Ship to Shore's Mark Finch explores the musical question: Have records become too mainstream?
"So, did you get anything on Record Store Day?"
My ears pricked up. I have no control over them.
I spotted the source of the conversation. Three young people, two men and a woman, wearing the same sort of clothes my parents were wearing in the 80's, sitting at a table and drinking coffee - as I was, as we all were in fact, this being set in a coffee shop and all - a single laptop on the table, three mobile phones around it, small apostles abasing themselves in front of their giant deity. The laptop was covered with anarchist / punk / anti-corporation stickers. Is that an Apple laptop? I thought to myself. It was.
One of the men was wearing a scarf. He said: "No. Records have become so mainstream."
"I managed to get nine records off my list," the original voice continued, "they look really cool." This man was not wearing a scarf and he wasn't he sitting in front of the Macbook like his female companion. He had a face, you know the kind.
"I didn't go," neckwear said. "Everyone buys records now." He flicked the end of his scarf, making it swish like the tail of a slightly agitated horse, as if to emphasise the point.
I leaned forward slightly, trying my best to eavesdrop without giving the game away.
Vinyl was the home music format I was most familiar with as a child, with - being born in the late 70's - cassette tapes a close second. The revival of vinyl as a popular format earlier this century was a very welcome surprise for me - despite being a lover of CD also - but I put some of that down to pure nostalgia.
Now, what we have here in this very coffee shop, sitting in front of me, are three people from a younger generation who quite probably never grew up listening to vinyl. They'd never been taught by their parents how to hold a 7" single, how to give the vinyl a quick wipe with an anti-static cloth before putting it on the turntable, how to gently place the needle on the groove, or how humorous it was to play "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley at the wrong speed.
Buy a 7" copy of "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley and play it at 33rpm. Seriously.
I looked at these youngsters more brazenly this time. I imagine in a small number of years they will be having whimsical conversations about *MiniDiscs and how great they were. How the quality was far better, and that the youth of today didn't know what they were missing. That they missed the joys of creating a mixtape (mixdisc?) or CDr and giving it to a friend or someone they wanted to have sex with but were too shy to tell them outright. "I thought you might like this."
Vinyl being a nostalgia trip for them was more than likely out of the question.
"I managed to get both Cure picture disc releases," the one with the face said, ignoring his warm-necked chum. " One of them was the last one in the shop, but there was still a copy of the other. Who buys only one of a two-piece set?" To emphasis the point he took a mouthful of his frothy drink. I imagine it tasted like caramel and nutmeg and vanilla and hazelnut. I imagined it was more like hot sugar syrup than coffee. I imagine his teeth crying out in anguish and his tongue feeling too thick in his mouth.
Two sides from the double picture disc LP The Cure 'Mixed Up' ltd RSD2018 release
I imagine him playing his picture disc record on his USB turntable through bookend speakers, enjoying the crackly sound - authentic, he'd think to himself - and being slightly entranced by the swirly shape the LP made when spun at 33rpm. I roll my eyes and then remember I'm in a coffee shop by myself and I quickly look around me to make sure no-one noticed. They didn't. My unfair judgement of the next generation could continue if I wanted it to.
Am I being too hard, too critical? Does it matter, why someone chooses to buy vinyl, or that they are part of the surging mass of shoppers who mysteriously appear in record shops on Record Store Day only to remain absent during normal opening hours? So what if they didn't grow up listening to vinyl? I look away from the young trio, slightly ashamed by my assumptions.
Vinyl is hardly the most convenient format of choice: risk of warping if not stored correctly, risk of scratching if not played correctly, and the vinyl record's penchant for attracting dust the same way a celebrity attracts James Corden. Perhaps that's why vinyl feels so special to those of us who collect it. Sure, a record is an expensive purchase compared to pretty much any other audio format but it's delicate and precious and is therefore to be cherished.
People who buy records in this day and age love them. That guy with the face, I thought, could have been me if I had been born in the late 90's. He's a kindred spirit probably.
"I didn't go." Scarf-Man's voice. "Records are just... they're everywhere now."
I imagine that my local record shop was heaving on Record Store Day, as it is every year. I imagine it full of people, elbowing each other out of the way, trying to find that elusive Adam Sandler 2x 140g LP that probably cost more than all the coffee in the shop combined.
No-one's laughing anymore. Adam Sandler 'They're All Gonna Laugh At You!' 2LP ltd RSD2018 release
I imagine the heat created from the friction of French Terry hoodies being rubbed together as rabid record collectors hustled amongst each-other, buzzing with excitement, caused the ambient temperature in the shop to reach Amazonian levels of sticky humidity despite the wheezing air-con. I imagine people, sopping with sweat, getting frustrated that the huge soggy wad of bills in their pocket wouldn't be spent on that Abba 7" single because they couldn't find it, so they would instead have to console themselves with a copy of an LP from a band that they'd never heard of before but liked the look of because it was white vinyl with an orange centre so it resembled a fried egg.
I imagine that I was glad I didn't go all these things considered, but I also imagined how nice it would have been to get that Abbey Road cut of The Isness by Amorphous Androgynous, even though I couldn't afford it. But isn't that what credit cards are for? I felt a pang of regret. I really wanted that LP.
This exists. The Lovely Eggs 'This Is Eggland' ltd RSD2018 release
I imagine that most people who go to record stores on Record Store Day generally have a good time regardless of the issues the day can cause for smaller labels and record stores which can get close to bankruptcy from pre-ordering limited edition RSD vinyl. I imagine most customers don't think about this though, and I imagine that Record Store Day makes them happy, because buying vinyl makes them happy, and surely that's all that matters.
I imagine a lot of things.
I look back at The Three. The up-to-now silent one of the trio clickety-clacked on the keyboard to her laptop covered in anarchy stickers.
"Look," she said, "you can get those Cure picture discs online already."
I took a sip of my mocha infused with brown sugar, an extra double espresso shot & chocolate sprinkles, and smiled to myself.
One final thing:
*Speaking of MiniDiscs, I noticed the other day that one record label - Central Processing Unit, of which I am a fan - released Tim Koch's new album 'Spinifex' on MiniDisc as the only way to physically own the product. It sold out almost instantly. Maybe - just maybe - the MiniDisc revival will be earlier than initially thought.
-Mark Anthony Finch