Our relationship with music has turned into a somewhat cold affair. The intimacy with, the investment in and the intense consumption of tunes prevalent in past times has abruptly transitioned into nonchalant pirating and streaming. And although streaming is a great way for varying kinds of music to reach a greater number of ears — I also am a fond user of Spotify — there’s something lost when the artwork is flowing out of a computer screen for free rather than when one is poring over the physical album as the record is spinning underneath a needle in all its imperfectly rustic glory.
Luckily, the millennial tech addicts are going retro. In an era of people constantly seeking to be up-to-date on the latest technological advancements, there has been a movement toward shrugging off the shiny software in favor of more “primitive” machinery — the machinery of past generations that previously would have seen snarky smirks from today’s youth.
Vinyl record sales are exploding in a way that they haven’t in over a decade — so much so that there’s even a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to this “vinyl revival” that has been an unexpected twist in the current cultural experience of music. The BBC reports that as of Oct. 17, people have bought nearly 550,000 vinyl LPs in 2013. Geoff Taylor, the chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry, claimed that “we’re witnessing a renaissance for records.” Interestingly, research shows that people between the ages of 18 and 24 have been the most prominent buyers and proponents of this vinyl resurgence, instead of their older counterparts who may still be reminiscing over the good old days.
My participation in this movement began about two years ago when vinyl versions of Radiohead’s In Rainbows, the Strokes’ Is This It and Arcade Fire’s Funeral caught my eye while perusing a store. I was enticed to have a physical representation of my strong love for all three of these albums — arguably my three favorite albums of all time — and to experience them in a new way.
Thus began the accumulation of several other records, as well as a turntable to play them on.
What I have found to be one of the coolest dynamics of collecting records is the variety of the music it has exposed me to. I owe a large part of my recently developed fondness for jazz and blues music to my browsing through LPs at Amoeba Music and Rasputin Music. In order to get the full experience and sound typical of vinyl, I purchased several records that belonged to genres I previously ignored. The wondrous sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis — just to name a few — were suddenly filling my room, providing me with an experience beyond my millennial existence.
Also, records have led to a culture of sharing and giving. I have inherited several records from my dad’s record collection that he used to listen to when he was my age. My siblings and friends have given me vinyls for my birthday, Christmas and on random occasions. It’s more personal and holds more weight than simply burning a CD. I’ll put on one of my dad’s records and feel connected to him despite the hundreds of miles between Berkeley and my home.
Listening to music becomes more of an actual event with vinyls. Last semester, my friend and I got together and listened to Radiohead’s Kid A in its entirety simply because we wanted to hear how it sounded on vinyl.
I could see how there could be some stigmas surrounding the reversion to vinyl. People could either scoff that it’s too hipster or that it’s not hipster enough. The latter may come from snobs who see records and turntables plastered all over Urban Outfitters and turn their nose up in the air, while the former may come from people simply trying to live their lives without all that “indie” crap. Plus, most vinyls, except for the ones that you scour for through the old crates in the shop, are not a minor investment. It can get pretty expensive, especially in an age of free downloads.
However, before the digitalization of music formats, there were no social boundaries or distinctions when it came to listening to records. It was what everyone did — nerds, hippies, intellectuals, parents. Therefore, there shouldn’t be social distinction today when it comes to listening to vinyls. Some people just enjoy the experience and some people don’t.
As far as the expenses go, the beautifully enlarged album artwork, the special posters and pamphlets nestled inside and the stronger connection that arises between you and the music are all worth it. Besides, you can always solely stick to the cheaper crates and have some unexpected discoveries.
This retro trend is re-establishing a different, warmer consumption of music that the 21st century methods can never attain. Call it nostalgic, hipster, pointless or whatever you want, but sometimes the old way of doing things is, indeed, better. Music wasn’t made to be transmitted through a screen; rather, it was made to be turned over and over in your hands and be a physical presence in your life.
Contact Taran Moriates at [email protected].