Does buying good old-fashioned records make you a hipster fool? Of course not, says Liz Buckley, but calling them ‘vinyls’ does.
I’ve noticed there’s a slight stigma attached to vinyl at the moment. People have criticised it as a hipster trend or those who collect it for being too purist. Personally, I find this attitude completely bewildering: we’re only talking about LPs here, not bloody wax cylinders.
I grew up buying music on vinyl; it’s from my own lifetime, not some archaeological dig (don’t you dare say it), and I can assure you there was absolutely nothing elitist about a Madonna 7″ bought for pennies in Woolworth’s alongside a small bag of flying saucer pick ‘n’ mix.
So, to my mind, dismissing vinyl as an option is much like saying it’s the ‘wrong’ choice to watch, say, Game of Thrones on an actual fixed television set rather than streamed on a laptop.
The computer tech may be the more modern and convenient invention, it may have many added and improved features, but the bigger, clunkier Samsung in the corner propped up on an unused VCR will just always be my preference. Like the old fashioned (yet somehow simultaneously trendy) television-watching bastard I am.
There is, of course, a whole new, younger generation of record collectors who, by legacy of birth, grew up during the 10 or so years when vinyl had largely ceased to be manufactured; a seemingly outmoded format along with the cassette tape and the shortlived and slightly ridiculous minidisc (I’m sure the only thing I ever saw on minidisc was Eagle Eye Cherry).
Pedlar of ill-advised fashionwear and Christmas bullshit Urban Outfitters is aiming at this very generation and, as such, is (somewhat astonishingly) the current biggest seller of vinyl worldwide, beating both HMV and Amazon in their own marketplace.
UO report that many of its buyers are doing so to frame the unopened LP on the wall, or strategically place it on a coffee table, with some of those punters not even having a suitcased beatnik-style record player to spin it on… Of course, this may be where the accusations of being an annoying vinyl-buying prick come from, I grant you.
A student from Manchester, Jordan Katende, recently told the BBC, “I have vinyls in my room but it’s more for decor, I don’t actually play them”… Jordan Katende, I thought to myself, is the worst person on earth.
The BBC confirmed alongside this awful statement that a whopping 48 per cent of people who bought vinyl in that given month had yet to play it, and yes, an amazing 7 per cent of those didn’t have anything to play it on even if they wanted to. I don’t know what the subset percentage of those people might be who also pluralise the word to ‘vinyls’ but any percentage on that is too high.
Personally, while my gut reaction was to find this trend highly upsetting (any true music fan wants those neglected records to be heard), as someone who works in music I also found myself thinking, whatever that 48 per cent do with those purchases behind closed doors is actually fine. It’s more than fine – it’s helping to keep music going.
And perhaps there’s nothing wrong with having a collection you don’t use. People who collect stamps tend not to post them. Then they’d have no collection left, idiot. And if I’m honest with myself, I have plenty of albums I’ve bought that still have the cellophane on; which isn’t a conscious choice but more a sign of how many records I accumulate and how easily distracted I am. The action of forgetting them isn’t intentional but the end result of ignoring them is the same. So I’m a bastard too. Throwing stones at my own face in a stupid glass house. *Ouch*
Much of modern culture is about accumulation, of course. The acquirement of wealth, of possessions, of status. Perhaps then if you apply that to hobbies, it stands to reason that people are now buying vinyl again: the need to own a gorgeous-looking artefact is always going to win out in the mind of a collector over a boastful selection of sound files.
Where’s the thrill in having a tidy digital folder of identical-looking WAVs, which can be organised instantaneously by genre, first letter, era and more, all in a heartbeat? The joy of painstakingly rearranging your collection over the course of a rainy bank holiday is destroyed by the ease of technology.
As an album compiler, I can seethe at length over how the art of a skilfully sequenced album is ruined by the iPod shuffle. The shared knowledge with every other LP listener of when a B-side is superior or just very different in mood to the A-side is an additional feature to any album we shouldn’t lose.
It’s a sadness to me that the invention of the CD means I know far too many tracks by their number, not their name. “OK Computer‘s your favourite Radiohead album? Me too, me too. Bloody love track five.”
I’ve always felt that to fully love a band, it’s essential to know what their artwork is like, their aesthetic, their faces, their goddamn FONT. You’ve never truly expressed fandom until you can trace a band logo on your folder at school, or on your best friend’s face with a permanent marker pen.
Committing to the physical album and all that brings with it is part of fully knowing, supporting and understanding the artist you love. It’s an added bonus, of course that all vinyl is a delightful thing to have, to touch, to hear, to smell… That last one might just be me.
Sure, it takes up space in a world where everyone’s trying to downsize and sure, in terms of sound, it has disadvantages over other formats. But there’s still nothing like cueing a needle up on a record and hearing that crackle.
This isn’t to say that I’m anti progress. I’m very happy to stream music; I have walls upon walls of ugly, space-consuming CD racks too, and encourage any band to buy in (it’s not selling out) to anything they can – merch, touring, soul-destroying adverts – whatever they can do in order to carve a career in an industry offering dwindling ways to make a living.
The download code that comes with much vinyl means people can frame that good-looking, elitist LP on the wall but play the actual record through their tinny laptop speakers if they so choose. And do that ethically. So what the hell, find a way to love music – it’s being supportive that’s SO RETRO.
There’s all kinds of vinyl (big, small and all the colours of the rainbow) available on the fantastic Ace Records website.
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Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.