By Charlie Malcolm-McKay
As the relentless wave of digitalisation engulfs every aspect of our society, the fact that vinyl has regained its celebrity status says a lot about the part music plays not only in the culture of youth consumerism but also the role it has in our everyday, personal lives.
Personally guilty of falling victim to the current rage, with hordes of vintage LPs collecting dust like preloved books, I often wonder how vinyl made this successful comeback in spite of the likes of Spotify, Apple Music and Soundcloud being a far cheaper and more accessible way of listening to music. It seems that there is some tangible, impressionistic quality about the sleeve’s artwork, the disc’s meticulous grooves and its enticing matte black finish that can never truly be captured by the algorithms of streaming services.
With more and more vinyl shops opening in the student-city of Leeds, alongside the established Crash, Jumbo and Relic records stores, it is clear that there is a growing collective appeal for music in the material form and with vinyl poised to outsell CDs for the first time since the mid-80s this trend shows no signs of slowing down. What’s more is that when you enter these stores with the expectancy of being shunned by middle-aged, veteran collectors you’ll find that this is far from the truth, as you are welcomed by a warm sense of youthful curiosity and reverence.
The diligent process of search, listen and buy required of vinyl shopping has restored a certain appreciation for music that was lost in its transition to streaming platforms. Spending hours filtering through a particular genre or its subgenre’s myriad discography to find one album that your truly connect with is a memorable feeling that can’t be found when idly skimming through the millions upon millions of songs in the digital realm.
However, that is not to say that the online vinyl market isn’t as equally as successful with the majority of newly produced records actually being sold over the internet. And while this shows that people are once again beginning to value the tactility of music, there is also a danger of vinyl becoming over commodified, as more and more mainstream artists are turning to the physical form as a means of profit. Justin Bieber, Adele and Ed Sheeran are just a few examples of contemporary celebrities venturing into the record market. Their capitalisation on the music form may turn away the once niche and loyal vinyl fanbase.
If we put our our literal understanding of vinyl as a circular disc in a cardboard/plastic sleeve aside for just a moment, we can see that there is also an ideology that surrounds this artefact that connotes quality, subjectivity and timelessness. It is why it has become fashionable to put the iconic LP image on cups, clothing, wallpapers, place mats, screen savers and so forth. The most recent and celebrated example of the appropriation of the famous vinyl image is on the cover of Kanye West’s latest and solely gospel-themed album Jesus is King.
So, with an ever-growing, youthful community of vinyl enthusiasts and an equal industrial surge in the production of record,s the future of this classic cultural object remains somewhat ambiguous. Has vinyl officially cemented its place in the customs and traditions of everyday life? Or will its mass over-commodification be to the demise of its popularity?