Why we're falling back in love with our old recordsby Jonathan Derbyshire / July 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
Bob Bailey is an engineer who worked in EMI’s record pressing plant for more than 30 years. Since 2001, he has worked at the Vinyl Factory, an organisation that runs a record label, pressing plant, record shop and magazine. For most of this month, Bailey is manning a mobile record press at the Barbican as part of Station to Station, a collaboration between the Vinyl Factory and American multi-media artist Doug Aitken.
“It’s a manual press,” Bailey told me. “And because it’s a manual press, you can see clearly every detail of the pressing operation.” In fact, audiences at Station to Station are able to watch the entire record production process, not just the pressing—from the recording of the performances (Justin Stanley, live-in engineer for the month, is working with several musicians, including Suicide, Thurston Moore, Terry Riley and the South African DJ Nozinja) to the creation of art work for the record sleeves.
Station to Station, an earlier iteration of which took place on a train journey that Aitken made across the United States in 2010, arrives in London at a time of intense interest in the fortunes of recorded music on vinyl. Mid-year industry reports show burgeoning vinyl sales on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, vinyl sales are up 38 per cent year on year. In UK, the growth has been even more striking: sales are up 56 per cent and are on course to reach their highest level since 1994.
Bailey has lived through the fall and rise of vinyl sales. “I saw a rapid decline in the early 1990s,” he said. “But today [vinyl] is a very active format. It’s really good. Really good.”
When, at the beginning of this century, it looked as if the compact disc and the MP3 download would make vinyl, if not entirely obsolete, then at least commercially unviable, EMI decided to sell its pressing plant. Sean Bidder, creative director of the Vinyl Factory, saw an opportunity. “We bought the pressing plant from EMI when they were reconfiguring their approach in the music industry,” Bidder told me. “They didn’t believe in the future of vinyl and didn’t recognise the heritage.”
Bidder and his colleagues did, and now millions of others are rediscovering what Bailey described as “the feel, the sound…