Counting the Beat: The Vinyl Frontier
1977 - In the late 70’s, space probes Voyager 1 and 2 were launched by NASA with the primary mission of exploring Jupiter and Saturn. In the same year, Fleetwood Mac sold over 40 million copies of their Rumours album.
55 - NASA placed a Golden Record on each of the two probes that have now reached interstellar space. These records feature an anthology of music from different cultures and eras, a selection of natural sounds from Earth’s flora and fauna, and greetings from Earth-people in 55 different languages.
11 - The number of additional Vinyl gags that I had to forcibly restrain myself from spinning into this story. Make that 10.
This weekend, records are reaching for the stars both literally and figuratively. Saturday, April 13th is Record Store Day and Aotearoa’s surviving stores are already buzzing. Bands are booked, beers are brewed, and unbeatable prices are promised.
All of this is news to me. I don’t know much about records. My dad tells me I grew up calling them black CDs. Whilst writing this, I spent far too long cackling at a meme of Spock hunched over a turntable shouting ‘I love this trek’. And frankly, I’ve always been intimidated by record stores and my complete lack of vinyl knowledge. But speaking to Grant Smithies, well known music reviewer and co-owner of Family Jewel Records, showed me that they go far beyond the boxes of black vinyl and abundance of puns. Grant describes record stores as a “great resource for the local community. A great place to assemble and argue about music and try and get yourself some gold. And a great library of not just music, but artwork from the beginning of recorded music”. These stores offer community, discovery, and a tangible connection to an artform that is a part of every known culture, past and present. Simply put, they connect people. With music, with art, and with each other.
Vinyl Flies Again
Record Store Day was founded in the US in 2008 in an effort to support and celebrate independent retailers. A bunch of big bands led by Metallica agreed to play live and record companies issued limited releases that could only be purchased in store. The music industry came together. And through the shared passion of artists, businesses and fans, a tradition was born. Driving record sales up, the day gave new life to a medium that is so special to so many. Eleven years later, the reach of Record Store Day is still growing. The celebration is for everyone. And for those like me who’d have no idea what to look for, Grant suggests “You can go in there and music will be powering away out of speakers in the corner. People will be talking about it. You might go ‘what’s that’ and they’ll go ‘oh if you like that, you might also like this.’ You can park up next to a turntable and listen to a whole bunch of things, even if you had no idea going in there what you might walk away with.”
You don’t have to launch into space to discover a new world this weekend. Just rock up to your local record store on Saturday.
Below is a list of independent record stores in New Zealand:
Tauranga: Vinyl Destination
Gisborne: The Spellbound Wax Company
New Plymouth: Vinyl Countdown
Nelson: Family Jewels Records
Hokitika: West Coast Vinyl and Fashion
Top illustration by Jean Jullien for Record Magazine, both other illustrations by Dawid Ryski.