It’s been a few years since I got up dangerously early on a Saturday morning to queue with the masses. And while I am all for supporting the local independent record stores, the landscape really seems to have changed a lot in the intervening years. The early queues outside the stores seem largely made up of chancers and hucksters - looking to snap up the most in-demand vinyls so they can turn a quick profit on eBay. Then there’s the other weird trend of millennials simply buying vinyl as household decorative objects - there is no record player in the household, and the vinyl will likely never hit the needle.
On the other side - record companies of old are increasingly trying to turn a fast buck in new money for old rope - clogging up the few remaining pressing plants with everyday -reissues - which the dedicated audiophiles have already. There’s also the question of price inflation for a lot of the items on sale - even when you buy them first hand. Add that to the fact that the details of each record are frequently sketchy and you don’t necessarily now which version you’re getting or how good the recording or final cut actually is.
I only really bought 7"s in my very earliest years of record buying. That format really is very low quality, and gets woefully exposed on a half decent stereo rig. You should only be buying the high-quality thick heavy-weight 33rpm vinyls and the occasional 45rpm 12".
You tend to get a plethora of coloured vinyl, picture discs and specially shaped discs - all of these can have issues, and although interesting for collectors and completists, tend to have low audiophile values typically.
The class of 2017 also appears to be not particularly inspiring - there look to be some quick cash-ins on recently passed Bowie and Prince, but nothing for George Michael. Most of these discs are reissues of some sort, a few releases have never been on vinyl previously - and if you are a fan of said artist then possibly a worthwhile purchase, providing the quality of the recording and cutting are up to snuff. In years past I thought I was getting a great lost / recently uncovered remix to find out that I already had the same - just under a slightly different name - so there is always a certain amount of re-packaging that goes on, and since there are no samples in advance for most of these records you are really facing up to something of a blind auction.
There have been a plethora of dodgy rare live recordings over the years, and even decent recordings can be badly exposed by poor vinyl mastering onto cheap, thin vinyl. All these re-issues and re-packaging are largely benefitting the big record companies of old, and slowing down the production of new music.
So in line with the article headline, ’Your Enemies’ are various and surround you on all sides. You are better off supporting your independent record store on all the other days of the year. The actual ’Record Store Day’ experience tends to be a poor one, and you don’t get the usual dose of fun that you would have with a more leisurely episode of proper crate-digging.
I have ironically bought just 2 vinyl releases this year - both by my favourite new artists - Swedish ingenue Pauline Skott, and rather hypocritically both on 7". I am supporting though a new and up-and-coming artist, I love the artwork, and would have actually preferred to buy these on 12" if they had been available in that format - both incidentally have gorgeous artwork, and in truth, I am unlikely to play them in this format, as I already have the recordings in other more readily accessible mediums.
So I guess there will always be in part an ’object’ collector angle to vinyls, while I would of course prefer it to be all about the music. Times have changed though, and most of my listening occurs via headphones and iPhone, which necessitates electronic file formats for said music. If you like to travel with a sufficiently large part of your collection, you are compelled to rely on MP3 formats. Just like I would prefer not to take two bottles into the shower, I really don’t want to be carrying two electronic devices with me everywhere I go (meaning porting fully lossless files). To a large degree, my iPhone is a portable jukebox.
In the long ranging argument of vinyl vs MP3, the latter is not the enemy. In days of old you had to record your vinyl to tape to be able to listen to it on the fly - via Walkman or car stereo. When you were feeling lazy you occasionally procured the original recording tape version. While tapes really for most purposes were the Spotify playlists of the day - or mixtapes as we used to call then, and in fact what a lot of hip hop artists still call their more informal freely available current content.
Meaning that all these things are cyclical, and that vinyl will keep on rotating whether or not you participate in this annual jostle for artificially inflated and artificially limited goods. In fact many of these records are re-pressed later, and are available through most of the conventional channels if you are prepared to wait a month or two.
I am always surprised by how much of this stuff eventually ends up on Juno.co.uk, Amazon et al - available online and from the comfort of your own lounge. In any case, I think all this Record Store Day malarky is really a young person’s game now, and no longer really for the likes of me. I occasionally potter into town a day later to see if anything of interest remains - I keep my expectations low and am frequently pleasantly surprised. Also it helps if you shop in a slightly contrary fashion - i.e. look for indy material in a more electronic-based store and electronic material in a store more frequented by indy types - this means that the leftovers are more likely to be to your liking - I have often struck a particularly rich vein at the original Rough Trade store on Talbot Road - just off Portobello road ...
Here are my sort of highlights for the year - not that I am necessarily likely to acquire any of these! :
Phonica - 51 Poland Street, W1F 7LZ
Sister Ray - 75 Berwick Street, W1F 8RP
Reckless Records - 30 Berwick Street, W1F 8RH
Sounds of the Universe - 7 Broadwick Street, W1F 0DA
Other Notable London Record Stores
Rough Trade - 130 Talbot Road, W11 1JA
Rough Trade East - 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL
Full list of Record Store Day Participants [here]
Full list of RSD releases [here]