What you know and how you feel about vinyl is pretty much dictated by your age. Like the picture of a cassette tape that does the rounds on Facebook with the exhortation to ‘share if you get it’, the sight of that flat circular piece of plastic will either stir up strong feelings of joy like memories of your crushes and first kiss, or it’s very existence will just baffle you.
It’s not an easy way to listen to music. You can’t listen to records on the move, the equipment needed to play them takes up loads of space, discs themselves are easily ruined by clumsy handling and or too much heat and given that technology has made music so much more accessible, why would you even bother with vinyl?
Well it seems lots of people like the bother. Vinyl sales have rocketed by 500 percent in the last three years, sales of record players, that’s the old word for decks, kids, are up, and factories producing records are struggling to keep up with demand. This year’s Record Store Day will see special vinyl releases made just for the occasion and independent shops will host events such as exclusive artist performances. Until I did a little digging, I was amazed there were still record stores at all, never mind independent ones.
One person who loves vinyl and wants you to love it too is Dan Magill. He hosts Closet Vinyl, a regular residency at both Leytonstone’s Northcote Arms and The Dovecote in Chingford. The twist is, that instead of listening to Dan’s records, he encourages punters to bring their own and will give a quick tutorial on DJ’ing before letting them loose on his decks for a short set. Stepping up onto the decks certainly gets the blood vessels pumping. I was surprised that Dan would so readily allow complete amateurs onto his decks, but as he always says;
“they need using. That’s where the name comes from, they were just languishing in the cupboard for years”
Much like the majority of people’s vinyl collections. Dan’s wife Elaine claims credit for creating the night. It was originally a one-off, to celebrate her 40th birthday and proved such a success, they tried it out on the public, many of whom the couple have befriended along the way. These are two things that Dan enjoys about the nights; he gets to spend time with Elaine and he’s always meeting new people. Dan’s been DJ’ing since he moved to London twenty years ago. I’m speaking to him on a brisk Sunday morning and realise quickly that he’s still living the life, the guy’s a hero. He got in at 2.30am from a job but still, he’s getting ready to take his four kids and mother to Fun DMC at The Royal Festival Hall.
He learned the ropes by messing around on his flatmate’s decks before very quickly securing them both regular gigs all over the place. Nowadays he uses MP3’s and appreciates no longer having to lug five or six hours worth of vinyl around town, or the financial outlay that they involved, but confesses he doesn’t much like the MP3 format. Like so many enthusiasts, he talks easily and enthusiastically about his love for vinyl.
“It’s the artwork, there’s a lot of information on a record you know. There’s no personal side to an MP3, also the sound is different. With vinyl, it’s how the artist or band wanted it to be heard. When the needle’s on the record, you hear the raw, real sound of the music as it was played in the studio. CD’s and the internet have too much compression.”
This is something you’ll hear a lot when people rave about the sound quality of vinyl. Ross Bicknell, a lecturer in Music Production and Composition, and member of two local bands, Executive Toys and Tomorrow’s Bacon, explains that digital streaming is so heavily compressed, that the process actually ends up getting rid of a lot of the information in recorded music. This can sometimes fool the mind if you’re listening to something basic but he says that when played loud on a good system, as in a club or at a gig, you notice a “flimsiness” in the sound quality. Whilst we natter away about the ins and outs of music production, Ross makes the process of recording to vinyl sound magical.
“It’s a more organic process; it’s very subtle and sensitive. When sound is transmitted to a microphone, it causes it to move. This is an electrically charged signal which is then sent to a speaker, to recreate the sound. On vinyl, the movement actually goes onto the needle via the unique imprint on each record, creating a smooth sound.”
He’s keen to release at least one of the band’s music in vinyl format soon. Will Errington, Executive Toy’s guitarist is also a fan.
“Vinyl has an impact. If we’re sending someone our music, this is so much better than a link to an MP3, it’s tactile. Also when you look at the grooves, you can almost see the music.”
Closet Vinyl is a free event, so other than getting quality time with his wife and hanging out with old and new friends, I wondered what else Dan gets from the evening.
“I just love setting it all up and there’s no pressure on me to perform like when I’m at, say, a wedding and the bride is staring at me to whole time to make sure I get it right. I really appreciate being able to hear everyone else’s music and I love the diversity of what people bring along. I hear music I’ve never heard before and it’s been different every time I’ve done a night. There’ll be punk, hip-hop, pop. One guy did a full rare reggae set last time.”
There’s a very relaxed, welcoming and encouraging atmosphere at the night. People play what they love, not what they feel will impress. Once I got over my performance anxiety, which you’ll all get, I dared to look up and saw people actually dancing to my tracks, big smiles on their faces and large shapes being cut. That has to be the biggest buzz and as Dan tells me;
“the audience’s enjoyment is key. I mean the strap line for the event is Find – Bring – Play – Dance.”
If you’re up for trawling through the loft for your old music, want to take a chance on what you find in a charity shop or even have something new to play but you’re not sure how it all works, Dan will make it really easy to amaze and amuse your friends with new skills on the decks. He’ll run through the basics and, most importantly, will stand there with you the whole time if you have a memory like a sieve.
Even if you’re not yet ready to be DJ, you’ll hear a wonderfully eclectic mix of music. Look out for upcoming nights o the East LDN Events page. Naturally there’ll be a lot of 90’s club classics, but if the last Closet Vinyl event is anything to go by, there’ll be punk, pop, rock, reggae, hip-hop and pretty much anything else that’s made it’s way onto vinyl. So it seems that reports of vinyl’s death have been greatly exaggerated and as Dan says;
“It’s a beautiful thing that’s been forgotten. Let’s get it out of the closet.”
Written by Alison Bray
Photography by Alison Bray