People are sometimes surprised when they spot that I own a turntable. Yup, one of those rotating things that records spin around on. Perhaps to be more accurate they are surprised that I not only use it, but that I also still buy and play records.
My usage of vinyl isn’t a result of living under a rock my whole life, I also keep my records stashed in my iPhone for listening on the move. Have you ever tried cueing up a 12” on the bus? The stylus just skates all over the place!
The very medium of vinyl has helped guide my musical tastes. At one end of my listening spectrum is Drum & Bass – all serious labels in the genre release their tracks as 12” singles, my own preference is for releases by Hospital and RAM. I was introduced to Drum & Bass by the Hospital Records podcast, hosted by producer and DJ London Elektricity (a.k.a. Tony Colman). Tony is a massive exponent of vinyl and has inspired many of his listeners to equip themselves with decks – myself included. By and large DnB DJs have a great affinity for mixing their sets on vinyl, and if a track isn’t available on it they’ll pay to get it cut to a dub-plate; a ‘soft’ record that’s okay for a few dozen plays before the wear becomes audible.
Hardcore vinyl fans were enraged a couple of years ago when DnB star Mistabishi allegedly faked playing a DJ set on vinyl. One fan who’d been present at a show was adamant that Mistabishi put on a phantom set, “I saw him play a mix CD on a CDJ and prick about pressing buttons for a whole hour! He put vinyl on the decks then pretended to mix them… even though it was the same two vinyls the whole night! I watched him take a vinyl off a turntable, put it in his bag, get it back out then put it on the other turntable and pretend to mix it!” For courting controversy once too often Mistabishi was dropped from the Hospital Records label. The respect for the physical medium on which music is published could also explain why the Drum & Bass crowd (or at least the most vocal of Hospital fans) are staunchly anti-piracy. In short, to listen to Drum & Bass is to have an intrinsic love of owning and playing music on vinyl.
However – my listening doesn’t stop at dance music. At the softer end of DnB is a brilliant crossover genre named Loungecore/Liquid Funk/Jazzstep with such excellent examples as Harp of Gold by the Peter Nice Trio and Beautiful by Phuturistix.
This gradually merges into the opposite end of my listening – Jazz. As with DnB it’s a genre that has strong associations with vinyl. Purists argue that jazz sounds better on the medium as the lack of digital compression leaves all of the original frequencies of the recording intact. I’m less than convinced on that point. In fact I think it’s bollocks. Yes – it’s technically true that vinyl records don’t use digital compression or sampling in the way they function, but they do unfortunately come up short in all other areas. As a stylus begins to wear and the grooves on the record degrade the sound will change over time, not a lot, but enough to make the ‘uncompressed’ argument by the highbrow jazz-twats a pretentiously anal one. In terms of sound reproduction, vinyl (especially heavily-played discs) can sound absolutely shite compared against a 320kb/s MP3. The reason I like jazz on LPs? Simple – I can’t touch, feel or smell an MP3. I don’t get to touch a nice turntable, or enjoy the glow of the orange neon light illuminating the side of the platter, or a cue light shining a beam across the surface of the disc. Nor does an MP3 have vintage graphic design printed on a foot-wide cardboard sleeve, it doesn’t have the scars and noise of forty or fifty years’ of repeated playback. An MP3 doesn’t accumulate the frazzled crackling of cue-burn on the run-in groove.
Some of the records I own were not only pressed before I was born – they were pressed before man landed on the moon, and they’ve been played countless times by dozens of different owners. I guess these compare to the reasons people enjoy classic cars. A forty-year-old car is going to be nowhere near as well specified as a modern car and is also going to be far more problematic and needy of careful tweaking and maintenance. The other simple pleasure is in the simple act of locating and buying records. Sure, it’s very convenient to download an album from iTunes but, for me, that’s not especially satisfying. I enjoy visiting Out Of Time Records on Fore Street in Ipswich to spend ages flipping through the crates of vinyl and choosing random albums on the appeal of the artwork alone.
So – there you have it. When it comes to music… it’s vinyl all the way baby! That said, if you’re ever stuck for what to get me as a gift an iTunes voucher always goes down well… much as a love my shelf of records – I’ve chucked as many away as I still play!