Setting the record straight

I did something very peculiar during the holidays, something that you might expect to have disappeared from society. I got on a train, stood outside a shop, and queued for three and a half hours. Not necessarily the strangest of things but when you consider that hundreds of people were queuing up to buy some music, it does seem quite odd. Honestly, when was the last time you queued up for three and a half hours (or queued up at all) to buy some music? Your answer is very probably never.

But hang on second, a three and half hour queue? For music? Our world is digital now and we don’t really need to do it that way anymore, right? Heck, you can Spotify most (if not all) of the tracks that were released that day in less than 30 seconds. You can get them for free, if you so choose, in a format that you can carry around with you on a tiny lump of metal. We have the internet to thank for that, and a hearty thanks it deserves. So why did several truckloads of music fans queue up round an entire block for so long to get something they could have found on their computer?

The answer is Record Store Day. It’s fairly self-explanatory really; it’s an international celebration of the good ol’ fashioned Record Store (the indie ones, not HMV and their ilk), where plenty of new and established artists release limited edition music on these weird black pieces of plastic called vinyl.

Yes, it seems that the physical record still holds a certain mythical attraction. It seems illogical at first; it’s harder to get hold of, it costs more, it deteriorates over time: from a logistical point of view, vinyls – or even CDs, for that matter – are nothing compared to the 1s and 0s. A second question has to be who, really, owns a record player anymore? Even my dad, with his unrivalled collection of vinyl from 70s Japanese techno-pop bands, sold his record player over a decade ago. But judging by the size of that queue, many of us are still drawn to it. It’s difficult to put into words really, but the combination of nostalgia (both real and imagined), the buying experience and the whopping great chunk of grooved plastic probably has something to do with it. It’s just nice to have this stuff in your hands – and as simplistic as that sounds, it seems to be a major factor in explaining the resurgence in the retail of vinyl recently.

Of course, there has been a bit of an internet backlash, with many questioning the point of buying records when everything is so easily available online. Personally, I feel there is room for both sides, because they can innovate in different ways. Bands like Johnny Foreigner have just released a CD which comes as part of a frisbee (seriously), something which quite obviously wouldn’t work digitally. On the other hand, there is so much stuff that can only be done digitally, and the amount of innovation we see on that front will undoubtedly increase as bands get to grips with the technology that is available to them.

Though perhaps the most exciting prospect of the day was not the purchasing of the records itself, but catching up with like-minded people over expensive coffee/chocolate hybrid-drinks whilst listening to excellent music. A couple of bands accompanied the day, all of them fresh out of Manchester’s rapidly improving local scene. The first band to grace the stage were the delightful Patterns. For a band that have only been around for a few months, they’ve already developed a very bold, characteristic sound. Their music was sort of a cross between Animal Collective-style instrumentation and the big, expansive sound of M83. Though they hadn’t quite managed to write the sort of hook-filled songs that make their main influences so memorable, it was still an accomplished and impressive set.

The Answering Machine were next up and didn’t let up in terms of quality, playing a gorgeous blend of indie guitar-pop to an enthralled crowd. They played a super-emotive yet deliciously punky set that was much more energetic than their recorded material.

Animals was a real highlight of their set; on record it is melodic and airy, but live it was looser and more direct, coming across as something that Los Campesinos! might have played in their early days. Their fan base kind of summed up what many people have said about record stores creating communities, too. I got talking to a bunch of guys in the queue who had also come to buy expensive plastic, but mainly to watch the Answering Machine. It was quite the heart-warming sight when I saw them awkwardly saunter up to the guitarist and get a picture and a chat with them. As great as the music community is online, you can only get moments like that in the real world, so to speak.

The day wasn’t perfect, of course. Many people didn’t get the records they wanted, the coffee was far too expensive and Manchester United lost to City 1-0 in the FA Cup semi-final. Still, in the same day that sport divided people across the city, music was proving to be an incredible uniting force. A place to make friends, learn about obscure bands and, most importantly, dabble in new music. It’s nice to know that record stores still have a very important place in music communities.

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