ColumnsPaul Stokes

Column - How I learned to stop worrying and love vinyl

ColumnsPaul Stokes

In our new issue, Q313 out now, we investigate the resurrection of the vinyl format, How CDs and downloads were supposed to make it obsolete, yet in 2012 it represents the soul of all good music. However in the course of putting that issue together, Caroline Bursell - who was in the office on work experience - confessed she'd never listened to a record in her life. Determined to see if vinyl truly is the superior format - or if its revival is just a bunch of old music fans getting hooked on nostalgic - we sent her off to record shop Sister Ray for her first encounter with the black plastic. Here's what happened - and get Q313 now for our full vinyl feature.

I have a confession, I'm 20 years-old and I've never listened a record on vinyl before. Resist the urge to serve me a virtual slap across the face and let me tell you why. I've just never been around a record player, nor have I really had the urge to get one. However with Record Store Day now a fixture on the calendar and vinyl sales up 50 per-cent from last year, I suddenly started wondering what I was missing out on.

Hitting record shop Sister Ray in London's Soho, my first experience of LPs is to dive nose-first into the art gallery of album covers, or records racks if you prefer, around the store. From this visual feast, The Cribs' In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull and Caribou's Swim are selected from the "New Releases", while to really put vinyl to the test, a £150 copy of Led Zeppelin's 1969 album II is also on the playlist.

Now all I need is my first record player, and Sister Ray owner Phil Barton not only obliges, but he seems distressed when I explain my predicament to him. "Seriously, come downstairs," he orders, leading me through a maze of stacked vinyl to the shop's best record player. The Zeppelin record is retrieved from its sleeve, cued-up and I finally get my first taste of needle-meets-vinyl crackle, it's endearingly enticing isn't it?

However the static is soon forgotten as Whole Lotta Love rumbles out of the speakers and fills the room. Clear and all encompassing, it's as if the audio spectrum has opened up to me and now I'm swimming in the sound, rather than just watching the waves from the beach. Not that I'm trying to sound like I found God or anything, but this has to be the musical version of that revelation. "In MP3s it's all wedged up into one space, everything is compromised," explains my sonic Sherpa, Phil. "Whereas on a record like this on a decent system, you can isolate everything. Just listen to the voice, and now to the drums. Normally, you miss things, like bass players!" The music is like a big, warm melodic bear hug.

Then it's my turn as I shakily lift the needle onto Side A of Caribou's Swim to play my very first record. "As a physical piece of product, it's so much more rewarding than the click of a mouse or the flick of a finger on a screen," suggests Phil as I finally get the record going without scratching it. "You're supposed to turn it over when you get to the end, you engage with it. They're beautiful things as well. Artists in the studio aren't listening to their music on MP3 players stuffed into their ears. This wonderful work that they've created gets mashed down to the size of nothing - a sandwich as opposed to a great big feast." I can almost taste the gravy as the smooth sounds pour out of the speakers and Daniel Snaith's rhythms take on a new fluidity before my ears.

Leaving the shop, I decided to put the experience to a true taste test and retrieve my standard Apple earphones, Caribou is duly selected but by comparison it now sounds like a grainy audio mess, while the delicate flowers on the album's artwork are reduced to a pathetic muddle of pixels.

It's amazing to me how I've accepted this version before, and all of a sudden I desperately want (need) to invest in vinyl. It's as though despite having listened to one of my favourite albums countless times, I now feel like I haven't really heard it yet. Caroline Bursell Thanks to Phil and all at Sister Ray, head to Sisterray.co.uk for more information.

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