Words by Aldus Santos
Illustration by MC Galang
Oh no, not another vinyl story, you say.
The vinyl “comeback” was ten thousand years ago, get over it, you coo.
There’s a lot of holier-than-thou rhetoric surrounding vinyl. And that’s funny, see, because it was the sole vessel for music consumption for a good long while. Turntables and wax, that’s it. You can be a monocle-wearing audiophile or a jobless junkie, but if you owned music, you probably owned it in the same format. At this juncture we’re almost back to that, if the persistence of articles covering vinyl’s sales triumph over CDs is to believed.
That’s cool, but it’s also just like anything else. Tides turn and all that.
There are countless possible reasons for this awe-inspiring comeback, but for sure this is one of them: despite the unerring ubiquity of digital, as Jack White once told NPR, you don’t really “own” a record until you buy it on vinyl. It’s that feeling, for better or for worse. All this online-this/digital-that has rendered people literally empty-handed, which is to say, owning dozens of things without really having them.
We’re past the point I think where records are mere fetish items. Hipsters buy them; old fogeys are buying them again; and casual music fans, curious at best, are more than willing to spend to try them. Being a killjoy about the entire enterprise is futile, so relax and take a nap.
You can argue that people with Philistine ears have no business extolling vinyl’s auditory virtues. You can talk about frequencies reserved for elephants—or whichever zoo-dweller is fashionable to namedrop at the moment—when deriding high-brow vintage gear. You can actually do anything. But really, it’s simple: You can use shitty turntables, clunky cartridges, and buzzing amplifiers and feel a profound, otherworldly contentment. Or you can have all the What Hi-Fi?-stamped manna-from-heaven equipment and feel like a fool who should’ve spent instead on real estate.
We’re past the point I think where records are mere fetish items.
I’m no audiophile by any stretch of the imagination, but what I dig about records—sourcing them, playing them, even getting disappointed by them—are the haircut-like possibilities. And I say “haircut” because a lot of things come into play in vinyl consumption, meaning the possibility of a unique experience is almost guaranteed (just like, you guessed right, a haircut). This, to my mind, is reason enough to get into the hobby.
With the possible exception of assembly-line suitcase portables with built-in speakers—with those you’ll pretty much hear the exact same sorry sound as the next guy—what you hear will depend on your table, cartridge, amplifier, and speakers (or cans, if you want to keep things to yourself). Other things such as speaker placement, wall material, room size, and, of course, the different pressings or editions of the vinyl themselves also come into play.
I like crate-digging in used-records places. It’s mostly cheaper, and you can fancy yourself an explorer. If you know me, you’ll know my social-media feeds are split smack-center between audio stuff and my own children. That’s mostly due to the dimension of conquest that comes with each little find—I mean, no matter what the holier-than-thou folks say about those finds. Also, digging is generally nicer when you avoid gentrified places that only carry sure-fire sellers. I’m not an exclusively-indie guy, and I kind of abhor obscurantists to a certain degree, but there’s nothing less appealing to me than a record that’s released this week and widely available everywhere.
Top-of-mind favorites include Northwest Estate and Collectibles in the Kamuning area, where I picked up records by Randy Newman, Mott the Hoople, Steve Miller Band, and others I wouldn’t typically give the time of day to; Bebop Records at the basement of Makati Cinema Square, where over the course of a few weeks I would rid Bob de Leon of most of his Elvis Costello albums from the Nick Lowe/F-Beat Records era; my friend and neighbor Al Rivera of Bear’s Den Records, who’s easily my canon stockman, pulling out Neil [Young] and Bob [Dylan] and Jeff Beck albums from a magic top hat it seems; and the almighty Treskul Records along Boni, of course: an after-hours watering hole for me and my workmates—apart from being a go-to for titles by Van Morrison, The Yardbirds, Crazy Horse, Joni Mitchell, the occasional Talking Heads, and tons more.
Digging is a highly involved and largely solitary activity, and it’s done by several people in unison. It’s paradox in action.
If you’re a stickler for unblemished sleeves and shrink-wrap, outlets like Grey Market—as well as newer players like Backspacer and Analog Daily—are great sources for wish-list items and sealed copies of new releases.
The most amusing thing about digging—and this is a standalone observation that’s mildly relevant at best—is how you end up sizing up fellow diggers through their vibe. Digging is a highly involved and largely solitary activity, and it’s done by several people in unison. It’s paradox in action. I miss that rush, thinking about it now, of looking over at the next guy and wondering, “Does that porkpie-hat dad look like he’d be interested in this stack of Donovan records I can’t seem to commit to?” “This dude with the goatee definitely has a hard-on for these minor [John] Coltrane releases; I have to act quick.” “The girl in the glasses? Definitely a Moz woman.”
And so on.
My point is: yeah, streaming is convenient—don’t think I’ve forgotten about all your shit, Spotify—but try resisting the lure of records. They’re that size you can’t accidentally leave behind; the sleeves look great (man, you should pick up early-‘70s Elton [John] records; they all look like art-school scrapbooks); and they just sound great. There’s nothing sexier, and whether you fall for the bait or not, at the very least you’d want to strike up talk.