As I potter around my home office on a dull Easter Monday, I stumbled across this post on my favourite Digital Vertigo forum. My friend Pete was lamenting his relationship with vinyl, and how despite having offloaded a sizeable chunk of it in the last few months, he’s somewhat surprised that it doesn’t seem to be bothering him that much. This in turn has made me examine my own relationship with vinyl, and figured it would be something worth kicking around with some of you.
SMALL BUT PERFECTLY FORMED
A sizeable chunk of my small home office’s valuable real estate is take up with cubes of vinyl. Not my entire collection, but maybe 75% of it, the rest being in storage. It’s not large, coming in at perhaps 1500ish in total (I’ve never counted), but it’s large enough to make me appear to be a DJ or vinyl collector. As a DJ I never slavishly bought everything that came out, and simply stuck to the ones I liked, hence the relatively small number.
Here’s the thing, and something I suspect that many of you will relate to — 99% of my collection never gets played. I look at them every day, rarely dig into them, and in reality use them as the occasional backdrop for photography, like this story for example. In this context, my office has become a vinyl storage facility.
In writing this piece, I decided to randomly pull out a pile and listen to them. I was struck by three things:
Playing vinyl is annoyingly laborious. Put on a 12” and 5-6 minutes later I have to get up and play another one. This is not an effective use of my time. I have become
lazy accustomed to well curated playlists on Spotify.
Vinyl does not always sound better. In fact, in this exercise, I listened to the digital equivalent of the vinyl I was playing (largely 80s and 90s Hip Hop and House), and the vinyl did not fare well at all. So far the sound isn’t warm (whatever the hell that means), and there’s a distinct lack of range in comparison.
You must remember that this stuff was chucked out of pressing plants sausage factory style at an alarming rate, and sold for a fraction of what it does now. Everything produced these days seems to be a limited edition 180gm collectors edition, but back in the heyday of vinyl, everything was mass-produced and a long way from special. I may have to get a hifi cart to bring this old stuff to life, as my DJ cartridge could be missing out on some of that dynamic range.
I bought some utter shite. You know how it goes — you peruse your collection with your head at an angle and always come across those tracks that you haven’t heard for years. So you pull it out, pop it on… and then rapidly realise why it has stayed on your shelf for decades. Perhaps I wasn’t so selective after all.
MAKES. NO. SENSE.
As I look around the birthplace of skratchworx and DJWORX, I see a room explicitly designed to maximise the piffling amount of space available. It is my office, photography and video studio, library, and gallery. It’s a lot to ask of a 4m x 2m space, especially as in the corner you never see is the boiler and laundry. So given the sheer volume of life crammed in this room, it is the greatest irony that it is also home to what would appear to be a lot of redundant vinyl. I see it every day, and bar a few notable exceptions, it never moves. And god knows I’m always stepping over stuff on the floor that begs for shelf space.
Even more ironic is how I keep adding to this collection of unplayed vinyl with new and old pressings that get played a couple of times and rapidly assumes the position alongside the rest as I defer to the digital equivalent out of convenience and for sound quality too. Some of it never gets opened, making me wonder why I bought it at all.
So having established that I have an expanding collection, never play it, but always make space for it when I have little space to start with, my mind has started searching for answers.
IF I DON’T PLAY IT, WHY KEEP IT?
Now that is a big question, and goes beyond DJing or even the medium of vinyl. I wouldn’t even call myself a collector. My selection isn’t big, isn’t organised, and when a new piece arrives, it gets put in the nearest slot with space. I have no vinyl fetishes as such — I have a wide musical taste with no preferences for labels, artists, or formats. I don’t subscribe to the 45 trend, nor do I have a Serato pressings obsession either. The best way to describe it is as narrating the period of music from the birth of electronica to the beginnings of detroit Techno. My serious vinyl addiction stopped in 89 when a mortgage on a one bedroom cottage kicked in.
As my age-o-meter clicked over the 50 mark in December, I find myself looking back and examining my life. There are still gaps in memories caused by a car accident some years ago, but when I think hard, I can unlock some of those that are missing. Indeed just a couple of weeks ago, I had a flashback to a single played by John Peel. I heard it, recorded it, and played that tape for years until it got destroyed in a basement flood in the aforementioned cottage. The track itself was so obscure that I just couldn’t find it anywhere. Then a couple of weeks ago, the song popped back into my head, and thanks to the internet I was able to glean more information 30+ years later than I ever had before. The last one sold in 2015 for £28, but I must have it, and many others that I missed or just gave away over the years,
And for me, this plays a huge part of why despite never playing them anymore, I keep my collection. When I look through the shelves, I pull them out after many years and get partial flashbacks to parts of my life. I know there’s a lot still to unlock, but at least some of this hoard is a key.
This phrase seems to sum it up perfectly:
“My vinyl collection is a hard copy of my memories.”
It’s easier to attach memories to physical things. When I pull out a sleeve, I remember past times of looking at it in the shop, and the times when I played the record, and the associated memories of owning a tangible lump of something. So perhaps this is the best reason for keeping my collection.
SHOULD I KEEP IT?
I have no plans to play out again, but with my collection I can at least think back to when I did. Right now, D-Train’s “Music” is playing and it’s spectacular. And having spent some time writing this, peppered with digging into my shelves, it’s clear that I can happily despatch a fair chunk to eBay or most likely a charity shop and not care a jot. I’ll probably spend the next few months going through it, listening to as much as possible, and trying to get a semblance of order to the random mess that is my collection.
But at the end of it, will I be able to let any of it go? I mean… that 12” isn’t taking up much space is it? Mo, perhaps not that one, but the other one hundred that equally mean nothing to me take up space that my camera gear could be sat in. I have to equate ditching vinyl to something — it won’t be for the money, but more likely for the regained space, less cluttered office life, and subsequent working improvements.
Rounding off on an excellent quote from Pete’s forum post:
“The bulk of my record collection has become a representation of who I have been in the past but no longer am & I’m tired of it. It’s like having the echoes of an old version of me lurking around me.”
I pondered on this the most. My active DJ life started before I had a job, a family, a mortgage, and a career. And this collection is the only thing (bar a single mixtape) that remains from that time. So do I cling on it to legitimise the current phase of my career? It’s not as though it serves any other useful purpose. It’s not as though my collection says anything about me to the DJWORX community.
Does it bother anyone that I don’t have tens of thousands of classics cluttering up my office? Do you think more of my opinion about a product because the first record I bought was “Exodus” by Bob Marley and the Wailers when it came out in 1977? Perhaps if I tell you that I have doubles of “Holiday Rap” you’ll never come here again. The acapella works really well over “Looking for the Perfect Beat” instrumental though. Honest.
AT THE END OF THE DAY…
You can’t take it with you when you die, and I doubt I’ll really care much when people flick though my collection and marvel at some of the gems when I do. So who am I actually keeping them for? It’s not like my family is going to keep any of it. I don’t think Hatty will appreciate having to make space for her Dad’s record collection. Perhaps it is time, much like Pete, to begin to free myself of some of this mass, and whittle it down to the real memories, and limit purchases to lost or missed ones from the past.
At the end of all this, I only have a slightly clearer reason for keeping old vinyl, but no clue as to why I buy new stuff, especially given the increasingly outrageous prices being charged. I can only hope that going through them one by one will plug a few gaps and bring back some amazing memories.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Give us an idea of your collection, why you collect this stuff, and if you’ve just realised that your collection just sits there as a relic to a bygone version of yourself. Let’s try to build a picture of your relationship with vinyl.