TOTAL DRAG: Saving Humanity One Record at a Time

Words by Sonja O’Steen

Photos by Brooke Hamilton-Nichols

To some, vinyl is the essence of life. The gritty sound. The rare finds. Digging through crates of records looking for the ones you don’t have, but desperately need in your life. And being extra excited if you find that special one in the dollar bin at your favorite indie store.

Starting as a very tiny record store, with maybe a thousand records, Total Drag has become central to the Sioux Falls indie music scene. 

Dan and Liz Nissen started Total Drag in 2014. Not only did they start a record store, but a venue for indie bands. In their first five years, they hosted 500 shows, doing three shows a week with local bands as well as with touring bands passing through on their way to their next big venue.

Dan and Liz Nissen own Total Drag, a record store in downtown Sioux Falls. Photo by Brooke Hamilton-Nichols.

Many local musicians have said that the Nissens are responsible for bringing indie music back to downtown Sioux Falls.

“It feels great,” Liz said with a laugh. “It feels like a lot of pressure sometimes.”

“We just wanted to bring great bands to town,” Dan said. “We really just wanted a place for all ages. At that time, if you weren’t 21, there wasn’t a lot being brought to town. Even if you were 21, the bands being brought to town just really weren’t our thing.”

“There’s no quicker way to kill an indie or punk scene than to not have an all ages venue,” Liz said. “The 14-year-olds are the ones that are going to breathe new life into it.”

Dan runs the day-to-day of the store, finding vinyl in a myriad of ways – from estate sales to people tracking him down to sell. And the store pays well for hard to find vinyl, which, when they first opened, wasn’t really being done. And opening Total Drag when they did was all about fate.

“The [record] scene was growing in pockets at that point, but I don’t think either of us expected it to do what it’s done,” Liz said. “It was really good timing on our part. Thanks Universe!”

The pair started participating in Record Store Day during their first year in business. While they missed the traditional Record Store Day in April that year since they opened in May, they did their own on Black Friday 2014.

“We definitely weren’t expecting it to grow like it has,” Dan said. “This year I definitely ordered more than I have before.”

And the people show up in droves. Typically, when the store opens at 8 a.m. on Record Store Day, the line of customers is around the corner, some people even camping out overnight to get their hands on special releases.

“It’s more chill than a typical Black Friday, for sure,” Dan said. “Some people even help others in line find the albums they want.”

“They make friends while they’re waiting,” Liz said. “It’s camaraderie. They take turns going to the gas station and look out for each other.”

Plus if you show up early, Liz and Dan provide donuts and coffee to those waiting in line.

“We chat with them and it’s just a really chill Saturday morning,” Liz said.

While Record Store Day is a global event, only indie stores that are Record Store Day-approved are eligible. Stores have to sign a pledge to receive these very rare, very sought after special releases and limited reissues for the event.

Photo by Brooke Hamilton-Nichols.

Though they don’t do three shows a week anymore, you can still catch a couple of shows a month at the store like their upcoming TENCI with Eli Show on April 26 and Acid Mothers Temple on May 3. But while they are hosting fewer shows, other venues in town, like Full Circle Book Co-op, Club David and ICON Lounge/Dada Gastropub, are doing more indie shows.

“If we can’t do it, we always refer them elsewhere,” Dan said.

“We’ve put in our time of doing way too many shows,” Liz said. “It’s time to let other people have them. We just want to save humanity one record at a time.”

Be sure to check out Record Store Day 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, April 22, at Total Drag.

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