Understanding the prominent return of vinyl records to the music scene
While many swear that a vinyl record is as useful as a VHS, according a census put out by The Guardian, in 2016 vinyl consumption reached a 25-year high. Though the analogue sound storage system has been carrying a bad rep recently, being connected to pretentious collectors after the ‘Urban Outfitters aesthetic,’ long-time collectors argue that there is more to vinyl than meets the eye… or ears, in this instance.
For student record collector and musician, Alec Perkins, vinyl collection is attractive due to its physical beauty and historical value. “As a musician I find it interesting to trace the ‘musical lineage’ of artists that I listen to. So owning something like an original David Bowie record that my parents bought in the 70s – it’s something more than just listening to the music. It’s like a time capsule,” said Perkins.
Like many consumers, business and building owner of Vancouver’s Zulu Records, Grant McDonagh, finds nostalgia in vinyl and has formed a connection with it, having records around all of his life. To McDonagh, vinyl is a realization of the artist’s vision, and that aspect, along with other subjectives, can be seen throughout generations.
“We get people of all age groups, anywhere from the teenager to 70-year-olds, buying vinyl; specifically, those looking to fill holes in their collection,” said McDonagh. He believes there are many reasons to collect, and that is why there is a massive age range in vinyl consumerism.
Though McDonagh finds satisfaction in the crackles and all the other quirky effects that come along with vinyl, he treasures the visual and experiential aspects. “The artwork is the part and parcel of it. A lot of the classic bands sort of thought of the one-side-two-side format. There’s almost like a part one and part two, which I think artistically works quite well.”
For Capilano University professor and record enthusiast, Ted Hamilton, sound is everything, driving his passion towards the music form since his early childhood. “As a kid I used to come home from grade one, throw on some random record that I pulled out of my dad’s record collection, put the headphones on, crank up the volume and just tune out for an hour or something like that,” he said. “I think I just loved that feeling and I can never get it – like no matter how sophisticated people make their earphones these days, it just always cuts off high-end and low-end and it’s all just this kind of weird flat mid-range sound. So when I’m at home I chose vinyl even though it leaves me with reduced options, because it’s the feeling I’m after that I can only get in that way.”
Collecting up to 2,000 records in collaboration with his brother, Hamilton began his collection due to convenience, but later out of habit. For most, vinyl produces not only music but also an immersive experience. Hamilton noted that although it’s easier to encounter various songs through listening to digital forms of music, there is a passive side to it that is less fulfilling and impactful than taking something out of a sleeve, flipping it around and throwing it on a platter. “You have to kind of make decisions when you listen to records in a way that – in a lot of times you abdicate the decision making process just by hitting shuffle,” said Hamilton.
With records making a comeback, Hamilton analyzed why this may be in a world seemingly moving forward with technology.
“I think vinyl is becoming a thing again for the same reason why certain drugs have become popularized again, or why people seek out certain extreme experiences in life. It’s because the more we live our lives on little screens, the more people want some kind of alternative to that. And the more that makes up everyday reality the more that it’s almost like you turn back to this traditional, physical world as like a weird vacation from everyday life,” said Hamilton.
“I think that something has happened today with vinyl that they are not technologically necessary anymore, but maybe we’re in this kind of weird golden-hour moment where there can be this renaissance of this vanishing cultural form, where it takes on this beauty of its latter days.”
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