Is vinyl-only culture encouraging elitism in electronic music?

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That fact surprised Luthra, who admits he’d assumed running a vinyl-only imprint was motivated by economics. He also says he understands how much things have shifted for producers in the digital era. While it’s sadly almost impossible for producers to make a living from releasing music alone these days, the motivation to press music onto vinyl might come from a desire to take back some of its lost value, even if that value is only intrinsic. “There’s something to be said for the physical tangibility to the release, and adding an inherent value to the music that you create,” he says. He also understands that vinyl is a generational thing, but he says that also comes with its own set of problems. “I’ve noticed a lot of older DJs look down on newer DJs who are only learning through digital DJing platforms like Traktor or whatever,” he says. “That’s how I got my start, personally.”

He feels this attitude only adds to the gatekeeper mentality surrounding vinyl. But Luthra also reveres digital formats in ways perhaps only his generation understands. “Having grown up a child of the internet, I tend to hold digital formats with high value,” he says. “I think there’s something really beautiful about being able to share music so easily across international borders. And I think the techno scene really doesn’t acknowledge that. There’s a high attachment to this older medium, which I understand, and I respect the DJs who grew up with this and stick with it. But my sentiment is that digital is underrated, and there’s an attachment to a medium that I don’t think is really serving the industry as well as it could,” he says.

While Tusk understands Luthra’s sentiment, he also does not see the high accessibility of digital as a positive, coming back to the point of inherent value.
“When the music becomes for everybody, it’s also for nobody in particular,” he says. “The thing of, ‘Well you’ve created something, everyone should be able to experience it’ — well, yeah, but no one’s going to fucking pay for it and no one’s going to value it, and then next week it’ll be gone.” When Tusk sells a record, he knows it’s going to someone who will place high value in that object. There’s also a personal touch to the process that cannot exist with intangible, digital things. People hang records on their walls, gift them to friends, or sometimes write notes on the sleeves to individual artists thanking them for their support. “All these different things can happen with this physical product, which excites people and takes people back to something they remember from when they were a bit younger. It has so many layers of joy to it far beyond just a simple, ‘I’m doing this to be cool’.”

But it is cool right now, Tusk acknowledges. “It’s important, it’s trendy — it’s clearly far more socially significant [than it has been],” he says. Though that veneer of hype often belies the colder reality lurking underneath.

“Cool isn’t something that you can buy a house with and set a family up with,” he continues. “I have seen people who have been 100% committed to doing vinyl and making vinyl and it being their all, and they would look back after 20 years and go, ‘Fucking hell, I should’ve spent more time at college. I should have got a better job, I should have married that girl who told me stop buying records’. So you have to be careful of thinking that there’s some kind of fundamental shift going on.”

Certain DJs can and do ride the wave of hype, sometimes becoming successful in the process. “Which is fine,” Tusk says. “I don’t mind people playing the game who want to look cool.” But he again reminds DJ Mag that it’s important to try and see the bigger picture. Despite the cycle we’re in, he understands vinyl may not last forever, and that the majority of people who buy records are “old dudes with a little bit of money”. Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s no alternative to the status quo. Digital DJ equipment will likely become more affordable and well-designed, not less. And understanding why some artists might want to or need to use that equipment is vital to encouraging a diverse younger scene. Vinyl-only labels can follow the example of Lobster Theremin, which offers digital sales via Bandcamp once the vinyl run is sold out. And while that won’t be an option for every label, in an era when music production is less profitable than ever, it’s certainly something to be considered. But what’s most important to remember, Tusk says, is that we’re all in this together.

“If we’re doing underground dance music and it’s connected to the DJ and clubs, we’re all on the same side.”

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