Digital music may be devoured by the masses, but the traditional format continues to resonate with audiophiles young and old
Photo: Leslie Wilson Jr.
Dubai-based expats Anil Sukhia and Reyshiel Pastrana come from very different generations, but they are inextricably linked by a shared passion for collecting music – on vinyl.
One is a banker in his sixties, the other a video editor in his twenties. Both are part of a growing tribe of music enthusiasts who have fallen in love with “long-playing” records, or LPs for the uninitiated.
With retail tracking reports providing a positive snapshot of worldwide record sales, it’s a clear sign that musical masterpieces like Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon have made a comeback in their original avatars.
As a result, the ubiquitous record player has reappeared in living rooms and music stores around the world, including right here in the United Arab Emirates.
Beginning of a revolution
Where did it all start? On June 18, 1948, there was a great buzz at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York where a highly publicized press conference was being held to announce an exciting new technology in music – the vinyl record, made from a material flexible plastic called polyvinyl chloride.
The first breakthrough was a full-length disc featuring the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra’s recording of the Violin Concerto in E minor by legendary German composer Felix Mendelssohn.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, over eight decades later, the wheel has come full circle for millions of music lovers around the world who are avid collectors. The popularity of these discs in the 50s, 60s and 70s was halted by the emergence of the Sony Walkman, based on magnetic cassette technology.
CDs will evolve into digital music, which will make way for streaming platforms. But vinyl fought back in force.
Records reveal that 2009 was a pivotal year for vinyl music fans.
While a large majority of enthusiasts were deeply engrossed in digital music, a few returned to record stores in search of turntables and vinyl records. This was encouraging news, as for the first time since 1984, vinyl record sales increased dramatically, reaching almost 90% growth.
The trend has spread like wildfire and accelerated over the years.
Vinyl clubs started popping up in all major cities including Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, their members passionately building up their record collections.
Raw music store in Dubai
By 2018, vinyl had once again firmly established itself with sales estimated at nearly 10 million worldwide.
It is not difficult to assess the reasons for the meteoric resurgence of vinyl records. Most fans thought that their favorite music – be it rock, pop, jazz or blues – sounded best on vinyl, which was the format the recording was originally made for.
Many audiophiles eschewed the perfection CDs boasted of, preferring to stick with whatever flaws or imperfections, if any, vinyl had.
The digital music devoured by today’s millennials might be cool, but even teenagers are turning to vinyl and digging deep in attics or family warehouses for seminal albums like “What’s Going On ” by Marvin Gaye, “Rumors” by Fleetwood Mac or Charles Mingus. Ah uh.’
Hear it from the fans
Anil, an avid vinyl collector, has spent the best years of his life building his collection which spans a range of genres. Here, he explains why he prefers the format over all others:
“I first fell in love with music at the age of eight when I heard the Rolling Stones’ ‘Beggars Banquet’ on an old audio cassette. I was hooked,” says Anil. “I collect 70s vinyl: The Beatles, Paul Butterfield, Allman Brothers Band, Charles Mingus, Nat King Cole… You name it, I probably got it.
“Vinyl gives you a very warm sound, it’s the best way to experience music — the way it was made. It’s much better than a CD,” he adds. “I constantly buy records, box sets, anthologies and collector’s editions.
Reyshiel, who recently started building his own record collection, describes the vinyl experience as “pure magic”.
“You can hold it, touch it, see it and feel it before you even play a record. It’s a tangible art form,” she says. “Just admiring the beauty of a vinyl record offers a unique type of attachment. Being in the digital age, where everything is just a click away, here I am, growing my love for vinyl!
Hear Yassine Hakimi, DIFC’s Raw Music Store Manager, explain why he and his brother decided to start an audiophile vinyl store in Dubai:
Purists are of the opinion that vinyl records sound much better than compact discs. “They are much more organic, warm and natural than digitally enhanced CDs. The reproduction is true to life, as recorded in the studios on an 8-track machine,” says Dubai-based vinyl enthusiast Mohan P.
“Even the scratches and rumbles you hear on records add to the natural listening experience.”
The evolution of music
Music consumption has an incredible history dating back to the late 1870s when “pre-recorded cylinders, what we now call records, were sold”. In the 1890s, the first phonograph parlors, where patrons could pay a nickel to listen to a recording, emerged. These would evolve into record stores.
It was in 1889 that the first album in history was recorded by the German-American Emile Berliner who became known as the “father of the gramophone”.
Spillers, a record store in Cardiff, Wales, claims to be the first record store in the world to have been founded in 1894 during the era of phonograph shows.
However, the first vinyl records were not available until after World War II when, in 1948, thanks to CBS, the world’s first LP record was created. This vinyl record, which was 12 inches wide, had a musical capacity of approximately 21 minutes per side. It spun at a speed of 33 1/3 RPM, the same speed as today’s record players.
The beauty of record covers
Cover design is undeniably a very important part of music albums. The art on some of the classics like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” or Blind Faith’s self-titled album is the stuff of legends. Many collectors and enthusiasts are known to buy albums just for the cover.
At first, it was such an important aspect that it became an outlet for several popular artists to showcase their work, including famous artists, such as Andy Warhol, Burt Goldblatt, and Roger Dean. Many of them even got noticed after designing album covers.
Do vinyls have a future?
While music technology will undoubtedly continue to advance in the next five or ten years (in its streaming form), ultra-digital music may lose its appeal.
We still cycle and brew our coffee in a coffee maker. Even good old fashioned radio is still hugely popular in most parts of the world.
So don’t be surprised if you walk into your friend’s house for dinner to find his teenage kids glued to a record player with vinyl records strewn everywhere.
It is an image that certainly touches conventional music lovers like Anil or children of the new generation like Reyshiel.
Vinyl is still very much alive. Soak up the sweet, extended melodies of The Vinyl Collection featuring the recently deceased Olivia Newton-John.