Synthwave vinyl – Brooklyn knows, baby.

Jun 5, 2018 | Music

Last summer I was at a small synthwave gig in London. Whilst waiting in the bar outside I met a guy who was travelling around Europe and had been organised enough to pick up a ticket before he left Brooklyn, his home town. He was a funny guy and he knew his music. Only months before I had been bitten by the synthwave vinyl collecting bug and so we inevitably got on the subject. ‘Dude.. this is going to be the most expensive year of your life’ he told me with a knowledgable I’ve-been-there-tone. ‘At first you are going to pick up what’s popular at the time’. He was correct. FM-84’s self titled album had its vinyl debut via EPR a month before and it was the most wanted release of the year. It sold like hot cakes and I managed to grab one. ‘But then you are going to start looking backwards. The releases you missed last year. The big releases that still have a few copies left’.

So far he was 100% correct. I’d done exactly that. I’d found a site with a few copies of ‘Endless Summer’ from The Midnight. I’d also found a few releases from College on Discogs.‘Just promise me one thing’ he said. ‘Don’t get sucked into the hype! Pre-orders, Qrates, limited releases.. pick and choose wisely’. I didn’t see the issue. I’m in the 30’s, I have limited funds for that sort of thing. I’m not the sort to go nuts. Those were his parting words of wisdom to me. He went to get drinks and never came back.As time went by I was keeping a close eye on social media and it felt like every new release was have a vinyl pressing. Even the brand new artists were pressing their work in much smaller numbers. There were some notable successes (Iversen’s debut album ‘Arcade’ was pressed on a lathe and was snapped up long before I got the chance to grab it, leading to second pressing this coming summer). There were however some problematic projects, some of which I think, became victim of the perceived demand for the physical product whilst underestimating the costs / hassle involved in creating the records in the first place. Some Qrates projects had such high minimum orders (to make it financially viable) that established artists were not making the targets. Others were going it alone and stumbling across hurdles with artwork, pressing plants and postage.

At this point I’ll mention the Kalax vinyl record release and the significant issues that Lee had with the distribution. What I won’t do is bad-mouth him though. What this situation resulted in, more than anything else, was a nastiness that developed within the scene on social media. People who had ordered the record had their gripes and understandably, however what it showed was the pressure one person felt to meet the demand of fans. To develop a product for them and in his attempt to make the distribution a little more personal, the logistics were clearly troublesome. Now this was an issue that went on for over a year and eventually resulted in Kalax issuing a statement suggesting he was going to distance himself from the scene. And who would have blamed him. The nature of the threats and comments he faced at that time was terrible.The administrators for one of the prominent synthwave vinyl Facebook groups had never chosen to defend Kalax during that time and whilst they were clearly defending the consumer rights of their members, this far down the line they have started deleting posts related to any badmouthing. And I think it’s been the right thing to do.What this shouldn’t do is take away from what is a talented artist and it would be sad to see him stop. Plus he had a fucking good set at Outland Glasgow!

Fast forward to today and the vinyl resurgence of the past few years in music is evident. The Vinyl Factory quotes vinyl sales of 4.1 million on 2017, the highest since 1991 and vinyl records now account for 3% of all music consumed. I would be interested to see what those figures look like for the scene specifically. Certainly my adventure into synthwave vinyl collection has sprung a side shoot of rooting around London’s record shops picking up the very material that influences the scene in the first place. The ritual of putting the record on and listening to the album as it was intended. It all feeds into the nostalgic vibe that makes synthwave and record collecting so well matched.

Saying that – 2018 does feel like a slight sea change in that a large amount of the synthwave Qrates campaigns aren’t making their quotas and the record isn’t getting pressed. Are we at a point of saturation? Certainly the market is still very strong for those established artists and those on a label with the clout to get the records pressed but the smaller artists who use Qrates seem to have suffered slightly.But a year down the line the majority of what the Brooklyn stranger stated was correct. I’ve sunk a lot of cash into the collecting but I’ve also been very aware of the FOMO that exists around it too. Pre-orders that don’t turn up for months, limited runs that immediately give the impression that you MUST get it because everyone else wants it. It can be tough to say no to a release with its familiar 80s artwork but i’ve reached the point now, like many others, where I am only committing myself to a small number of releases. The ones I REALLY want. When these come through the letterbox it is so much more satisfying. And with the near future hinting at some long-time-coming vinyl record releases, there are only a small number of ‘must haves’ left on my list.Wherever you are now Brooklyn-guy. Thanks for the wisdom. Now if you read this, I could really do with some advice on where to store them all! Now you’ll have to excuse me. I need to return some videotapes.

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