If you were to line up all of the world’s musical trends and groups, whether that be Punk, Dubstep or some obscure Malaysian sky-jazz, and then match them with their most common criticisms, no subculture would come out with more right to a victim complex than the vinyl geek.
They’re a derided few. Looked at quizzically by older generations for embracing a format most of them didn’t even listen to and accused of sonic snobbery by the rest of us normal bastards. Who, if you’re wondering, are just fine listening to our iTunes library (smuggled straight off Pirate Bay) out of our MacBook Air speakers, cheers.
But despite the derision by normal folk (if there is such a thing), their numbers are expanding at an alarming rate. Vinyl sales in the UK last year were the highest they were for 15 years. In the US, things look even more dramatic with sales increasing a whopping 32% from 2012, an increase of 1.5 million units in just 12 months. An astonishing achievement for a culture that only a few years ago existed almost solely in charity shop corners and on the shelves of a small group of middle aged men.
Today things are quite the opposite, being in possession of a 12″ or two can be quite the look. But the return of these strange, jet black discs is indicative of more than just a healthy fashion cycle doing it’s usual turn. Vinyl records to record collectors are more than what boomboxes and cassette tapes were to scene kids: an accessory. Vinyl serves it’s master both as a utility, an experience and an expression of values.
With Vinyl you can once again have your real record collection back (and I mean physical real not ‘I’m not imagining this’ real). Your sonic love interests, frenemies and fucking arch rivals — that you keep for the cool sleeve — are all cataloged, there, ready to be recalled upon come what may. You’re not going to lose them when a computer virus decides to shit on your day, nor will iTunes ever have the power to suddenly go psycho and dump it’s inability to keep a library of songs onto your already big pile of problems. Fact is, bar you getting flooded/fired/bombed/a lot of other things, your music collection isn’t going anywhere.
And for Vinyl geeks, the arrival of their beloved format back onto the scene means the simultaneous return of listening to albums ‘how they should be listened to’. As much as the general populous throws shit at musicians and popstars alike, most of us wouldn’t enter a studio and emerge with a good sounding record (by anyone’s standards) no matter how much time we had. Creating the sounds we love is a talent, and it’s a talent that takes a lot of time to put into practice. Yes, that includes the non-single “filler” tracks, most of which you’ll forget a week after release. With vinyl you go start to finish baby, no messing around you’re gonna hear the whole thing. The musician(s) probably spent months (sometimes years) making this thing, would it be too big an ask to listen to it like it?
Finally, like I said, buying vinyl and being a vinyl collector is an expression of values. In the digital age, it says ‘Actually, you know what? I value music as a commodity, I don’t see it as a right’. Last year, Daft Punk achieved the best selling vinyl album of 2013 with Random Access Memories, you know what that means? I know, some crazy cats somewhere actually paid money (a lot of money, $33.96 according to Amazon) for an album. On top of that, to play it on a machine that might’ve cost $100 or more. These crazies haven’t (by and large) ditched their iPods by the way, more often than not they’re using their Apple gadgets more than you do; popping in an earphone whenever life lends a spare moment. The vinyl is for home use and — like I said before — the experience.
Consider this knowing that millions upon millions are spent on some albums, and you’ve probably paid nothing for the privilege of listening — or something close — for the best part of a decade. Admittedly, some of those millions are spent for absolutely no fathomable reason. Someone should’ve told Lady Gaga I could’ve made ARTPOP for a fiver, but hey ho. Recording an album isn’t just a piss up with spongy walls, it’s one part of a job that gives the general public the right to throw piss at you for pouring your heart out on tape, and that’s if it goes well.
I’ve written about the not-so-good parts of the music industry a fair bit: here, here, here and here to point some out. But as much as I decry the lack of actual cash being handed over per listen, I don’t pay for the vast majority of music I listen to. I just couldn’t afford to. But neither can sound geeks and vinyl collectors, their demographic isn’t one that is particularly financially well endowed. It doesn’t stop them though. Their patronage of their favorite artists is driven by a need, I think, to own a part of their heroes. Not in a creepy steal-your-bowel-movements kind of way, but in the sense that buying vinyl is a small nod to an artists work in an age where other heads are comparatively still.
On another small note, a little birdie informs me that listening to the vinyl version of a record offers a sound of significantly better quality, clarity and viscosity or whatever. Writing about that wouldn’t be as interesting though.