The Revolution Will Not be Digitized! The Fashion, the Magic and the ‘Return’ of the Vinyl Music Records

Illustration by Antonas Deduchovas

Illustration by Antonas Deduchovas. 2013.

Tomas Peckys, 2013, London.

Before I start, I would like to confess that my knees get weak every time I’m passing nearby record shop and no companionship is of any interest to me when I’m searching for music. Just to get a glimpse of where I am coming from, I want to tell you a story that runs in my family. My dad, who was a passionate record collector, once, spend all his money and came back home with a new record player and few LP’s. He was 20 years old and yes, that day was the payday. Nothing surprising you might say, but instead of bringing home his wages that would contribute towards food and bills, he brought home the music. My mum wasn’t very excited, of course. But my dad replied: We don’t need food – we have music so we can dance! You can call him a hipster, a punk, or even not a very clever and naïve young man. But he loved his music and his vinyl.

Successively, I continue with my dad’s tradition and regularly buy records. This year, my record collection grew larger, by around 120 records: that is ten records a month, 2.5 a week. I have also purchased similar amount of digital records on Boomkat and other sites. In total, this would mean, that I buy a new album every second day.

So, it wasn’t a coincidence that I went to the London Record Fair, which took place at Brick Lane, just a few weeks ago. I’ve touched loads of records; no doubt. I met some dedicated record fanatics – some of them exceptionally nice whilst others so despicable that I nearly could manage my irritation. But more interestingly, I’ve heard many people excitingly shouting out loud that the vinyl is back. Of course, any music enthusiast would confirm that today’s record shops are buzzing with people, almost every artist releases vinyl; we have record fairs, vinyl libraries, record store days, dedicated films about vinyl, we regularly witness popular media’s continuous debates whether CD’s or digital was the big mistake and so on. For me, as for a man who has some kind of unexplainable fetish towards wax records, current days are happy days. Woo-Hoo! But I often ask myself this question: what the fuck is that ‘vinyl revival’ thing? Where this wax record is coming back from? Holiday? And where were you when the vinyl died? Do you remember that day? Well, if you are a dedicated follower of fashion diseased with a hipster-plague, I bet you don’t.

Of course, back to my father’s youth days, vinyl was the main, maybe the only medium to listen to the music. In contrast, today’s music culture is comprehensive and constantly changes. It would be possible to say that we have a generation of music fans and aficionados who do not possess CD’s, tapes, or vinyl as their artifacts. Their music is in 0’s and 1’s. As a result, accessing music has never been easier. Anyone who obtains PC can listen to the music on the Internet platforms such as Sound Cloud, My Space, You Tube, Spotify, and many others. Well, embodied into various scandals and controversies, there are other numerous Internet communities where with a speed of sound you can get more or less anything that you desire…for free.

I would like to continue with the misconceptions of that ‘revival’ thing. Many questions come into my mind including, how come in this digitalized pop culture’s chaos we are witnessing the ‘return’ of the vinyl? Is it hip? Is this some kind of new fashion trend? Retromania? Is this the consequence of the propaganda? Are people tired from the intangibility of digital music? Or maybe there is a new subculture that just appreciates the ritual of playing the wax?

London Record Fair 2013. Photo by Tomas Peckys.

London Record Fair 2013. Photo by Tomas Peckys.

One of the inspirations to write this article occurred after I have read the description of Arthur Russell’s new release. The description is so magical, that I think if you are refusing to buy this LP, after reading Boomkat’s description, there is definitely something wrong with you: “In the most transcendent sense, it’s music that occupies its very own genre, a magical soundworld all of its own, ready for you to visit when times are good, and perhaps even more so when they’re bad and you really need a fillip. Although it’s already available on CD, first on a 1994 pressing for Point Music, and later in 2006 for his longtime ally Philip Glass’s Orange Mountain Music, the magic is arguably enhanced by Arc Light Editions’ genius gesture to press it on wax for the first time. It’s like finding a new, secret entrance to your favorite place in the world”.

Really? Well, I put on the record but still no signs of any secret entrances. Nor magic. Music is beautiful though. That’s why I bought Arthur Russell, because I follow him and adore what he did musically, and not because of these over-hyped descriptions. What actually worries me, and to be honest pisses me off, is the whole packaging of current vinyl releases. For me, as for many other music lovers, especially DJ’s and dance music followers, the vinyl was here all the time. So it is not returning from anywhere.

Today, everything is embodied into mysteriousness, magic and something else notions that are too hard to explain verbally. The vinyl isn’t new, don’t try to bullshit me, as well as capitalist strategies, employed to promote the vinyl. Buy X or Z, and you will get something that no one else will. Record companies create the fantasy, the dream, and the World in which you are in control, a World where you are hip and the others are useless members of the mass.

With today’s vinyl we have normal release, with fewer songs of course. But, we have all the extras on the limited edition release, red vinyl release, white vinyl release, green vinyl special release, vinyl with unique limited edition artwork release of 300 copies only, special audiophile heavyweight 180gm release, extremely limited editions (Boards of Canada 12” was sold for $5.700 on Ebay), playable letter release (WTF Jay-Z?), record made of ice (Shout Out Loud) and many other options to acquire your music.

Of course, this entire packaging thing is very artistic, and it takes loads of effort to release something like a record made of ice. But for me this is also pointless. What a difference does the color or the number of editions make? Is this appropriate, to choose music by its packaging? I think we live in a culture where we are destined to judge a book by its cover rather than the content. The vinyl on your shelf as well as your dad’s record player look cool, especially when most of your friends around carry their Spotify playlists with them. Today’s culture is every hipster’s Mount Everest, where retro explosion dominates not only the way people look, but also what they eat, read and listen to. Records today have a large degree of fashion element to it and even function like a badge of honor. In my father’s youth days, in my childhood and even throughout teen days, music was consumed and listened to for the sake of music. Music and just music! And various subcultures evolved around music too.

In 2013 vinyl sales in the UK increased by 78%. Alone on Amazon vinyl sales have increased by 400%. Indie record shops witnessed their increase by 44%. For the first year, since the invasion of the CD, wax records outperformed compact discs by 20%. For me, this is very exciting – to be able to live in the era when something that was so adored in the past is hitting popular culture again. And that is exactly what surprises me, that in this digital century the vinyl is looking strong again and is back on the market. Not long ago, there were days when we witnessed escalated closures of the record stores. Apparently CD’s are boring. Digital music collection is virtual, and don’t even try to argue with me because you know that you won’t be able to awe your girlfriend with a 3TB hard drive. Mantas T, a passionate DJ whom I have interviewed last year, perfectly interpreted with a note of his poetic philosophy, “vinyls are like a paintings of the music”. And nothing can beat that.

I might sound too sentimental towards the past or even angry and politically incorrect towards contemporary youth and their new possession – vinyl. You have to understand me that even this word vinyl is weird for me. It used to be called a record. So to finish my thoughts, I am glad of course that the records are spinning again not only for the few record lovers but for more people. It is healthy for the music industry and also for the musicians and their fans. It is debatable, but most agree that when people buy wax records they tend to appreciate music more. What I wish to change is the entire music marketing mechanism. Music today is a material object; it is too physical in a sense of consuming it. But on the more positive note, I think that we are fed up with 0’s and 1’s. Few years ago I have seen people reading mostly Kindles on the trains. Today, more people are holding paperbacks in their hands. Everything is connected, so the ‘return’ of the vinyl was a slow process but we should be happy that it occurred at all. I understand that today the consumption of the record is hip, it is fashionable, and it is exemplified by record industry through the discourses of various propagandas. But who cares? As long as it is here, the music will sound different. And the World will be different.

London Record Fair 2013. Photo by Tomas Peckys.

London Record Fair 2013. Photo by Tomas Peckys.