Behind London’s Vinyl Only Underground
It was the beginning of the 1980’s when many decided to box up their records and conform to rapidly changing audio format technologies, firstly buying tapes, then CD’s, eventually downloading MP3’s and welcoming the digital era with open arms. The tactility of a record soon fizzled and many teens spent the first few years of the millennium bragging about how many songs their IPod shuffle held.
There was never a date that specifically marked vinyl’s “death”…as it never actually died. Instead, it suited a niche market of individuals that managed to shy away from the digital heyday.
With the majority jumping on the digital bandwagon, this also affected the music industry significantly. This meant that the vinyl DJ’s who wished to fit the trend had to adapt to new digital technologies that mirrored the current en vogue audio format – MP3’s. CDJ’s quickly became the industry standard set up and tracks could easily be downloaded without the hassle of spending days searching through crates at a local record store. This left people asking, ‘Do nightclubs still use vinyl?’ I’ve seen it myself in DJ booths, the turntables are still lurking somewhere, but they have become a part of pointless furniture, often being used as CDJ stands, waving goodbye to the traditional set up of two turntables and a mixer.
In more recent times, however, nostalgia may have kicked in as the purchasing of vinyl has gradually risen. 2013 saw Amazon’s UK headquarters officially announce a 100% rise in online vinyl sales compared to 2012, selling 1 million for the first time since 1996.
With vinyl back with a vengeance, I’ve decided to look into clubs and events that are supporting this. Record shops and labels have documented the resurgence of vinyl well, but what is never fully explored is the faction of DJ’s and events that are positively stuck in their traditional ways; those that haven’t conformed to the digital era.
One of these is Peckham’s Rhythm Section, a twice monthly dance event. This event plays by its own vinyl rules and operates a no photos on the dance floor policy. Its aim is to spread via word of mouth; a ‘friends of friends’ atmosphere. Rhythm Section is not built around a specific genre. Instead, it offers a space for DJ’s to spin variety, giving those that attend a chance to discover unheard tracks to expand their music knowledge. Those that have recently brought their record bags to play are Germany’s DELFONIC, and MAX GRAEF.
I caught up with Mali and Bradley – the two music fanatics behind the creation of Rhythm Section. Going by ZLovecraft, Mali’s background and love for music stemmed from his father, both a musician and producer. Mali teamed up with Bradley Zero at the age of thirteen. Fast forward to 2016 and Mali has a stronghold on Rhythm Section INTL, as both a resident DJ and programmer, along with supervising the popular record store YAM Records. With a yet to-be defined style, Mali is able to create music that blurs the boundaries between live and programmed, organic and electronic.
Mali stated that “Rhythm Section came about after a need in Peckham for a regular dance, with community at the core.” With the typical industry set up currently being CDJ’s, I asked Mali about his reasoning for the vinyl night, to which he answered, “We like collecting records and the whole culture that surrounds it. Our party is an opportunity to indulge in this subculture with our guest DJ’s. I think working within the constraints of an all vinyl rule makes the DJ consider their selection for the night more carefully and hopefully provide a different experience from the usual go–to rekordbox playlist. By narrowing down options, we would hope to increase creativity.” On London’s record shop boom, I asked: Would you say that over the past three years London has seen a rise in record shops, and what record shops do you rate a cut above the rest? “There has definitely been a resurgence in record shops in London, we are spoilt for choice but tend to end up more often than not on Rye Lane in Rye Wax, YAM Records & Do You, seeing as all three are around the corner from Rhythm Section HQ and on the same road as Canavans!” replied Mali. When asked what he looks for in choosing a venue, Mali stated “When looking for any venue, the most important factors are friendly crowd, quality sound system and well serviced turntables in properly set up DJ booths that prevent feedback. And red lights.”
In Vauxhall, you’ll come across different kind of vibes, a vinyl party that puts its all into digging for the best in Hard House and Trance – The Vinyl Warriors. The Vinyl Warriors state that they concentrate on line ups that explore ‘strength in depth.’
The 2nd of April saw the Vinyl Warriors take over Protocol London where DJ Ian M played a 5 hour set. His set back took those on the dance floor through a journey of Hard House, with records played from the beginning of Ian M’s extensive career.
Set up less than a year ago by three young vinyl loving residents, Connor White and Richard Ares, accompanied by Charlie Howard the man with all the designing and planning, is As One Ldn. Being both crisp and raw, the lads were encouraged to follow suit in keeping their event strictly vinyl. Charlie stated “you can really appreciate it more so than digital, as sometimes it can be a bit too in your face, where as vinyl is much more smooth and soft to the ears.” The aim of As One Ldn, is “to attract an educated crowd that appreciate the music and the sound just as much as we do to create a perfect vibe to a party, we don’t just want to be a party that people attend because of the hype of it.” When asked what they look for in both venues and equipment As One states, “Keeping it simple, a good pair of Technics is the turntable of choice, as long as there in good condition and serviced well then we’re good to go. As for sound systems always nice to have a function one stack or even a nice clear void system, always a pleasure to listen too! Venues we’re sticking around the east London area, as it has so much intimate and unusual spaces to offer, from basements/lofts and bars around in Shoreditch/Hackney and Dalston area with great set ups to play with, however not too say we will be heading else where as London has so much more offer such as Camden, also a lovely unique place to hit up a party. No doubt in the near future we will take a visit to the west side for sure. We’re currently in the middle of planning our 2nd party which will be sticking around East London, so expect something big for August/September time this year”.
For a party that has only just begun, I have high hopes for As One Ldn. Such a young event totally immersing itself in the underground scene, I don’t think it will be too long before word of mouth really gets this party going!
This brings me onto one of the most talked about underground events in London – Vinyl Club. Behind this night are Kiri and Kostas Poulos. They aren’t record collectors, nor are they vinyl DJ’s or Producers…they just love the WHOLE concept of vinyl. Best known for their project Rhythmatic, which has been running in London for around 9 years, the success of Vinyl Club has recently allowed them to expand throughout Europe.
Vinyl Club started around 2 years ago, Kali defined the concept as being able to “invite new and undiscovered talent to showcase their music, exchange records, guide them on technical skills and invite well known DJ’s to come and show others how they perform. There will also be talks and presentations from different areas in the music industry, and guidance on many subjects, from how to put you music out there, starting a label, producing tips, marketing, branding yourself as an artist, and other subjects in the music industry.”
I threw a few more questions over to Kali:
YOU PROMOTE YOUR NIGHTS AS VINYL ONLY; DO YOU THINK THIS BRINGS A DIFFERENT TYPE OF CALIBRE TO THE DANCE FLOOR, WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE DO YOU GET ATTENDING?
Our nights are promoted as Vinyl only, hence Vinyl Club, the people who attend our events are music minded people and music lovers and people who want to come and have a good time and not necessarily to come to a place to look cool or because is trendy
WHAT DO YOU DO TO KEEP THE EVENT STRICTLY UNDERGROUND?
Define underground? I think the word is a bit of a cliché, and a bit trendy and overrated. It has lost the true meaning. Our aim is to bring new talents and give them the platform to play their records, the crowd is consist of people who want to listen to good music and love the experience of DJs playing records.
IN TERMS OF A VENUE WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR? WHAT KIND OF SET UP INTERESTS YOU (SOUND SYSTEM, TURNTABLES ETC?)
Definitely the location of our events is paramount; we have used from Open air Terraces, to basement to Containers and to Roof terraces. Location is always a key catalyst for having successful night, also sound system is a must, makes the record sound better and the people enjoy it more.
DO YOU THINK THAT THERE HAS BEEN A SURGE OF PEOPLE SHYING AWAY FROM MAINSTREAM CLUBS AND INSTEAD, SEARCHING FOR UNDERGROUND NIGHTS THAT ARE STRICTLY VINYL ONLY?
I don’t think people are shying away from mainstream and necessarily searching for underground nights or Vinyl only. Being a promoter myself I think especially for London the whole scene has saturated, we have seen nights come and go everyone month and the cost of going out has increased dramatically. I think a lot of people who used to go out a lot are kind of done with the present nights and they are looking to attend intimate events and venues that focusing more on producing quality nights without having to charge a lot of money to pounders. Also attending smaller size events, people can easily mingle and meet other people and chats with people enjoying the beats.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS THAT APPEALS TO PEOPLE ABOUT VINYL?
A lot of people enjoy the experience of playing a record because it feels more personal than a digital format. Also People enjoy vinyl for many reasons, including having a physical manifestation of our favourite bands/albums, and the collectors aspect. Others love the Like LPs as objects, like the artwork, like to watch ‘me spin, like the way they sound. A lot of people will say that vinyl sounds better than digital.
When I set out to explore the underground sounds of all things vinyl, I noticed one more venue that deserves a mention for it’s continuous supply of vinyl records, as well as a welcoming space for vinyl events. Rye Wax, situated in Rye Lane Peckham, is a comic book and vinyl emporium that really goes out of its way for its customers. The basement is the place to be with every record you could ever dream of and what if they don’t have it? Well, they’ll even order it in for you!
Vinyl only nights are constantly cropping up to offer the dance-floor something imperfect, where mistakes can happen, records may skip and BPMs may fall out of place, but it is this unique atmosphere that most are searching for. Vinyl only nights have become the type of events that highlight the dedication of DJs who have spent their hard earned cash stocking up on records.
by Aimee Knowles
Aimee graduated from Southampton Solent University in 2014 after studying Media Culture and Production. Aimee has a strong passion for the music industry, and often delegates her time to not only writing about the industry, but searching for new sounds within the house and techno genres.