Photo from Phonica's Peggy Gou 'Once EP' launch party.
Why the current obsession with second hand vinyl isn’t healthy for today’s music industry.
The rush to uncover the past has become one of dance music’s biggest themes in the 2010s. For twenty something kids getting into the scene, buying old tunes is a thing. Your uncle selling his collection of 90s bleep techno because he just heard about Discogs is a thing. DJs who’ve become famous off the back of digging old tunes is a thing. And where record nerds used to boast about getting a copy of the latest white label, now boasting about an old record you bought is where it’s at for the one-upping tune sleuths.
The return to the fore of vinyl is one of music’s great stories of the decade. It is a symbolic reaction against the notion that the new thing, isn’t necessarily the best thing. A reaction against the idea that everything should be downloadable in shitty quality mp3s for free and screw the artists and labels that don’t agree. It’s a sign that the general public wants quality and craves a filter on the endless vortex of bad music that the digital era has created.
But as with every trend there are inevitable issues.
Across Europe and beyond, the sounds of the 90s are being mined by a new generation of diggers who crave the old not the new. The second hand bins in many shops are growing, and in some stores overtaking the new sections fuelled not just by this trend, but by a record shopping public reared on free digital music who can’t afford the exorbitant prices that new vinyl demands.
This is particularly an issue for record shoppers in the UK embroiled in Brexit. The record nerds that voted to leave Europe hadn’t quite considered that the cost of shipping vinyl back from European pressing plants or international imports would jack up the price of their records.
The greatest irony in this rush to fetishize the past is that the initial inspiration that inspired much of the music that diggers now obsess over, was a desire to imagine the sounds of the future. The primordial musical soup that much of today’s electronic music stems from was heavily influenced by the 'Electrifying Mojo' radio show in Detroit in the 1980s. Producers like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson or Drexciya’s James Marcel Stinson were steered in their fateful directions by this late night show that combined electronic pop music with the sounds of science fiction movies.
Buoyed on by Mojo's sci-fi sounds and soundtracks, the faithful of future producers listening hardwired this futuristic aesthetic into the music they would later make that would come to define house, techno and electro as we know them.
Later in the 1990s, record shop culture was at its most exciting on a Friday when most stores would receive their latest batch of records. Packed out with kids and professional DJs alike who were there to snap this week’s freshest vinyl, the assembled crowd would track the every movement of the clerk as he opened the latest package, scrutinised the label and then dropped the needle on the record to play it out on the shop’s system. If the tune was a banger, a store full of arms would rise in the air desperate for a copy.
Fast forward twenty years and it seems that enthusiasm for what’s happening now seems to have been drowned out by the technology driven music culture we now live in. Thanks to streaming and sites like Discogs, the music of the past has never been more readily attainable.
And as the boom in second hand vinyl increases, it’s at odds with the saturation of the vinyl market by an ever expanding bubble of small labels. Pressing plants and shops are facing a flood of new labels, many of which are here today and gone tomorrow, in an already overcrowded marketplace.
Artists that are desperate to have their tracks released on vinyl, are signing up for pressing and distribution deals with distributors that often offer a pound back for every record sold for runs that rarely amount to more than two or three hundred. It’s already a labour of love for most of these people, many of whom can't afford to make music full time, and one that is impossible to maintain without the support of the record buying public.
And while any boom in music is accompanied by an excess of bland music that can make sifting through tunes a painful procedure at times, peel beneath the surface and there is a dizzying amount of exceptional music being released today that often sinks without a trace, lost in a tidal wave of 12inches. The chance of being discovered in twenty years by a DJ in the future isn't much of a consolation to this demographic of people.
We are all adjusting en masse to the changes that technology brings to how we consume music. But as those changes take place, it's becoming all too apparent that a healthy music scene is one that is as informed by the past as it is obsessed by the future. If we stop buying new music to pore over the output of previous decade’s en masse, we risk hurting not just today's music scene but tomorrow's as well.
To listen to some of February's best vinyl house tracks, click here.
More like this ::
Neoptism, Charlatans and Lowering DJ Standards
Don't Forget About the Future
Dance Music is Eating Itself (part II)
Dance Music is Eating Itself (part I)
2018 - Reasons To Be Optimistic