Record lovers fight for their divinyl right
It was an event for the true believers: those who adore the rich sound of vinyl records, the art on their covers and the machines that play them.
The Vinyl Evolution – billed as combined record fair, comedy show, history lesson and expert discussion – drew 200-odd enthusiasts to the Spiegeltent on Saturday.
''To be honest, it's the covers I like most,'' said organiser Fiona Scott-Norman. ''It's where art and commercialism collide. When you look at a record sleeve, you're looking at a commercial representation of that artist's essence.''
Melbourne's enduring love of vinyl
Emma Peel displayed some of the stranger covers that she has come across in Brazil and the USA, at The Vinyl Evolution, an event held to celebrate Vinyl Records at The Famous Spiegeltent. Photo: Paul Jeffers
But as Scott-Norman explained to the crowd, all records used to come in brown paper bags. Not until the late 1930s did photographs and illustrations grace their covers. (The big labels fiercely opposed this development because of the increased cost. They changed their minds, however, when they noticed the associated jump in sales.)
There was some nostalgia for the golden age of vinyl but this was by no means a eulogy: as several retailers pointed out, sales are actually increasing. Obsessive audiophiles are driving this, of course, but so are the local artists who release new albums on vinyl in addition to iTunes.
DJ Lady Soul, a budding disc jockey in her early 50s, heard about the event on community radio station PBS. To her, nothing beats the frisson of excitement that a freshly-dropped needle generates. ''I love those few seconds of crackling before the music starts'' she said. ''When I listen to a CD, I miss that sound.''
Marley Biggs, 11, was perhaps the youngest ticket-holder.
''My dad brought me here because he loves collecting records and he already has, like, 500 of them,'' Biggs said. ''I like them too because they're old-school and pretty cool.''
An hour later, Biggs tracked down Fairfax Media to issue a correction: ''Dad wants me to tell you that he has 15,000 records, not 500,'' he said.
Around him swirled a rather eclectic crowd, from young women dressed like '60s pop starlets to middle-aged men dressed like geography teachers. Most were fossicking through crates containing almost every conceivable genre, including rockabilly, post-war blues and ''soul of Melbourne''.
In the ''what were they thinking?'' category was an album released, inexplicably, by Qantas: a camp compilation called Qantastic – There's Music In The Air. Then there was a record from Aussie punk rockers Psycho Surgeons. To ensure the uniqueness of each cover, the band poured buckets of pigs' blood onto a concrete floor, then smeared the paper sleeves through it. ''I remember getting those records delivered,'' one retailer said. ''The blood wasn't quite dry.''
Some guests, however, found the collection of players more captivating. The most popular was a giant Sharp boombox from the early 1980s in which records are inserted vertically like cassettes. (Tagline: ''It plays both sides.'') There was a minimalist white turntable seemingly designed by Apple and a red plastic unit that resembled a ladybug. The oldest, however, was an allegedly portable Philips player of indeterminate age. ''You'd end up with a slipped disc if you actually tried to move the thing,'' one observer noted.
Passions ran high during the concluding panel discussion, in which vinyl devotees argued about the best way to clean records and why ''real'' DJs don't use laptops. One even explained why the songs at the start of an album sound better than those near the end: ''The grooves become smaller the closer you get to the centre of a record and the angle of the needle is different.''
Indeed, the only point of unanimous agreement concerned the future of vinyl: ''It's a tiny niche market,'' said one retailer, ''but the people who are in that niche are absolutely passionate.''