Some of us were rummaging through our parents (or grandparents) attic/basement, stumbled upon some gems and were hooked from that moment on. Some of us are wannabe or established party starters who steadfastly refuse to let the dawn of the electronic DJ dictate our club jumping relevance. Some of us, let our previous love of those 12 inch circular spell casters dip as we let the aura of the compact disc cloud our crate digging judgement. Whatever one’s particular reasoning may be. The resurgence of the Wonder that is the vinyl record is well and truly underway.
From a meagre 200,000 in UK sales in 2007 to a projected 2 million units by the end of this year, that turnaround is such that on average many artists make more money from vinyl sales than they do from online music sales and streaming. It has now reached the point where even retailers with a relatively small base for music revenue are getting in on the act. Approx 170 Sainsbury’s stores will be stocking current chart toppers as well as some of music’s seminal releases and if it proves successful others will surely follow suit.
Of course for many of us vinyl never went away. The chances are your favourite DJ’s favourite DJ has a vinyl collection big enough to fill a freight container. Crate diggers and collector extraordinaire were refreshing their stockpiles at the plethora of specialist outlets and fairs long before I was born and will continue to do so long after I take my collection with me to the musical heavens. I myself was one of those collectors in my youth and to this day i still regret selling off my Hardcore and Jungle collection for a relatively paltry sum. I’m not afraid to admit that my original prints of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Off the Wall were obtained from my mother’s collection after she left them to gather dust in a cupboard.
But as much as I welcome wax’s return to glory and long for it to be permanent, in this age of ‘access all areas’ pop stars, wall to wall charts and 24 hour music television, the question has to be asked…. Why the comeback?
The unique presentation and marketing opportunities for artists and labels go hand in hand with the blank canvas that is the 12 inch record (and it’s sleeve). The variety of designs and various editions available of a particular classic or contemporary release prove as much. Picture discs, special editions and individually numbered pressings are phrases synonymous with increasing both interest and revenue for anyone creative enough to take advantage of this new, old world.
This generation of late teens and twenty something’s have a taste in music that overlaps with their parents choice of sounds more than any of their predecessors. That my daughter lists Kendrick Lamar as one of her favourite artists just like her dad does is something of a source of pride for me and I would imagine that many mums and dads share the same sentiment with their next in line. And being that vinyl and cassettes (which are also seeing a resurgence in collectors circles) were the staple diet of my generation’s childhood and early teenage years, it should be relatively easy for our kids to buy into what vinyl represents for us. But how do I translate the feeling I get from a scratched DJ Premier hook or a chopped Pete Rock soul sample? This cannot be done in the same way with a CD.
In an industry with such a capricious mainstream nature , vinyl most definitely is not the instrument of the fickle. Those who take the time to find that oh so elusive colour pressing of their favourite releases tend not to be those same folks who get hung up on Rihanna or Mileys’s latest controversy. Unless you’re a DJ who still praises the SL1210 over the CDJ2000, vinyl will always represent a long term aural and financial investment. That feeling that the chance you take now, as well as being a pleasure on the ears, may become a collectors wet dream in years to come, which is where that all important untouched second copy comes into play.
There is something about sliding that record out from its sleeve and placing it on a turntable that simply cannot be matched by pressing play on my Spotify app, no matter how good the sound quality may be. Because it’s about those minor imperfections, that feint eternal hiss, bullet holed by those varying levels of snaps crackles and pops. It’s about placing the needle on the lead edge and waiting for that background noise to be kicked into touch by the bass thump, guitar twang, moody sax or soaring vocal (etcetera) of what’s to come. Its about a sound that many of those who have only ever paid the ‘nothing less than 320mbps will do’ club subscription fee, may not be able to fully appreciate (nothing personal).
Yet among this same generation demand for that sound, or in many cases the prestige of having a rare version of the source of that sound, is a substantial part of the reason for the rebirth. The thing about fads though, is that they don’t last. Does the vinyl renaissance fall into that category? I’m no oracle…. Ask me again in 2030.