Take yourself back to 1960. It’s a humid summer’s day in Durban. The air is hot and sticky and you’re on your last cigarette. A sudden overwhelming urge comes over you to go down into the basement, the coolest place in the house, and rediscover a classic album. You walk to your shelf, wipe the dust of a sleeve of an original Bob Dylan demo cut. You remove the vinyl record and wipe is clean with a silk rag. Then you carefully mount the vinyl on your father’s old RCA record player, gently blowing the diamond tipped needle clean. Ritual completed, you sit back on a couch and listen.
Forget the music, just to walk around with an LP under your arm, showing off your rare record with its elaborate cover was a privilege and pleasure to own as a piece of both visual and acoustic artwork.
You can’t do that with a CD and you certainly can’t do it with an MP3. Or to have those massive artwork cover sleeves on your shelf filled with stories and lyrics for every track.
When someone from my generation thinks of a vinyl the first thing that comes to mind is a DJ with a turntable making “Wicky wicky”, scratch noises over a rap tune. We have no idea about the romance of a format, now making a formidable comeback in the music scene.
Replaced in succession by cassettes to CDs and now MP3s, for decades it seemed that vinyl’s were to be reserved for antique stores, museums and collectors items.
But now people are hankering for that romance again. Industry experts say sales of vinyl LPs are at their highest for more than half a decade.
Artists such as Adele, Radiohead, Nirvana and Arctic Monkeys have all released their new albums on the classic format.
But a new generation of consumers, as well as artists such as 21-year-old US country singer Taylor Swift, have spoken of their fondness for the format.
“Vinyl is really important to me, because I’m so in love with the concept of an album,” said Swift recently, “... a collection of memories from your life that you’re giving to people.”
In South Africa, award-winning 27-year-old South African folk musician Guy Buttery, is one of the pioneers.
While he was born too late for the heyday of vinyl music, he has been collecting the old format since he was 14.
“I’m an avid collector, bordering on vinyl junkie,” he laughed.
“Sonically I can get technical and talk about kilohertz and all that, but aside from the quality of sound I just find it a more tactile experience. There’s nothing like sitting down with an LP on a turntable. It’s a ritual,” he said.
Buttery confessed: “I’m also guilty of falling into the MP3 iPod 21st century approach to music. With vinyl you just appreciate the music so much more, it’s not background noise. It’s about the process,” he said.
Buttery is releasing 300 hand numbered vinyl copies of his latest album To Disappear in Place.
“It’s on 180 gram virgin vinyl, which might not mean much to you but trust me it’s the real thing,” he said.
“I only ever buy vinyl, never CDs. All the artists I listen to still make vinyl, and I’m not talking 60’s music, I mean today. Vinyl through the ages have grown exponentially in the last five years,” he explained.
“CDs for me, you rip it your iPod and never see them again. With a vinyl, one digests the art work, reads the liner notes, descriptions and stories. It’s a far more interactive package,” he said.
Howard Butcher, owner of Peace of Eden recording studios said he has seem a huge increase in the interest for vinyl albums.
“From jazz to rock and hip-hop, it’s the collectors aspect. It’s a more durable art form. Those early vinyls still appear in your musical collection, they have longevity.
“CDs seem to fade away. There is more of a tangible art to a vinyl album that you hold in your hands, than a disk.”
Butcher also noted that turntables have become more affordable. He also said, to the trained ear, music notes are “a lot more warm at the bottom end”.
“A lot more management and engagement goes into the process of listening to music when you play an LP. It’s not simply put on and walk away and music being the background entertainment. It’s an experience,” he said.
Vinyls are, however, considerably more expensive. Butcher explained. “The packaging is a more elaborate process and recording a vinyl is more sophisticated then manufacturing CDs. Every vinyl must be listened to for quality,” he said.
Peter Hook, bass player with Joy Division and New Order echoes the sentiment:
“As much as I hate to say it, I stole my first vinyl record at the age of 11. If the shop was still there I would go in with a fiver to make up for it. The song I stole was Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.
“Then I bought an old Dansette record player. Being able to play these wonderful records really set my musical occupation off. As a kid, your whole raison d’être is to be able to make your own record.
“But before that, it was a wonderful thing when you were younger just to walk around with an LP under your arm, showing off how rare your record was. You can’t do that with a CD and you certainly can’t do it with an MP3.
“I loved the sense of longing and anticipation before you got the album: examining how the sleeve looked and felt, then taking the record out of the sleeve – then, of course, the music.
“Putting it on the turntable, the delivery is so much more satisfying than a CD or MP3 has ever been, or ever will be.”
VINYL in SA
Vinyl discs are still hard to come by in SA; you’ll have to contact the artist or their team directly by logging on to their websites.
As for vinyl players; you’re going to have to look around. Second hand stores, classified websites like Gumtree.co.za, junkmail.co.za or bidorbuy.co.za, or even your grandparents’ garage where you might be lucky enough to find a classic record player.
Our advice is look around, ask around and search online. - Sunday Tribune