Vinyl Renaissance

Vinyl Renaissance

With vinyl sales at an all time high, Fred Johnson explores the reverence and psychology behind our obsession with analogue…

2013 marks the renaissance of the humble record. The British Recorded Music Industry (BPI) report that, as of October, sales of vinyl are up over 100% compared to last year, with more than half a million sales so far, and still several months to go. This is the first time LP sales have broken the 500,000 mark in ten years, and this sudden revival of the format begs the question: why? What is it about vinyl records that consumers and music lovers today find so appealing? I set out to answer this eternal question with a minimal amount of cynicism.

I’ll admit it now – I’ve freshly hopped aboard the vinyl bandwagon, and have joined the party of nostalgic elders and bearded hipsters in the search for that oft-mentioned but undefined “texture” and “substance” that advocates of all things analogue love to mention. For hours I browsed eBay and attempted to navigate countless forums filled with pompous audiophiles in search of some hard information and guidance regarding the best entry-level turntables. What Hifi’s website became my bible, and with a reckless disregard for my student loan my odyssey of audial-bent consumerism was over. A turntable was chosen, an amplifier was selected, and a pair of speakers materialised like the onset of heaven. I had accumulated four records in keen anticipation for this day, and finally the waiting was over.

I was very excited, but I’m not really sure why. My decision to lapse into vinyl was, I think, a fairly typical one among the younger converts; my favourite band released a limited edition re-release of one of their earlier, most significant albums (All Hail West Texas by the Mountain Goats), and the CD version just didn’t reflect the grandeur I felt such an object deserved. The vinyl however seemed almost sacred – the now-archaic technology itself seemed an artefact of the past, an icon of a golden age of music and production, lost beneath the shadow of iTunes and Spotify. This record was a ‘thing’ — not just a digital capsule for data, but an actual carving of music, a work of art.

“The sudden renaissance of vinyl correlates directly with the increasing digitalisation of media”

So I bought the album despite having no means with which to play it. I have assumed my experience is fairly typical, but there are also some cold, hard statistics to back me up: according to the BPI, a good 4% of vinyl consumers this year don’t actually own turntables.

This got me thinking; the sudden renaissance of vinyl correlates directly with the increasing digitalisation of media, and it is this overwhelming deformation of our possessions that has led to this desperate backlash towards analogue. Digital data is impossible to attach genuine emotional value to, and music is a very personal thing. Think about it: you’ll doubtlessly know someone (probably an older person, it must be said) who is extremely proud of their record collection they’ve built up over the years. That person will be very protective of their library, and will doubtlessly have emotional and historical connections to particular albums. That person could be your mum, or your dad, or a grandparent, or it could be you. They’ll remember the album that got them through such-and-such, or the record they had on when so-and-so was conceived (that’s inevitably when you stop listening).

“No-one is about to leave their iTunes library to a loved one in their will”

But the point remains; it’s very unlikely you know someone who’s emotionally attached to their iTunes library, built up as it was through countless hours of downloading and painstaking Google searching for the album art (if music was all digital, would album art still exist?). No-one is about to leave their iTunes library to a loved one in their will. Of course, this is barely-hidden romanticism, but it’s good to see some all-too-human material sentimentality in an increasingly robotic industry.

Along with its physical presence, vinyl represents a heady nostalgia for an age of music not dominated by autotuned lumps of barely-clothed plastic and endless songs about clubbing; choosing vinyl becomes an act of rebellion. Because you have to admit, modern pop music is only getting worse. It lacks even the comedy value of early ‘00s pop (I never thought I’d miss the Cheeky Girls…), and the lyrical subjects are getting more and more narrow. You don’t have to have lived through an age in order to feel nostalgic towards it; indeed, it’s perhaps better to not have done; that way the image of the period remains untainted by cold reality.

“If music means a lot to you, it makes sense to have a more permanent, more grand physical form”

This is perhaps what motivates youthful converts today, who seek escapism into decades they’ve never experienced simply because they’re sick of modern music and they like the older stuff: Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath. Vinyl is the symbol of these lost decades of musical quality, and teenagers recognise this, and want to show support and to contribute symbolically themselves by opting for the ideologically-pregnant record as their musical medium of choice.

I doubt many of the recent converts have sat down to have a long think about their motives before they buy vinyl though — I know I certainly didn’t. It’s more of an unconscious connection; if music means a lot to you, it makes sense to have a more permanent, more grand, physical form. Seeing album artwork as it was meant to be never gets old, and the varnished card of the sleeve demands reverential handling as a necessity. The entire construct feels antique. A friend of mine dared besmirch my precious All Hail West Texas record with his filthy fingers the other day and I almost took his hand off. The fact you’re symbolically rebelling against mass-produced modern crap is also satisfying on a pretty deep level.

For those who’ll indulge me; my vinyl experience is going fairly well. The sound, when it comes, is gorgeous, but I’ve come to resent the precision and utter respect turntables demand for easy interaction. I’ll doubtlessly learn soon enough, and it’s a curve I’ll enjoy experiencing.

Fred Johnson

Are you hungry for vinyl? Head down to MelloMello Right On Record Fair on Sunday 24 November 12-6pm! 

From the Archive // ACDSleeve: Passion for the Music

Posted on 19/11/2013 by thedoublenegative