Bicep on record shopping and their love affair with vinyl
One of this year’s most popular DJ duos has without a doubt been Bicep, AKA Belfast boys Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar. The depth of their musical knowledge has stood them in good stead, providing the fuel for some really great DJ sets as well as their musical productions. Though they were surrounded by music when they were growing up, one of the key factors in their musical education was record shopping. As London’s infamous Phonica Records prepares to celebrate its ninth birthday, the Bicep boys kindly penned an ode to vinyl and record shopping exclusively for my blog. You can read it below.
“I like vinyl, I can touch it, I can feel it, do you know what a 60-year old vinyl smells like? I’ve got records that smell like 1967. You can’t get that from an iPod.” – Kenny Dixon Junior (KDJ, Moodymann)
Growing up in Belfast in the Nineties, like many smaller cities, there wasn’t a range of places you could purchase music outside of HMV stocking chart hits. So our journey started with two questionable high street record stores and a couple of charity shops. As you can imagine, a lot of patience was required to unearth that gem amongst the endless dust ridden Tears For Fears and Duran Duran LPs. Radio and later clubbing were the main ways to discover new music, unlike today where you can just put your iPhone next to a speaker and be exposed to a plethora of new music within a minute. Many childhood nights were spent, radio in hand, just for those three minutes of joy, when you catch that track you have wanted for weeks and record it to a cassette tape.
Luckily Belfast had an outlet called Mixmaster, where friends and collectors alike would meet up on a Friday when work or school was done. Armed with a pocketful of change saved from that week’s lunch money, we would all fight over the latest white labels because there were never enough to go around. Through those years it became apparent that even acquiring music was a task in itself and doing so made everyone place a higher regard and appreciation for every piece of music you managed to get your hands on.
Over the past number of years we have experimented with a number of new mediums to practice the art of DJing, but now it seems to have gone full circle and we tend to not rely on anything other but vinyl. Reliability aside, records skip and computers crash but the underlying issue is that if you want to support the community and sell your own vinyl, you have got to show that behind the turntables.
Having temporarily moved fully across to digital and using Serato (vinyl emulation software) for money-saving purposes whilst at university, there was a brief period where both of us seemed to lose our love for DJing. Some of that magic experienced so early on, the excitement of digging, the attachment to artwork, even the feel of the plastic seemed to be lost somewhere in the computer. To use a quote coined by Marshall McLuchan “The medium is the message”, in which he expresses the point – a medium’s impact on society is not only the content itself but the medium with which it is delivered. The Extensions of Man proposes that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. This couldn’t be truer with vinyl and in a sense sums up what we realised was lost when working with other mediums.
Some would argue that in this day and age there is no place for record shops in the pace and needs of a modern society, we tend to think exactly the opposite. For instance, the process of purchasing is one thing that is incomparable in the vinyl and digital debate. Who remembers when and where they downloaded any one of the MP3s on their hard drive? Then ask the same question to someone about one of the records in their box, we guarantee there is a full story behind almost every one – everything down to the record store, who they were with and what they had for breakfast that morning.
Thinking back to the early days at Mixmaster, every purchase was analysed like buying a car – so much consideration, you needed to really love that record if you were going to spend that £7 you saved up all week. The idea of simply double clicking a music collection is a sad thought, the number of factors that went into that fight for music was always part of the fun. Vinyl, the medium, the fight, the packaging, the artwork, the feeling… that becomes the message.
After a sharp decline in vinyl sales with the initial rise of digital, vinyl now seems to be in the process of making a noticeable come back. Shops like Phonica in London have stuck to their guns and maintained a strong vision that hasn’t been diluted by changes in technology. By stocking rarer labels and specialising in limited vinyl-only pressings they carved a niche out of what looked to be a diminishing market.
Online record shopping can sometimes be a necessity, with sites like Discogs and eBay offering thousands of new and secondhand releases that can be impossible to obtain otherwise. Only recently we had the ‘pleasure’ of experiencing the “Discogs effect” firsthand. After scratching a record that was bought at the beginning of the year for a mere £4 on the site, we returned to find the staggering price tag was now over £100. Whilst some people believe price inflation is ridiculous, they only reflect the sharp rise in popularity of vinyl – just like antiques, these are pieces of history with value that extends beyond their cost of production.
The past two years have seen a real explosion of vinyl-only labels, counteracting the ‘throwaway’ culture that had become associated with a lot of digital music. Whilst we have absolutely no issues with people who play digital, we do feel vinyl really is special and the right choice for our style of DJing. Getting to intimately know a collection of music, each purchase with its own story, for us is one of the key factors in bringing personality to our sets.
Some of the most inspiring labels of the past few years have focused on a vinyl-only approach, taking financial risk for something they truly love and believe in – this passion comes across in the music they release. Labels like My Love Is Underground, Crue, Saft, Traveller, Tusk Wax and Rose Records have brought about a real refreshing sense of excitement. From this a strong sense of community has been formed with one love for the medium, including regularly exchanging records. The feeling of like-minded people sharing something they’ve created and are passionate about really brings about another layer to music beyond the fun in a club.
We grew up with an experience of record shopping and a community feeling, something that we have collectively started to feel again after a number of years when things weren’t looking good. For us record shopping has now revolved back round to where it all started, and it’s thanks to all those record shops like Phonica who managed to stick it out this long to make it possible.Bicep, Phonica, vinyl
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