here definitely a few more months, maybe through the summer.”

He explains that the relationship between new and old owners is not hostile.

The relocation has led the store to appeal to customers in other ways such as an endless selection of merchandise that cannot be downloaded or streamed off the internet.

Liu highlights the idea stating, “People have changed the way that they get their music and their movies– that’s kind of led us to diversify things that still tie into the culture, but you know, maybe that aren’t so easily digitized.”

In this ever-growing digital society, vinyl, cassettes, DVDs, VHS, CDs and books have taken a backseat in most retail stores due to streaming services, such as Spotify and Hulu, which has made media readily available.

Due to the convenience of these apps, there has been a decrease in demand for physical copies of album or film.

However, most patrons of Amoeba prefer what’s tangible over convenience.

Howard Clarke, who lives in Nevada, always finds himself at Amoeba when in LA.

Clarke regards the vinyl album in his hand, “I like something tangible to hold, so if it has lyrics, [I] take a look at the lyrics, look at some of the liner notes, the artwork, you know, the artist puts a lot of thought, a lot of times, into how they want their album to look, if you’re streaming it you kind of lose that.”

Tangible media is not the only reason that keeps people coming to Amoeba.

Selection and atmosphere are what has made Amoeba a staple in the LA community.

Liu states, “You can kind of come in here and do your thing and hopefully we’ll have something that appeals to all different tastes, demographics, ages or cultures.”

Amoeba’s demographic ranges from those who know how to use a record player as if it was second nature to those who have to retreat to YouTube for instruction.

From rare to obscure to mainstream, Amoeba carries it all. Whether folks are interested in b-movie exotica, garage rock or Britney Spears, Amoeba is the mainline for any music or movie junkie’s fix.

24-year-old LA local Elena Perez expresses why she visits the store on a frequent basis, “I thinks it’s pretty good, I mean it gives the community a selection, like a really good selection of new, old, classic, it’s a little bit of everything, so I think it’s a good place, everybody knows where it’s at, especially in LA, it’s hard to find a David Bowie CD at Target, so here is where you go.”

With the presence of hardcopy elements within the store, Amoeba acts as an ode to the past for some of the younger patrons.

Perez states, “I think it’s a novelty, it’s very nostalgic to come in here and get exposed to an older generation, but it’s new to the new [younger] generation, you actually have a good, grounded idea of where this music is coming from.

“I think that’s why people like it so much, you don’t find that on freakin’ Hulu or whatever the hell.”

Liu, who has been working at Amoeba for 17 years now, lends a hand to the inclusiveness of Amoeba by saying, “[It’s] definitely inclusive, kind of offering something to anybody and everybody.”

Liu also explained that the atmosphere that the staff attempts to present is a “general welcome-ness.”

To complement the vibes people can get from the store, the employees offer a myriad of niche store-related content.

Employee Howard Baker, a jack of all trades at Amoeba, has an affinity for an iconic piece of fashion in the music world. He is the conductor of the Instagram page titled The Red Flannel, which is a collage of patrons who wear red flannels in the store at any given day.

According to Baker, this is only one of the store’s many hidden gem activities. They have an event called Insider Tuesdays, where the staff gives inside tips about the store that people may not know about.

There’s “What’s in My Bag,” which is a series where various celebrities and tastemakers talk about what they bought that day. Also, “Record Store Day,” which allows employees to recommend things they are looking forward to in the future.

The legendary music store is more than just a place of commerce, it is a pulse in Los Angeles that provides sanctuary for its natives. It is a beacon for physical copy purists and lovers of the tangible and everything that is behind it.