Big, flat, round, black – despite the hucksters, vinyl has its day

Record Store Day has taken a kicking, but there’s hope yet

Fri, Apr 18, 2014, 00:00

In 2008 there were 10 special releases for Record Store Day, a celebration of indie record stores and the vinyl format. A year later that figure was up to 85. For International Record Store Day 2014 on April 19th (20 Irish shops are participating), there will be more than 700 limited-edition releases. But just as ticket touts wreck our heads when it comes to in-demand gigs, a new form of tout is all over Record Store Day.

Last year, a vinyl Boards of Canada limited release – picked up on Record Store Day – allegedly sold for $5,700 on eBay. Others went for thousands of euros. The reason for this is that musicians support the day by releasing product that you can’t get anywhere else. Hence its rarity value.

It’s because of this, and more, that Record Store Day 2014 is getting a kicking from the very people it’s supposed to represent.

According to The 405 music site (thefourohfive.com): “It now feels like Record Store Day has been appropriated by major labels and larger indies to the extent that smaller labels who push vinyl sales for the other 364 days of the year are effectively penalised”.

The Wolf Town DIY label (wolftowndiy.limitedrun.com) pulls no punches: “The original purpose was to celebrate independently owned record stores. These intentions were honourable but it is so far removed from that at present. There’s nothing independent about hundreds of major label represses. These labels genuinely do not want to improve your record collection or make you happy, they just want your wallets open. The focus of Record Store Day is on major labels and past-it rock stars.”

For the day that’s in it, The Sex Pistols are releasing a limited-edition 7-inch-by-7-inch vinyl box set – and the proud boast here is that the collection features two new studio mixes of the truly vile Belsen Was a Gas . Even John Lydon admitted that the group’s shock tactics crossed over into gratuitous bad taste with this disgustingly titled song, saying “it was very nasty”. So why rerelease it?

At the other end of the spectrum, One Direction are releasing a picture disc 7-inch vinyl single tomorrow. And for very expensive vinyl releases by has-been rockers, you’re in clover.

That’s the downside of what Record Store Day has become. But in Irish record shops from Sligo to Waterford to Cavan and beyond, fans who have never actually touched a piece of physical music (but have 500 million songs stored on their phone) can be dragged back to a time when artwork, liner notes and lyric sheets were part of the whole experience of browsing and buying music.

So vinyl is growing as a niche market, though anecdotal evidence has it that some people are picking up vinyl despite not having an olde turntable on which to play it. Record players are a hipster fashion accessory that plays on the retro “coolness” of the format.

Okay, okay – there truly is nothing worse than a vinyl-fetish bore. But Record Store Day provides the chance to explore what is now a parallel universe in musical consumption terms. In essence, what the day actually does is support the system of paying money for music, not stealing, copying or illegally downloading something that artists have put weeks and months of work into.

To paraphrase Stewart Lee, go in to a shop and have a look at those big, flat, round, black MP3s.

recordstoreday.com

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