by Marianne Malone
The first commercially available vinyl record was released in the 1930s … and it bombed. There were a couple of reasons for this, not least was that it was released in depression-era America and another was that the technology to record sound was far more advanced than the technology needed to listen to it (which was rare and expensive). Plus, radio was on the rise and the medium provided hours of free fun.
By the 1940s, however, vinyl records had become so reliable, portable and affordable that a whole new kind of entertainer had emerged – the mobile DJ. And these days, even with technology having advanced to the degree that we can store thousands of songs on devices smaller than our thumbs and take our music anywhere with us, DJs are sticking to the tried-and-tested formula of vinyl. Imagine being in a club – strobe lights, thumping beats and all – without the visual effect of a DJ, his two turntables and a microphone (Beck even sings about it on his track ‘Where It’s At’). For scratching, live mixing and performance value, vinyl is the way to go.
As for the acoustic element, despite the quality afforded by CDs and MP3s, the vinyl sound is truer to the original recorded sound or the sound of live music. Myles McDonald, music producer at Hey Papa Legend sound studios in Cape Town, says: ‘MP3s offer almost a “wall” of sound rather than a sound that has ambience, depth and texture. Vinyl recordings have far more depth, and nuances that make them unique. Each time a sound is compressed from vinyl to CD and then to MP3, details are lost.’ For an excellent example of this visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=761RFIFxD0I to hear the difference between an original Beatles recording on vinyl and a digitally remastered MP3 version.
Stephen Segerman of Mabu Vinyl, just off Cape Town’s Kloof Street says: ‘The truth is that with MP3s you are actually only hearing a third of the sound the original artists wanted you to.’ This is not only because of the necessary compression needed to get a lot of sound information into a smaller format, but also because when classic albums by Def Leppard, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were recorded, they had no idea what the future of music would sound like, and the albums were created to be heard on vinyl. ‘Vinyls are like diamonds,’ says Stephen. ‘They are all individuals and have their own flaws that affect their value. The vinyl sound is so alive and feels so warm in a room.’
Master musicians are also master storytellers, and if a song is to record what a chapter is to a novel, then we’re missing out on a whole lot by downloading one track at a time. ‘I mean, would you go up to someone and say: “Wow man, you should really read chapter 13 of Catcher in the Rye, it’s brilliant”?’ asks Stephen. ‘How can you understand and appreciate chapter 13 without having read the rest of the book? Listening to vinyl as opposed to a CD is like seeing an original work of art as opposed to a reproduction.’
So while CD sales are plummeting, vinyl sales are rising. Yes, CD sales may be down because MP3s are so readily and cheaply available on the Internet, but that doesn’t account for the increase in vinyl sales. According the article ‘Vinyl Gets it’s Groove Back’, written for Time magazine by Kristina Dell, ‘990 000 vinyl albums were sold in 2007 [in the US], up 15.4% from the 858 000 units bought in 2006.’ And this doesn’t account for sales in independent and thrift stores, which form the focal points for most vinyl interest. Stephen confirms that he has noticed an increase in vinyl sales and interest, especially in the younger generation. ‘The DJ section used to pull the big sales, but that is shrinking now and the old-school stuff is taking over,’ he says. People want vintage, and vinyl fits in snugly with just between their second-hand bowling shoes and old-school Ray-Bans.
Whether you collect them for the sound, the cover artwork or the sense of nostalgia it evokes, vinyl has outlasted any the CD and may even outlast the MP3, with recording artists like The Raconteurs and even Madonna releasing their latest efforts on vinyl, making the medium more than just a trend.
Visit Mabu Vinyl at 2 Rheede Street, Gardens, Cape Town (021 423 7635). Just remember, there is one rule and one rule only in this store: no musical bigotry. If you love ABBA, love them boldly because these guys don’t judge. Ask Stephen or Landi Degenar for help too, because there are no computers to help you search – it’s all catalogued in their heads. They’ve also got a storeroom filled with rare and collectable records and their website http://mabuvinyl.co.za/ will direct you to their Bid Or Buy site.
Good to know:
Flea markets are treasure troves for finding some of your favourite vinyl. The easiest way to locate rare vinyl records is online through www.buyvinyls.com.
Fact file: While vinyl records play from the outside in, the secret tracks hidden on some albums will play from the inside out.