Why vinyl records are back in style

The nostalgic appeal of black discs in a world of iPods and mp3 files

Once dubbed as ancient, vinyl is back in the hands of music fans.
Once dubbed as ancient, vinyl is back in the hands of music fans.
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Photo: 
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When Nich Worby of the band Tomate Potate began planning his solo album, he made the unusual choice to make it available on vinyl only.

In a world of invisible music files, iPods and CDs, vinyl record albums are making a comeback. According to vinylrecords.co.uk, sales in Great Britain were up by almost 90 percent in 2005, compared with the previous year’s figures.

In part, this increase is due to the recent influx of young vinyl enthusiasts like Worby, ArtSci ’07, who have become disillusioned with high-tech music mediums.

“I have this sort of fear that music is becoming disposable, with mp3s and things like that,” he said. “You can download something and delete it, even CDs [have] a shelf life. Vinyl seems to be one of those things that is always around, and it doesn’t make music convenient.”

The fact that vinyl sales have continued, let alone risen, in the post-CD era is bewildering. While oodles of original records from a time when vinyl was the only option are crowding stores like Brian’s Record Option on Princess Street, new pressings from bands like Coldplay and the Arcade Fire are being released. Worby, whose own collection of 40 albums ranges from vintage to new artists, says that most people who listen to vinyl are involved consumers.

“The people who buy vinyl are more interested in music,” he said.

What does it mean to be more interested in music? And why are they more interested in vinyl? With some very scientific investigation, I’ve narrowed modern day vinyl purchasers into four categories.

The audiophile will look like Brian from Brian’s Record Option in about 30 years (beard optional). The audiophile is into a wide array of genres and artists, the more obscure the better. He or she is known to overuse the words “artifact” and “lo-fi,” claims to listen to post-jazzcore neo-robot rock, and may say things like “I thought the Thrills’ last album had a Laurel Canyon vibe without sounding too transatlantic.” The audiophile loves vinyl for its ‘warm’ sound, for its authenticity and for its venerable rock snob appeal.

The indie pop/rocker’s collection consists of artists like Smoosh and The Hidden Cameras. These individuals may be seen avidly blogging their playlists and saying the word “dance,” and may often be mistaken for Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—regardless of gender. They buy vinyl because it is so much more indie and quirky and because they absolutely must hear the new Test-Icicles single, and it is available only on vinyl.

The wannabe DJ is ... well, a wannabe DJ. Such people may list their favourite genres as house, trance, techno, drum and bass, dancehall, break beat or hip hop. The wannabe DJ (and actual DJs, for that matter) loves vinyl because it allows the DJ to control the flow of the sound. It can be scratched, mixed, beatmatched, or backspun.

The second generation Woodstock fan may be a little more secretive about his or her habit. Do not be fooled—under that facade of normalcy lurks a closet Arlo Guthrie or Jefferson Airplane fan, with all of dad’s old records stacked under the bed. The new Woodstock generation uses vinyl because it is available and because they often have little choice. There is also some novelty in owning the original Blonde on Blonde LP.

Though these types are extreme (and maybe a little exaggerated), most vinyl listeners are a combination of all four. Regardless of their preference, they share a common love for the entire experience of it. There’s more to vinyl than just the music.

There is something about the physical presence of vinyl album which endears itself to music fans. With vinyl, music has mass—you can hold sound in the shape of a wobbly black frisbee. Having that collection of 50-album take up half of your bedroom shows real commitment.

Vinyl also sports memorable album art. Johnny Cash’s face spread across a square foot, looking down from the stage at Folsom Prison, leaves a lasting impression not made by most four-inch CD covers. There is also something about being involved in the intricate process of listening to vinyl. With each pop and crackle, with the hum of the needle moving back to its base, we hear not just the music but the method of sharing that music. In the silence after Side A is done, when you realize you need to get up and flip the record, the music engages you in a way that isn’t found in most media forms. This engagement is something that Worby says motivated him to pursue a vinyl release.

“This way someone can’t pick up my record and jazzercise to it or something,” Worby laughed. “I want to make sure someone’s actually listening to it and it’s not just background music.”

While vinyl albums have their flaws, there is a certain sense when listening to them, that one is a part of a long musical heritage. Artists like Worby bring that heritage to a new generation, the magic of vinyl will continue.

“With vinyl, there’s a bit of mystery,” Worby said. “You can always search for treasures.”

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