Retro-Active: That Vinyl Magic

My experiences with a forgotten format
April 29, 2010
Retroactivity:the act of purposefully seeking out popular objects or trends of past generations.

Knowing and recognising all of the wonders of the past is an arduous and almost impossible task. Being born in the late 80s it is safe to say that I missed out on some great things. It could have been the fact that I simply hadn't been born yet or that I was too young to understand the complexity and deeper intricacies of something. The fact remains that some things simply are too good to be missed, but now I'm older and (hopefully) more mature, so what's stopping me (and any of us for that matter) to seek out those marvels of a lost age?

I've always considered myself a connoisseur of music. The better half of my hard-disk space is cluttered with a variety of different musical styles, be they classic, hip-hop, rock or funk. Of course the fact that I am a musician myself has only fuelled this desire to seek out the obscure and the awesome. Yet I've never indulged myself into creating a tangible collection. CDs just didn't appeal to me; crappy quality and durability always stopped me from buying them. To this day the only CD that I own is the first Gorillaz album (given to me by my sis for my thirteenth birthday).

Thanks sis!

That all changed one faithful night when my parents decided it was time to bust out the old record player. Now I'm not that young that I don't even recognise the concept of vinyl, but back then it was the first time I ever laid hands on an actual vinyl player. I wasn't immediately enamoured by the archaic device: questions like "what if you want to play the THIRD track on the album?" and "why are there so many pops and hisses in the sound?" went through my mind. Eventually I decided that my trusty MP3-player was still better than this old stuff.

I believe my first response was: "what the hell is that thing?"

I couldn't help but remain slightly curious about this old format though, and eventually my parents decided to persuade me by introducing me to their old record collection, which was pretty damn huge. After some digging around I found some albums perhaps worthy of my interest. And so a night of jaw-dropping awesomeness began.

This is about 1/5 of their collection

It has been almost two years since that faithful first venture into vinyl, and I've grown a sizeable collection of my own. I still don't really understand the appeal of vinyl. I'm told the quality is better but I have difficulty telling the difference, but for some reason I can't stop collecting the damn things. I love talking about them and I definitely love collecting them, even though most people think it's ridiculous for a guy my age to spend so much time collecting these old things. But for me analogue is better than digital in this case, and so the second episode of Retro-active is about That Vinyl Magic.

My altar of awesome, with my favourite records in the bottom-left corner.

The vinyl record rose to dominance around the 1920s, and stayed there until the growing market for digital audio finally took over around the 1980s. It's main contrast when compared to CDs is the fact that vinyl produces an analogue sound, considered by some to be of superior quality. Vinyl moved away from the mainstream in the 1980s, but seems to be regaining popularity in the 2000s. A fact that I can wholeheartedly support.

Ironically the first vinyl album I got my hands on was from the same artist as my first CD: the Gorillaz. As my love for vinyl started to grow I realised I needed to get started with some sort of collection. As awesome as Demon Days is, one album does not a collection make. So I set off on a venture. First mission? Stealing my favourite albums from my parents. To this day they're still rather pissed off about that little ordeal, but who cares? I finally had a couple of records I could call "my own".

They're still not happy about me taking this one

One of the greatest albums of all time

Second mission? It was time to get my hands on my own record player and stereo set. Surprisingly enough this all went rather easy. My father still had an old stereo set I could borrow and a friend of mine (who's a DJ) had a record player left I could have. Now I just needed to buy some more records.

My record player

That's when I started realising vinyl is more alive than I originally thought. There are over 5 thriving vinyl shops in Utrecht. My favourites? De Plato on De Voorstraat en de Platenboef on De Oudegracht. If you're ever in the neighbourhood, go check 'em out. You won't be sorry. My favourite vinyl go-to place, however, is the bi-annual Verzamelaarsbeurs in the Jaarbeurs. This place is huge (unfortunately, I have no pictures that illustrate how huge). There are over three floors filled with anything a Retrojunkie would desire, and at least half of it is dedicated to the rarest, coolest and (thank god) affordable vinyl.

Retrojunkie's paradise

Over the years I've collected a variety of different albums. Some from shops, some were given to me by old grannies living in the street. I'm currently starting a vinyl fanclub here in the little town I grow up in and I've certainly found a lot of people who share my opinion. For one thing, it's nice to finally own a real collection of music instead of just having it on your computer. There's just a certain inexplicable flair to vinyl that's hard to deny. As I started collecting I noticed how alive the community still is. People of all ages are into collecting the rarest albums and coming together and talking about them. Nothing sets the mood better than grabbing a couple of records and playing 'em with friends. Even my friends have started collecting vinyl because of my enthusiasm (granted, some of them had already started). It does indeed seem like the popularity of vinyl is rising these days. I was too young to experience its original heyday but I'll be damned to let it pass by me again. In true retro-activity I'd say: screw CDs, screw MP3. Make mine vinyl!

As a concluding statement, allow me to show you my favourite albums and some of the stories that came along with them:

These are the only two singles I have, and need for that matter. Stolen from my parents.

The Toto and Village People albums were given to me by my best friend and his girlfriend. While hesitant at first, Toto is now one of my favourites. I've yet to listen to the Village People though...

I was so proud when I found Songs for the Deaf by QOTSA. Upon second inspection though I found out this album was called Songs for the Dead, a rough demo version of the original. Surprisingly some of the songs on this one are actually better than the original.

I wanted Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland so badly I almost spent 100 euros for a copy. Luckily I hesitated and found the exact same album for sale at the Sziget festival, for 2 euros.

The All Time Greatest Hits of the Beach Boys was the only album my mom wanted me to steal. God she hates the Beach Boys. I love 'em. Cash V is the most depressing album you'll ever hear, but it's really good.

Well, that was my second experience with retro-activity. Hope you liked it and next up in the search for gems forgotten is the merc with a mouth, back before he became so ridiculously popular (he has like, three, no, four monthly books these days?), the assassin with elan, Deadpool.

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