Vinyl was supposed to be dead, gone the way of the typewriter and the unicycle. Record stores were supposed to be dusty museums filled with lost music – populated almost exclusively by bespectacled middle-aged men with uneven stubble, breathlessly nattering about the best valves for your amplifier while clutching grimy LPs to their chests. Young people, well, they had MP3s, smart phones and early-onset arthritis in their thumbs. They had no need for anything analogue.
But in the last five years, something has changed. Albums began to be reissued on vinyl, Record Store Day was born and young men courting winsome girls in floral dresses would breathlessly demonstrate that The xx or Grizzly Bear sounded infinitely better coming out of the makeshift sound systems on their share-house bedroom floors. Today, vinyl is in the midst of a glorious revival.[fold]
So what explains the growing popularity of vinyl in the digital age? Daniel McManus, the owner of York Street’s Mojo Record Bar, believes that it’s a reaction against the ever-available nature of the MP3. “The ability to download any album in a matter of seconds has taken the magic out of discovering music,” he says. “It's also cheapened the product. When you buy a record, there is an investment not only of cash but also of time, energy and emotion. The physical product is something that people miss – the tactile nature of records and of owning something solid and real, with its own distinct look and feel. Only the LP gives you the full-sized album artwork and the feeling that you are investing in something that you will have for life. It is as much a piece of art as it is a piece of music.”
While music retailers like HMV are flailing around in despair, the past seven years have seen vinyl sales growing steadily for the first time since the 1980s. In Sydney, independent record stores aren’t just hanging on, they’re thriving. Retailers are increasingly tilting their collections towards the demand for vinyl and record bars – banking on the hunch that music and alcohol equal good times for all – are popping up across the city. Mojo Record Bar is one such establishment. When the old Mojo Records went bust due to the decline in CD sales, the Record Bar was born, dedicated to the charms of crate-digging with a beer in hand. After only a year in business, Mojo has forged a sturdy reputation as a purveyor of quality vinyl and quality booze.
The superior sound of analogue music is one of the biggest reasons behind vinyl’s revival, says McManus. “Decent vinyl played on a decent system just sounds infinitely better than any MP3,” he says. “Listen to a record you’ve only heard before on MP3 and it's a completely different, richer, experience.”
In this sense, music is a lot like orange juice (bear with me). The sound of a vinyl is the equivalent of freshly squeezed juice, whereas a CD is supermarket-brand juice, and the MP3 is orange concentrate. If all you’ve ever known is the MP3, you’re never aware of the richness and depth you’re missing until confronted with the real thing.
The other great appeal of vinyl is the ritual of listening. You “have to select the album, carefully take it out of its sleeve, place it on the turntable, set the turntable going, give it a quick wipe with a dust brush then place the needle on the vinyl. It makes you actually sit down and listen to it properly. You respect the music and pay it due attention.”
For many younger people, the revival of vinyl is a kind of nostalgia for a time never experienced. In many ways, it’s nostalgia for a greater age of artistic integrity, for a time when our listening habits weren’t atomised by downloads and creativity wasn’t so subsumed in the collateral of fashion and image. A time when people really listened.
Mojo Record Bar
Basement Level, 73 York Street, Sydney
(02) 9262 4999
Mon to Wed 10am–5.30pm
Thurs & Fri 10am–midnight
Mon to Fri 4pm–midnight