There is no logic for liking vinyl. In the age of the iPod, digital music is not only more convenient, it’s cheaper and longer-lasting too. Sticking to digital you’ll rarely find yourself going into your overdraft to buy a limited edition release of Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits just to watch a needle play music from an image of his face. Vinyl does not make music easier to listen to or, so far as I can see, in any way objectively better. It’s an inefficient and outdated way to enjoy music.
Another writer may champion analogue for its ‘empirically’ better sound quality, but to build the argument of digital versus analogue on quasi-scientific grounds is to misunderstand its basic attraction. Rather, vinyl’s appeal has greater endurance than technological penis competitions: vinyl has character. Character is not something that can be quantified like the binary code of digital music, nor is it something that can be universally agreed upon. To me the fact that vinyls’ age along with the listener, deteriorating with every play, makes them more human and more lovable than their digital counterparts. Vinyls’ have to be looked after; methodologically organised, ruthlessly cleaned and carefully played. To many this is vinyls downfall, to some this is the appeal.
The sole attraction of vinyl does not lie in the intangible world of character, however. Rather, vinyl gives music the platform to complement its core content with a second work of art. The packaging of vinyl, in scale and form, give artists more room for creativity and becomes art in itself. Many iconic musical images of the 20th century have been vinyl covers, from The Velvet Underground and Nico’s Warhol banana to The Clash’s London Calling. Of course, you can find Guernica after a quick Google search, but owning the 12” is an insight into what attracts people to collect art in the first place.
These multi-modal works of art then become something to buy, something to keep and something to cherish. Our generation will not be passing on hard drives filled with Adele and Rihanna. Yet for the vinyl fan, collections develop a history that can be traced back through family members, friends or fellow fans you never met. iTunes or PirateBay can simply never match the intimacy of this experience.
You may retort, of course, by viewing vinyl as the latest FAD of a culture that superficially misunderstands the past and thus bastardises its meaning. Yet, for all its hipster chic the reality of the community is pretty similar to obsessive anoraks of other niche hobbies. In essence it’s stamp collecting with David Bowie, trainspotting with Lou Reed or Pokémon cards with Meatloaf; a world of first pressings, limited editions and carbon fibre cleaning brushes. Once whilst in Rebound Records on Gillygate I entered a seemingly innocent discussion about the merits of Lou Reed. Within minutes I had an invitation to listen to “Metal Machine Music” at a fellow fan’s farm. Suffice to say, the record collecting community is strange and sometimes scary group, but with a sense of belonging and passion.
Listening to music isn’t about efficiency or modernity; it’s about connecting. Vinyl, in my opinion at least, can offer a truly intimate relationship with the songs you love.