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No Dancers Spared: The plural of vinyl is... wait.. nobody cares about your vinyl set

Putting the needle back on a broken record

  • 14 September 2020

Mixmag Asia reluctantly welcomes Arthur Kovacs and his pessimistic, blunt and sardonic view of the modern dance floor and everyone in it. From dancers to DJs, no one is safe from his line of sight, not even himself. He’s a has-been DJ, a failed promoter, a long-time clubber and an armchair anarchist, and he’s also old, disgruntled, and bitter; constantly complaining at everything; an old man raver yelling at the sky. When he’s not moaning about something, he’s usually busy browsing through your social media posts, trying to find the next thing to complain about. So if you see him writing so much heat, and you start to cry each time you read… just scroll on by.

Before I spit out my venom, let’s take a moment to consider what this rant is not about: vinyl-only record labels and the hard-working folks behind these labels, and the decade-long argument between vinyl vs digital as a medium. My gripe is entirely with DJs and promoters using ‘vinyl’ as a buzzword to give the illusion of credence in whatever bullshit they’re trying to sell to you and those who capitalize on and ruin the foundation of a culture I love just to sell shows.

When was the last time you went to an event because it promised an evening of vinyl-only sets? When was the last time you felt that your night out was hugely improved because the DJ played only vinyl? When was the last time you and your friends stopped dancing at 1am when the warm-up vinyl-only DJ switched with the headliner who played exclusively digital (since the headliner is most likely on a tour in Asia), and you felt the supposedly inferior sound quality of digital hindered your clubbing experience? ‘Never’ should be the answer.

And if you answered yes to any of the previous questions, I bet you’re lying just to look cool in front of your bearded mates who clearly develops dermatitis every time they step foot inside a club and begin to scratch their faux-Victorian era facial hair. Honestly, those people aren’t good for your mental health; the ones who never let loose on the dancefloor; the ones who, instead of dancing, elect to critique a DJ for whatever format they’ve chosen or if they got their mixing one-tenth of a second out of time; the ones who say they know what is what but they don’t know what is what. They just strut scratch their dermatitis beard. What the fuck.

Like most DJs above the age of 30, I started DJijng in 2002 when the digital movement was on the cusp of breaking out. During this year, Stanton’s Final Scratch (one of the very first Digital Vinyl Systems) had already been released and everyone’s favourite DVS, Traktor, had already seen a MK2 revamp. Every major club across the globe had their booths filled with a pair of shiny CDJ-1000mk1s.

But these systems were extortionate, especially when you’re 16 years old and still living with mummy and daddy. I didn’t make the switch from vinyl to digital until I decided to move to Asia – 10 years after I got my first pair of decks. Ask most DJs my age and we’ll tell you how glad we are to have started on vinyl because it taught us to use our ears and value our record collection. Of course, we had no other option but to use our ears when the technology at the time was as primitive as Donald Trump’s social policies — if you’ve ever mixed on a battered old pair of belt-driven decks, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Plus, the money spent on a record collection, which was more of hoarded clutter rather than a collection, could have put me on the property ladder by now had I been wiser with my pocket money.

As an active DJ in my homeland during the 2000s, I played vinyl and only vinyl. Not because it was cool, not because it would have given me more bookings, but because this was the only format available to me since CDJs were still expensive at the time. And as a DJ who was once active across the South East Asian circuit from the 2010s onwards, I played almost exclusively digital, again by necessity since my record collection was and still is in my homeland. There are obvious pros and cons to both formats and never once did I have a clubber come up to the booth and tell me I’m shit for using digital — they tell me I’m shit anyway but for different reasons. Admittedly when I play vinyl sets, I get a small number of people complimenting my format choice — usually from beard scratchers, young enthusiastic but still wet-behind-the-ears clubbers and, since we’re in Asia – a region without a strong DJ culture — locals who look at a pair of turntables like Neanderthals would curiously inspect a bonfire having seen it for the first time.

Vinyl is important to DJs and to the culture of DJing. Without vinyl, Grand Wizzard Theodore would not have made his way into the history books for inventing scratching. As a format, it’s still showing continued success even in the face of a pandemic. When compared to digital releases, and in the context of creating inherent value in a release, vinyl is king. With digital-only releases, the music becomes for everybody due to its convenience, but given its omnipresent availability, it’s also for nobody in particular. When something is readily available, no one is going to pay for it nor will anyone value it (I see you Soulseekers and YouTube-rippers). But put a release out on vinyl, limited to only 300 copies, and hand-stamp the label, and assuming the tracks themselves are half-decent, the tangibility instantly creates inherent value even if the value is only intrinsic. Vinyl-only releases force DJs to search far and wide for the elusive records ­— something that has been lost in the digital era. There’s no escaping that vinyl is still an integral part of DJ culture and will remain to be so.

"And for those DJs who’ve been championing digital most of their careers who now buy five records a year, filling your Instagram with photos of your new purchases accompanied with captions like, “Can’t wait to play these VINYLS at the club” in order to get more followers and bookings, well, firstly just call them records, secondly, nobody cares and lastly, the plural of vinyl is vinyl."

But why should anyone who’s not a DJ care about this? The non-DJs who proclaim to love vinyl without owning any actual vinyl, or herald vinyl-only DJs as some avant-garde piety are only doing so to score some street cred. The promoters behind vinyl-only nights and the DJs who suddenly try to latch on the vinyl-movement are also in the same group of disingenuous shit-embroiderers.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen parties boasting vinyl-sets, high-end analogue sound, and some promoters have even specified what bloody mixer (usually an expensive, hand-built, boutique rotary mixer) they will use. What’s next? Promoters proudly announcing the make of cables used to connect their equipment? Maybe the brand of toothpaste used by the headliner? Theo Parrish sponsored by Colgate?

Simply stating which boutique rotary mixer built by garden gnomes one is using, or advertising the brand of speakers on the flyer, or — worst of all — if the DJ is using vinyl, does not mean you’re promoting DJ culture. What these promoters are doing is forcing non-DJs to care about something they won’t and shouldn’t care about. It’s also inauthentic and thinly-veiled cash grab. And for those DJs who’ve been championing digital most of their careers who now buy five records a year, filling your Instagram with photos of your new purchases accompanied with captions like, “Can’t wait to play these VINYLS at the club” in order to get more followers and bookings, well, firstly just call them records, secondly, nobody cares and lastly, the plural of vinyl is vinyl.

In such a fake era of civilization where all we care about is how we appear on social media, the world needs less inauthenticity. If your product was already good, you wouldn’t need to state “vinyl-only” in the event blurb or mention the mixer you’re using. If you were already a good DJ then you don’t need to have these disingenuous embellishments. By all means, a record collection has to start somewhere, but you need to pay your dues and build it respectfully until you are confident you can show off your curation skills to the dancefloor.

To the promoters using vinyl as a buzzword, stop with the superficiality and build some substance you insipid turd biscuit. To the bitter old DJs who constantly look down on new kids not using vinyl, move aside and let the kids grow in whatever way they see fit.

And finally to the new DJs coming up in this digital era, don’t feel pressured to get into vinyl, just concentrate on curating a good music collection whether it’s digital or physical. Take it from me, getting on the property ladder is much more important — you’re going to need a house for your record collection.

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