Vast swathes of my childhood were dedicated to relentlessly skipping through my trusty iPod shuffle just to reach my favourite tracks. As I recall, I spent one summer utterly enthralled by John Cooper Clarke’s Evidently Chicken Town, which found its way onto shuffle one day after my parents decided that, at the ripe age of six, it was the right time to quietly add their favourite punk anthology to my library in a bid to evolve my music taste beyond the realms of McFly. The long list of profanities was undoubtedly one of the key factors that enticed my younger self towards Clarke’s work, but there was also something special about the sense of reward that came with finally hearing his deadpan Mancunian accent after patiently skipping through so many repetitive pop tracks.
Whilst considered the peak of technological advancement a mere fifteen years ago, the iPod shuffles and custom ringtones of yesteryear seem worlds away from the everything-at-your-fingertips age of digital convenience we currently find ourselves in. Not only do streaming services provide consumers with immediate access to nearly all the music in the world at little to no cost, they also go one step further by recommending which tracks we may like based on our listening history. Sometimes it feels as though the little man that sits inside my phone curating my Spotify playlist for me knows me better than I know myself, and it has to be concurred that despite the various criticism of the algorithms that streaming platforms use, one thing you can’t deny is that they make discovering new music easier than ever.
But is easy always best? One thing that struck me when looking through my Spotify Wrapped 2020 (a Christmas highlight, I won’t deny) was that I couldn’t pinpoint what had compelled me to listen to these tracks initially, or how they found their way into my library. Despite the space and money saved, the immateriality of the digital format and the impersonal nature of having an algorithm recommend you music doesn’t allow for the same sense of excitement, tangibility and nostalgia that comes with buying and sharing records and cassettes. So, whilst many pundits would have expected records and cassettes to be consigned to garages and attics forevermore after their initial fall from favour, the plucky analogue format happily remains a meaningful presence in the lives of music fans of new and old. To celebrate this unlikely renaissance, I’m thrilled to have spoken to some amazing music producers, record labels and radio presenters to hear about the special memories they associate with some of the albums closest to their hearts.
Abi Whistance (To The Local, LDC Radio)
I started working in a record shop called LPs Paradise when I was around 14. I’d only just started collecting records that year, and finding a job where I could be surrounded by them really was my dream at the time. I remember sitting behind the counter with the owner when a man came in with a job lot, he was clearing out his attic and just wanted them gone. We took the box of records and spent the afternoon sorting through; some were clearly rubbish, some gems, and some we’d never heard of. Lisa, my boss, plucked out a black and white cover with a dog on the front, almost Victorian looking. We had no idea what it was but thought it looked worth a listen, so before the shift was over she put it on.
For an hour we sat there in silence as the album played in its entirety, listening to a gorgeous blend of seventies classic rock and ballad-esque piano, a high vibrato vocal cutting over the top of the music. We were listening to the 1975 album Pampered Menial by American rock band Pavlov’s Dog, an album that still lacks the cult following it deserves. Taking a chance on this album, based completely on aesthetics, encouraged me to do the same at nearly every record fair, every record shop, and even on the occasional Discogs order. Picking up albums based on their cover introduced me to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain and The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, to name a few, and the discovery of something brand new, with no set expectations, is what really gave me the vinyl bug.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
There is a special place called The Exchange where I grew up, where if you bring something, you can take something. I used to search through the cassettes when I was teenager and pick them out based on their cover artwork. I still have a lot of these tapes. It is such a neat experience to hear what the music zeitgeist is in your small town – for me, it was a lot of new age nature music.
I remember finding Kitaro’s Oasis and learning how to make my own paper from birch tree bark while listening to it. When I got a new tape I would tend to only listen to that one for an extended period of time. I think I listened to that tape straight for 1 month. I learned how to make my own pencils, make my own paper and carve a ladle to that album – it was winter time.
Until about a year ago I barely used Spotify to listen to or find music. I really only started to get into it once I realised the positive effect it was having on my career, in that their early support boosted me in such a way that I can say, in all honesty that I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now without it. On the flip side, something I think about often is what the younger generation of listeners are missing out on by having such an easy and vast library of music at their fingertips. The joy of having to really work to find a track has been all but lost in my opinion.
One memory that stands out is being a teenager and trying to track down a copy of Grooverider’s The Prototype Years LP. I’d heard ‘Mute’ by Matrix on a tape pack I borrowed from a friend’s brother, and this mix was a few years old so none of the tracks were current or available new at the record shop. I first went into my local record shop with my cassette player and headphones, wound the tape to the point that the track played and passed the headphones to the shop assistant to see if he knew the track. After he’d passed it to a couple others we had the ID and after that the search began. I’m not sure if Discogs was a thing back then or not, but I wasn’t aware of it if either way so it took endless phone calls to different record shops and eventually a kind lift from my Dad to a shop in Croydon (I think) where one of the staff had a copy for sale (at an unreasonable price if I remember correctly). The feeling of having to really hunt something down gives a deeper meaning to the thing in question, in my opinion, whether it’s a record or a digital file.
Detroit in Effect
I fell in love with vinyl records at a very early age. I was 7 years old in 1979 when my older brother got the Michael Jackson Off The Wall album for his birthday! Whenever he would play it, my siblings and I would sit and pass the cover around the room and admire the inside foldout picture cover. Mike looked so cool standing there against the wall with his glowing socks! We also would take turns singing along to our favourite songs as the insert had all the words to every song on the album. I guess you can say that was our form of karaoke in those days, hahaha! There was just something special about touching and reading that cover, it almost felt like we owned a piece of our favourite artist.
Although the digital download era is convenient and fast, it’s just not as personal as having a physical piece of someone’s art. What’s more valuable, a snapshot of someone’s painting taken with a camera or owning the actual painting?
Ollie Burgess (Laik Records)
Records have always interested me, the artwork, the alluring white labels, the weight and the quality of sound. I love searching for tunes in shops or online and looking through people’s collections. Most of the time I’m not looking for anything in particular, maybe looking at specific genres and years. And it’s this uncertainty that I love so much when it comes to digging for tunes. You never know what you’re gonna get, and even if you come out with one 50p banger you’re happy, as the time you have spent searching, listening and discovering is all part of the process. It is time consuming and in some ways a privilege to be able to buy physical music as it can be quite expensive, certainly a lot more than my monthly £9.99 Spotify subscription anyway.
For the brief moment we were able to get into record stores last year I discovered a mesmerising record by Robert Schroeder called ‘BlackOut / Galactic Floor’. Killer 1984 electrofunk. One side is creepy and quite jarring and the other more up-lifting, perfect hands up moment at an afters. Both spacey none the less and the artwork is fucking mint. I spent a long time in Released Records that day and came home with a huge stack, but that one in particular will always be the record I remember buying in the middle of the pandemic.
Samantha Warren (In The Key Of She, University of Portsmouth)
I used to choose CDs by their cover. In my local branch of HMV I would browse all the dance music genres to try and discover new artists based on their cool album art. The one that really sticks in my mind is Lemon Jelly. I bought their ky album in 2003 because of its glorious cover, with no idea what sort of music it would be – I just loved the aesthetic of it.
The juxtaposition of colours, the shapes, and the fact it was so mysterious (there’s no text on the cover). I was utterly delighted when I listened and have since collected all their releases. Lemon Jelly’s music is happy, funny, but also very clever and cool as all their tracks are made from samples, and I particularly like the old voice recordings they use, put with melodies.
Cory Giordano (Inner Ocean Records)
Analogue formats are a must for anyone who is a true lover of music. Not only does the analogue format provide a much higher quality listening experience that is the way the artist intended, but you also get a super fun collectable item – extra bonus points for albums with beautiful artwork! I am personally a sucker for the artwork. When crate digging used records I am always drawn to albums with interesting art, and that doesn’t always mean good music but I have stumbled upon many a great album and artist from spotting cool artwork. Same can be said for record labels! Often labels come up with a certain visual aesthetic that you can spot easily when digging, I’ve discovered a lot of labels this way too. An example of an artist I discovered this way is a Japanese artist popular in the 80’s named Kitaro. His album Tenku (the original cover) caught my eye and thus sent me down a wormhole of Japanese synthesiser ambient music from the 80’s.
When I was a child, I remember my mother playing an album called Bud Powell in Paris by Bud Powell on a small cassette tape recorder. The image of my mother’s tired face, smoking a cigarette, and the vivid passages of Bud’s music playing through the small speakers still remain in my mind. I think my love for music was influenced by my mother.
As I write this, I’m sitting next to my vinyl collection and mutely smiling at this task…
For me, vinyl is another way of physically showing who you are, what sounds you like. If anything, vinyl collections can represent the complexities of the owner. They can allude to the owner’s emotions and memories. To me, owning vinyl means that you not only have a piece of musical history, which is both popular and rare at the same time these days, but it’s also a piece of art. A lot of thought goes into the artwork for a record, not only sonically but visually too. The sleeve itself must serve as a visual representation of the record inside, whether blatantly or subtly. It has to be eye-catching in some way to grab your attention. Whether you know the artist or not, there’s something about a vinyl release that makes you pay more attention I think.
There’s been times when the connection to the music has been so strong that I just HAVE to buy the record on vinyl as well as digitally. The vibe can be too strong sometimes and if the funds are there, why not.
There’s a unique sense of elation when you get vinyl either in the post or at your local shop or fair that is, again, lost and remerging all at once. Like you’ve rediscovered a part of yourself you didn’t realise you’d lost. Or that you’ve stumbled across an album you’ve never heard of by an artist you deeply love and admire. Either way, that excitement stays with you and never really goes away no matter how long you’ve been buying records for. The immediacy of digital downloads has taken some of the magic away from that oh-so-sacred ritual of visiting your local record store… but it’s not completely gone thankfully.
Everything around vinyl requires more patience and care than it does with digital releases. The actions around selecting vinyl to play in the first place, putting the record on the turntable, removing any dust, carefully finding the track you’re wanting to play… or just playing the record from start to finish, and flipping onto a new side. Even the crackle of vinyl tells a story to me in some way as well. The crackle itself is unique to that one vinyl you have. When you see that your favourite album or single is sold out of the vinyl versions, your heart aches a bit but you secretly hope there’s a repressing or that you can get a copy of it on Discogs or something for a reasonable price. People may have varying views on it, but one thing remains undisputed – when you see a DJ get a record out, you know something very special is about to happen.
Header image courtesy of Released Records, an independent record store based in the beautiful Leeds Corn Exchange that specialises in electronic and soul vinyl, both new and used.