I’m sure you’ve heard the great news — vinyl is back, baby: back on the shelves, back in our collective conscious, back in the clubs. Everyone and their mother’s brother is now walking around like the cat who's got the cream, because they are true collectors, true music heads, true audiophiles and their addiction to black crack has finally been vindicated.
So exhaustingly trendy has vinyl become that now even only half-interested hipsters in tea-cosy beanies can jaunt into Urban Outfitters and finger through a selection of old records on most every high street (that they’ll pay six times over the odds for records found in charity shops for next to nothing is hipster justice). But is this bourgeois furniture piece really back? Well, depending on your interpretation of the recent facts, yes. And no.
A Music Week report back in April had us beaming from ear to ear with the self-congratulatory news that “British sales of vinyl records last year hit $177 million [approximately £116 million], their highest level since 1997”. Now, we all know that the late '90s/early '00s were a tough ol’ time for our favourite 12” plastic circles: like the much-prophesied shiny delights of CDs before them, digital files were the new things to have and the compliant world soon flogged its collection from the back of a car at a drizzly car boot sale.
What that means is that improving on sales figures from that time is not hard, but consider this: the majority of dance music labels in 2013 (at a rough estimate at time of writing, about 58 million, with new ones being minted every second of the day only to get stuck for eternity on release three or four) only seem to be pressing somewhere between 46 and 500 copies. That’s about the same number of people who attend even the most average party come Friday night… something doesn’t add up.
Of course, the reason vinyl sales have surged in recent times is not because house heads are lapping up vinyl like a cat at its water bowl, but rather because rotund record executives realised they could prey on the weak; on the sort of faded rock t-shirt wearing douche bag who simply has to have yet another copy of that David Bowie LP on re-mastered 180g vinyl, in special double gatefold sleeve. Sigh.
Not only would an original copy sound better without the re-mastering — why try and make it sound like a perfect mp3? — but so too are there still millions of copies of such albums floating about in charity stores for less than the price of a Mars bar.
So what of dance music sales? After all, wax is the staple format for our scene. Well, on the surface things look rosy, but look at the figures and it’s still only a minority of people buying the stuff. Last year’s top seller on Juno — as in THE HIGHEST SELLING RECORD OF THE ENTIRE YEAR — shifted a mere 4,000 copies (a re-issue of Paris Underground Trax's 'Vol.1' on My Love Is Underground).
That really isn’t many, given that even five years ago dubstep labels were reporting that an average unit would clock up around 15,000 sales. So… why?
There are a few possible reasons… saturation being one. These purist artefacts are not cheap at the best of times, so when a label bangs out a one-sided record with the 456th remix of some Detroit legend on it, they are frankly taking the piss. Yeah, the sleeve may be hand-sprayed and the label hand-stamped, but you can’t (shouldn’t!) polish a turd. At the other end of the scale, squeezing too much onto wax to try and con us into parting with our cash is also weak-ass conduct.
Vinyl inherently holds far more information on each track than can an MP3 — it’s why there is such space in the sounds, such clarity in the kicks — so please people, give the music the space it needs, make sure those grooves are nice and deep so the bass really bothers us.
And don’t bother with gimmicks like wood/ice (no really) and clear pressings (“Shit, where does this track end? Oh, there, whoops, sorry guys!”) or colour vinyl (degrades quicker, sounds less good from the start) either. Quantities are also a hot point. The likes of Levon Vincent and Boddika have come under fire for limiting their pressings. I say good for them, but it sure does give rise to hateful eBay and Discogs capitalists who pounce on music they know will be much sought-after, only to immediately list it for sale at exorbitant prices.
I could go on about poor quality mastering jobs, swift represses of things we were promised wouldn’t be, vinyl so thin it droops like a Dali clock and labels hedging their bets by cutting 100 copies of something sub-par and passing themselves off as taking the higher moral ground, banding around increasingly vacuous marketing terms like “vinyl-only, super-limited”, but I won’t. Instead I’m gonna go spin the platters that matter, and so should you.