After eight years of hocking records on the streets of Kensington, this music-scene fixture has opened a proper shop to sell off his massive collection at reasonable prices.
Derek Madison, better known by his moniker Grasshopper, is an instantly recognizable fixture of the Toronto music scene, with his signature mop of dreads making him a standout at many shows—both on-stage and off stage—over the past 20-odd years.
Madison is also a notorious record collector—“I have like 14,000 records,” he says—so one might think that owning a record shop has been a longstanding dream of his. That’s not, in fact, the case—it’s a vocation that he fell into by chance one afternoon in Kensington Market. “I found a crate on the street and it had a bunch of Smiths and New Order and mid-’80s stuff,” says Madison. “[My friend] Carl [Didur] was having a garage sale, so I just said ‘three LPs for $10′ and they sold in two hours. I was just like, ‘I should bring out my doubles, I can do this.’”
Selling records on the street in Kensington soon turned into a full-time gig. “I’d been selling in the market for eight years and I was like ‘I want a roof … I don’t want to feel like a bum on the street,’” says Madison. After spending almost a year looking for the right space, one popped up right out his front door at 1167 Dundas St. W., and he quickly went about opening Grasshopper Records. “I live above the [Communist's Daughter], I work at the Dakota and I DJ at Redlight,” he says. “The first day they put up a ‘for rent’ sign I just called in, and I think everybody else was trying to put a bar here and [the landlords] didn’t want a bar, so I just kind of snuck in.”
Finding a permanent location has been a boon for Madison. “I don’t have weirdos yelling at me and cops checking me out or anything like that, so it’s a real relief,” he says. “And I like that I don’t have to check the weather to see if I can flip records, or carry everything up and down stairs. I did it for eight years; I did my tour of duty.”
The vinyl for sale at the shop (all used at this point, though Madison has plans to bring in a limited selection of new releases) covers a wide range—Rihanna and N.W.A. share shelf space with Stockhausen and Can—reflective of Madison’s well-honed and far-reaching taste. “I’m only buying records that I like. I’m not trying to have a bunch of junk in here, so I think that’s kind of helping when people are digging through—they’re not looking through a bunch of Wishbone Ash albums,” he says. “I can talk about any album that you’re picking out. I’m trying to keep it like that—I’m not an Elvis fan, so I don’t have any Elvis.”
But that doesn’t mean Madison is eschewing a certain record-store staple: “I love dollar bins,” he says. “I think dollar bins are important—I always hit the dollar bins first in stores.” And, generally, the pricing is reasonable. “I’m trying to keep my prices real down. Anything that’s on eBay, it’s definitely cheaper here,” says Madison.
Reasonable pricing, however, isn’t the same as bargain-bin pricing—Madison knows what his stock is worth and the more collectible items reflect that. “[An original vinyl copy of Sonic Youth's] Daydream Nation may not be worth $60 to everybody, but it’s a fucking solid record,” he says, “Good luck finding one [cheaper].”
Grasshopper Records was also opened with the intention of hosting events. With North by Northeast coming up next week, Madison has the store booked solid with bands, such as New York power-rockers The Men, who play Thursday (June 14) at 3 p.m. ”I have liquor licenses for each of the days,” he says, “so I’m having daytime and nighttime shows.”