When you’re into records, you’re often asked ‘why?’ It feels a bit abstract to try and dissect why you love something, but mercifully, vinyl makes a lot of sense. Sure, they’re a bit archaic, and they’re cumbersome when you’re moving house, attract dust like nobody’s business, and obviously aren’t as immediate as a streaming service… but somewhere in all that, lies why records are so great.
In 2019, media has never been so accessible and easy to use – your phone basically has the whole of recorded music while idly sat in your pocket. It’s very easy to take it for granted while you’re stacking some niche playlist you’re going to hammer while you’re going for a jog or cooking Turkey Twizzlers – it’s all there, ready to go, with the poke of your finger.
Vinyl has found a way back into people’s hearts because it helps us slow down. It’s a treat. It’s time, just for yourself, where everything stops, and you can indulge yourself. It’s like a bubble bath for your ears.
Life can come at you pretty fast, with social media becoming a tidal wave of weird news stories, supposedly aspirational accounts showing you your friends and acquaintances have more disposable income than you, memes and in-jokes that you’re trying to keep up with, pet photos, hot-takes, and TV show spoilers – putting a record doesn’t make those demands of you – all it asks is for you to take things easy. It’s a purely joyful pursuit.
With the hustle and/or bustle of life, people have talked a lot about ‘mindfulness’. We’re not experts in this, but we think records are about that way of thinking.
LPs aren’t merely a thing to make background noise; it isn’t just sticking some tunes on. It is something you participate in.From idly browsing the shelves, running your finger along the spines of your LPs, half pulling one out and remembering where you bought it and placing it back for later plays, taking a record out of the sleeve, popping it on the turntable and dropping the needle in the run-in groove and then, a silent moment of anticipation… and the music starts and you’re away in your own little world, singing off-key harmonies and wriggling your toes.
We can all be guilty of skim-reading, and likewise, we can end up skim-listening to music because, you open Spotify or YouTube, and there’s so much choice, that it can be overwhelming – it can end up feeling like admin. You hit the next track before the one you’re listening to has finished. You just click on a random playlist that’s been made by someone else. It can feel like too much information for you to get through, so you go for the convenience of letting someone else do it for you.
Saying “Hey Siri – play some disco” is handy, but it’s a bit impersonal, what with it being an algorithm. There’s no feeling with vinyl – it’s all about that lovely ritual. You get involved, and touch it, and if you’re into that kind of thing, you can give it a sniff as well. We’re not here to judge anyone.
Let’s be clear though – this isn’t a complaint about modern things and whinging about technology – these two worlds complement each other. Like knitting for the sake of knitting while listening to a podcast, records allow you to take your foot off the accelerator for a bit.Your attention stays with your LP, as you know you’ll have to turn it over at some point. If you want to repeat a track, you’ll have to stand up, walk over to your record player and lift the needle. They’re all part of the little rituals that make life a bit more fun.
Like picking apart pistachio shells, popping a bath bomb in the tub, eating wings on the bone, baking, repotting a plant, making fresh coffee, sorting the clothes in your wardrobe - these rituals are pleasurable and are finite – there’s a goal, and the goal is good.
With all that in mind, opening a record shop in 2019, is good for the soul. Of course, to some, it’ll seem like a daft idea, but again, it’s daft ideas that make the world go ‘round. Our shop – Wilderness Records - is just off the high street in Withington, is already reaping rewards. We’re already feeling like we’re part of a community, and that’s a great feeling.
Our street is a little sleepy, but when people come around the corner to see us, we know that they’re coming for purely pleasurable reasons. They’ll hang around drinking coffee and telling us about what makes them tick – we’ve found that people don’t come here to complain about work or paying the electricity bill – they’ll be telling us about the band they just started, or how they’re setting up a little shop on Etsy – they thumb through the albums, and take one home, so they can repeat the feeling of not having to worry about the admin of life later in the week.
They buy a beer and, if it isn’t tipping it down outside, they admire their purchases out front, checking out the production credits and running a finger across the artwork. It’s a joy to behold.
There’s a major fast-food chain on the corner, and while they might keep us fed (shout out to their hash-browns), we’re betting they don’t get people from the local amateur dramatics’ society coming in to tell them about how the auditions are going. We get the pleasure of hearing super smart kids coming in, who are starting their record collections and impressing the hell out of us all with their jazz-fusion knowledge. We got to sell a five-year-old his first LPs, and his parents let him walk away with a Kendrick LP under his arm – in the future, people will think he’s lying when he says ‘Good Kid Maad City’ was his first ever record.
Every day, we say hello to people running club-nights, people putting on gigs, photographers, fanzine-makers, bands, people into crafts, people who just like hanging around in the type of shop that doesn’t demand money as soon as you walk through the door. Everyone’s welcome to stay for as long as they like, and genuinely, it’s glorious.
We love record shops too – so we know how great it is when you find your spot by a counter, and get the chance to talk to people who are just as nerdy as you are, about daft bands, famous, obscure, uncool, and everything else between.
And that’s the thing - the whole world of vinyl and record shops – they’re at their best when they’re part of the community – not something that sees itself as separate, or too cool to smile at anyone. Any good record shop will tell you that. It’s not just stacking stuff high and getting it out of the door – it’s letting people spend an hour looking through records and talking to other customers and the staff.
Everyone’s heard the horror stories about sneering record shops – like they’re run by the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons – but they’re in a minority. Big record shops are lively hubs, and small record shops are an oasis on the retail map. The idea that records are an old boy’s club is rapidly becoming a thing of the past – we’re not alone in noticing how brilliant and diverse the people who come through the door are.
Like a comfortable pub, record shops are so essential precisely because they’re based on non-essential purchases. It’s a place to decompress. It’s a calming, voluntary act. Flicking through the racks, checking the gig posters out on the wall, surrounded by strangers doing the same, with staff who want in on the conversation, all sharing knowledge and tip-offs with each other.
So, why vinyl in 2019? Our records are unique to each one of us. It’s an autobiographical artefact of a moment in time. It’s social. Most importantly, it makes people happy, and anything that bring such a pure happiness should be cherished.
Thank you to every record shop, and anyone who ever stepped foot in one.