Published on August 21st, 2020 | by Robert Barry Francos0
The Vinyl Revival
Vinyl records have gone from obsolescence to being all the rage with the kids! This informative documentary tracks its resurgence in this weird contemporary zeitgeist.
Seven years ago, British director Pip Piper released a documentary entitled Last Shop Standing. In it, he opined about the closing of Record Stores in favor of on-line shopping for digital music.
But social philosopher Marshall McLuhan once posited that when a technology becomes obsolete, it comes back again as art (it’s one of my favorite “McLuhanisms”). The revival of the vinyl record is a perfect example of that idiom.
For a while, after the CD explosion in the late 1980s and into the 2000s, digital media overtook the physical LP. But the irony is that once music became digital, it was also easier to copy in almost pristine sound to the original. At least there was still the CD cover art and inserts, which were minuscule in relation to the 12-inch jacket. But even that was better than the elusive digital MP3, which was easily shared, stolen, or whatever you want to view it as, and was a standalone without art or liner notes. The appeal of these physical art “extras” had been underestimated by the companies that released the music, though collectors especially were aware.
Graham Graham, who wrote Last Shop Standing, and Pip travel around Britain to independent record shops (no box stores), talking with the owners and workers in their environment. The last film was a bit on the depressing side, but this one has a totally fresh, new, and upbeat attitude which is smile-inducing to those of us (well, me, anyway) who have had a history of record collecting and have stood going through racks of used records until our legs were numb and fingers bruised from flipping.
An interesting point is made early on, and this is something I have pondered for quite a while, and that is the brilliance of Record Store Day. It’s a day where all record stores have gigantic sales at the same time, and people who are generally too busy in their real lives to journey out for their hobbies, will set aside the time and make a day with it (note that comic book stores, also having a revival, do the same thing). To a devotional collector, any day is Record Store Day, but for the casual fan, it’s a genuine celebratory holiday to save for, like Xmas (though the products are usually for oneself). In my heyday of collecting, going to stores was a given, when the opportunity arose, or on weekends. The people who worked there were chums you talked to, discussing new sounds and old records.4
I mention this here because that is the vibe you get from the people interviewed by the film crew, that it’s not just the record, it’s the community, but one needs a watering hole, as it were, in the case the record shops. It is also a way for the new artists to get heard with in-store performances. We meet independent bands like the Orielles, a member of the Horrors, and a focus near the end by the trio Cassia, who explain how the relationship between the band, the independent stores, and the fans all work together in ways that go beyond big business record label promotions.
Another nice aspect is that most of the interviews are in situ, meaning in a store or just outside of it. We get to hear from Nick Mason (Pink Floyd drummer), Philip Selway (Radiohead drummer, etc.), Adrian Utley (Portishead guitarist), and Joel Gion (The Brian Jonestown Massacre tambourinist), but also from Professor of Culture and Philosophy, Barry Taylor (one of his books is Sex, God, and Rock ‘n’ Roll: Catastrophes, Epiphanies, and Sacred Anarchies), and the great-named rock and roll cultural historian Dr. Jennifer Otter Bikerdike, author of Why Vinyl Matters: A Manifesto from Musicians and Fans, among others. Whether you question their tastes or not is irrelevant to what they are saying about the medium.
My favorite interviews, though, as I said, were with the store owners and workers; there isn’t much by people who are just fans without the credentials to explain their love when it isn’t their career.
One of the almost subliminal messages this film seems to suggest is that the present record store consumer tends to be mostly in their fifties, or in their twenties, with a gap in-between from the later CD years of the 1990s and early 2000s. I would have liked to have heard some more information about that, and whether that’s real or in my head.
This documentary fills a void just like the record stores are doing, to help explain the psychology of the modern collector, what makes them different from the older ones like me, and to just revel in the joy that is vinyl.
You can get the film and more information on the thevinylrevival.com.