Much has been made of the resurgence of interest in Vinyl records in recent years, with many clamouring to declare the current era the age of the ‘Vinyl Revival’. Sales have definitely risen, and we love records here at Point Blank: the feel and weight of them, the beautiful, big pieces of artwork, the warm analogue timbre and crackle… there is no substitute. Best of all is the experience of record shopping, when you set aside a whole afternoon to get lost in a catalogue of weird and wonderful sounds, get to know the sage-like staff (who knows more about music than record shop staffers, really?) and dig out some real gems that take on an extra significance due to the energy and care that’s gone into your selection.
On the face of it, things are good. Last year vinyl sales hit their highest mark worldwide since 1991 and the number of physical shops in the UK continues to rise each year. Yet, they are nowhere near the level they once were and most young DJs still prefer to play using digital files and CDJs. Small independent record labels complain that events like Record Store Day cause huge backlogs at the pressing plants (the number of which has failed to keep up with the increase in vinyl interest) with re-issues of classic records. So perhaps things are not as rosy as they seem.
There are many questions to ponder: Is nostalgia simply masking a continuing decline? What does the future in music and playback technology hold for the format? What does it take to keep a physical shop open in an era when even high-street behemoths like M&S are shutting shops all over the country? To find out we thought the best thing would be to get out and get digging, talk to some of the passionate souls who have managed to keep the dream alive and find out what it’s really like from the other side of the counter. This will be the first part of a new series, and we’ll be following up with shops in all corners of London over the next few months. Don’t forget to check our DJ Courses where you can learn everything you need to know about playing your records.
The first stop on our tour of the city is our local record shop, Love Vinyl. Just a few minutes walk away from our offices in Hoxton, we have spent many lunchtimes perusing the wares in what you might call a ‘proper’ record shop – big selection, loads of listening decks and a goldmine of a bargain basement. We organised to chat with Zaf Chowdry and David Jarvis, respective spokesmen for the shop’s two sections – older and rare second records on one side, new releases, reissues and merchandise on the other. Just as they are with their customers, they are accommodating and open, engendering a welcoming atmosphere that makes the shop a joy to visit.
Within minutes of walking into the shop, we overheard an exchange that summed up their unwavering commitment to wax. Somebody asks Zaf how to clean some CDs and he answers ‘Mate, it’s called Love Vinyl. I haven’t got a bloody clue.’ For the guys at Love Vinyl, it’s the black stuff or nothing at all.
The story of how the shop came to be begins a good while earlier than it’s opening in 2014. Each of its staffers has their own rich history in the music industry resulting in the encyclopaedic hive-mind that manifests in the epic selection of records they have on show. For Dave, the journey stems from his time at the now legendary Beggars Banquet label, which began life as a small label in West London in 1977. His is a classic story of hard graft and a labour of love and, typically, Zaf’s story practically mirrors his own, working at Reckless Records from 1988 until 2006.
“I was [at Beggar’s Banquet] from 1986 for just under 19 years,” Dave explains as we sit at either side of the second-hand counter. “I went there as Tea Boy, became assistant manager, then manager, and I ended up owning it before I sold it and moved on.”
“I started at Reckless as a part-timer too,” adds Zaf. “But then they liquidated in 2006 and I’d been there for 18 years. To be honest it was almost a blessing after being in the same job for so long. Then I took a few years, 7 years, out to be a dad to my kids and watched them grow up. ”
The opportunity to open and run Love Vinyl came at an opportune moment for everyone involved, and in a nice change from the dominant narrative of London councils’ push-back against music venues and club culture, they were initially encouraged to open the shop by Hackney council.
“It’s kind of an unassuming place for a record shop – there’s a café next door and a grocery and a printer,” says Zaf. “It’s perfect for us though as the way it’s laid out is great for our in-stores.”
Indeed it’s these in-stores that have become something of a calling card for the shop, and both men get visibly excited when the topic is brought up. They’ve got a long list of favourites including Paranoid London (“There was at least 200 going to the outside. This girl walked through with an air horn, lets it off and the place went off. We thought the windows would come through” – Dave), Dele Sosimi (“We had an eight-piece band across these two counters and the video I took got viewed about 40,000 times” – Zaf) and Gilles Peterson (“He did a Q&A on Sun Ra and he had a bad jacket on, or a good jacket as he would say [laughs]. He stole the show.” – Dave). These become vital as a means of self-fulfulling promotion and hype, especially given the realities of running a record shop as a business.
Despite the so-called ‘vinyl revival’, it’s no secret that the landscape for running an enterprise like Love Vinyl is a lot tougher than it once was. Musing on what it was like in 90s, Dave tells us about the sheer scale of the record industry then. “A good dance single would sell between 10 and 20 thousand. Some things were even bigger again where records were selling 100,000 and they weren’t even what people counted as a big record. Then there was a certain period toward the end of the decade when it tailed off as that music wasn’t being developed as well as it had before.”
The largest factor in these changes is the digitisation of music – a double-edged sword which has both democratised the making of music and, along with the internet, stripped the end result of almost all of its monetary value. The fate of the record shop is an interesting parallel to this – it’s much harder for them to make money but their arguably better than their predecessors today due to the work that must go into encouraging people to come and buy records.
So what does that entail? What keeps a record shop like Love Vinyl alive and thriving? Their in-stores generate plenty of word-of-mouth promotion, but there has to be another draw. For Dave, Love Vinyl strikes the balance between old and new really well. “Hoxton, as much as its got Flashback and Eldica and Rough Trade and Sister Ray… I do think we have a good thing here in covering a lot of bases.”
The proximity with other record shops is another boon. Rather than competition, Zaf sees it as more of a community. “We consider them our brothers and sisters you know. The more there are around here the more people will come and visit. It’s very important that we fit in here.”
Most important of all, and a big reason the guys at the shop were so happy to talk to us, is the need to get more young people into records. The main thing each of the staff at the shop have in common is a deep-seeded love of vinyl (the name is a clue) and for that culture to live on a new generation needs to carry the torch. Zaf puts this incredibly well, while offering a note of caution.
“What’s really important is that we appeal to students and even younger because we lost a whole generation to the digital age. A lot of people who think, why pay for something I can get for free via downloads or streaming but they just don’t know how good vinyl sounds compared to files, especially MP3s. Plus they can be beautiful.
“To be fair a lot of the gigs that I do I get lots of young kids. I played at Phonox with Jeremy Underground a few weeks ago and that was all 20-year-olds going mental to disco and house which is exactly what we want, a new audience because otherwise, it dies. But it won’t die, my responsibility and my goal when I came here to get the youngers into it and pass that torch on of collecting.”
With this kind of passion and commitment to the culture, we believe him.
Love Vinyl is situated just around the corner from Point Blank in London, and our students get 10% off records at the shop – just pop in and show some proof of studying with us. You can also learn all about DJing, on vinyl or otherwise, with our DJ courses. We even offer a BA (Hons) degree in Music Production and DJ Practice which is quality assured by Middlesex University. If you have any questions about these or our other courses, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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