Vinyl is forever for some music fans in the UAE as records spin

Digital music may be devoured by the masses, but the traditional format continues to resonate with audiophiles both young and old

Photo: Leslie Wilson Jr
Photo: Leslie Wilson Jr

By Leslie Wilson Jr; Visuals by M Sajjad

Published: Thu 11 Aug 2022, 9:25 PM

Last updated: Tue 16 Aug 2022, 3:47 PM

Dubai-based expats Anil Sukhia and Reyshiel Pastrana belong to vastly different generations but they are inextricably joined at the hip through a shared passion for collecting music — on vinyl.

One is a banker in his 60s, the other a video editor in her 20s. Both are among a growing tribe of music enthusiasts who have fallen in love with ‘long-playing’ records, or LPs for the uninitiated.

With retail tracker reports providing a positive insight into record sales the world over, it is a clear sign that music masterpieces like Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon have made a strong comeback in their original avatars.

As a result, the ubiquitous record player has re-emerged in living rooms and music stores across the world, including right here in the UAE.

Start of a revolution

Where did it all begin? On June 18, 1948, there was a big buzz at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City where a much-hyped press conference was being held to announce an exciting new technology in music — the vinyl record, made from a flexible plastic material called polyvinyl chloride.

The first breakthrough was a long-playing disc featuring the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York’s recording of legendary German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, over eight decades later, the wheel has come full circle for millions of music aficionados around the world who are avid collectors. The popularity that these records enjoyed during the 50s, 60s, and 70s was halted by the emergence of the Sony Walkman which was based on magnetic cassette tape technology.

CDs would evolve into digital music, which made way for streaming platforms. But vinyl has struck back in full force.

The comeback

Records reveal that 2009 was a pivotal year for vinyl music fans.

While a vast majority of enthusiasts were deeply engrossed in digital music, there were a few who were returning to record stores in search of turntables and vinyl records. This was heartening news, as for the first time since 1984, the sales of LPs rose dramatically reaching a growth of close to 90 per cent.

The trend caught on like wildfire and gathered momentum over the years.

Vinyl clubs began cropping up in all major cities, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah, with its members passionately building up their record collections.

Raw Music Store in Dubai
Raw Music Store in Dubai

By 2018, vinyl had once again firmly established itself with estimated sales of close to 10 million across the globe.

It’s not difficult to assess the reasons behind the meteoric resurgence of vinyl records. Most fans believed that their favourite music — be it rock, pop, jazz or blues — sounded better on vinyl, which was the format for which the recording was originally made.

Many audiophiles eschewed the perfection that CDs boasted, preferring to stay with the flaws or imperfections, if there were any, that vinyl had.

Digital music that is devoured by today’s millennials may be cool, but even teenagers are taking to vinyl and digging deep into family attics or storehouses in search of landmark albums like Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ or Charles Mingus’ ‘Ah Um.’

Hear it from the fans

Anil, an enthusiastic vinyl collector, has spent the best years of his life building his collection which spans a range of genres. Here, he talks of why he prefers the format above all others:

“I first fell in love with music as an eight-year-old when I heard the Rolling Stones ‘Beggars Banquet’ on an old audio cassette. I was hooked,” says Anil. “I’ve been collecting vinyl from the 70s: The Beatles, Paul Butterfield, the Allman Brothers Band, Charles Mingus, Nat King Cole... You name it, I probably have it.

“Vinyl gives you a very warm sound, it’s the best way to experience music — the way it was made. It’s much better than a CD," he adds. "I am constantly buying discs, box sets, anthologies, and collector's editions.”

Reyshiel, who started building her own record collection recently, describes the vinyl experience as ‘sheer magic'.

“You get to hold it, touch it, see it, and feel it even before you play a record. It is a tangible form of art,” she says. “Just admiring the beauty of a vinyl record offers a unique kind of attachment. Being in the digital era, where everything is just a click away, here I am, growing my love for vinyl!”

Listen to Yassine Hakimi, manager at Raw Music store at DIFC, talk about why he and his brother decided to start a vinyl store for audiophiles in Dubai:

Purists are of the opinion that vinyls sound far more superior than compact discs. “They are much more organic, warm and natural-sounding than digitally-enhanced CDs. The reproduction is true to life, just the way it’s recorded in the studios on an 8-track machine,” says Mohan P, a Dubai-based vinyl enthusiast.

“Even the scratches and rumble that you hear on records add to the natural listening experience.”

The evolution of music

Music consumption has an incredible history dating back to the late 1870s when ‘pre-recorded cylinders, what we now know as records, were being sold. In the 1890s, the first phonograph parlours, where patrons could pay a nickel to listen to a recording, came into existence. These would evolve into record stores.

It was in the year 1889 that the first album in history was recorded by German-American Emile Berliner who became to be known as the "father of the gramophone”.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Spillers, a record store in Cardiff, Wales, claims to be the first record shop in the world having been founded in 1894 during the phonograph parlours era.

However, the first vinyls were not available until after World War II when, in 1948, thanks to CBS, the world's first LP record was created. This vinyl record, which was 12 inches wide, had a music capacity of around 21 minutes per side. It rotated at a speed of 33 1/3 RPM which is the same speed that today’s record players deliver.

The beauty of record sleeves

Cover design is undeniably a very important part of music albums. The art on some of the classics like Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ or Blind Faith’s self-titled album are the stuff of legends. Many collectors and enthusiasts are known to purchase albums purely for the cover art.

In the earlier days, it was such an important aspect that it became an outlet for several popular artists to showcase their work, including famed artists, such as Andy Warhol, Burt Goldblatt and Roger Dean. Many of them even got noticed after designing album covers.

Do vinyls have a future?

While music technology will doubtless continue to advance in the next five or 10 years (in its streaming form), there is a possibility that ultra-digital music could lose its charm.

We still ride our bicycles and make our coffee in a pot. Even the good, old-fashioned radio is still hugely popular in most parts of the world.

So, don’t be surprised if you walk into your friend’s house for dinner to discover that their teenage kids are glued to a record player with vinyls strewn all over the place.

It's an image that sure hits a sweet spot for conventional music lovers like Anil or new generation kids like Reyshiel.

Vinyl is still very much alive and well. Soak in the mellow, long-playing melodies from The Vinyl Collection featuring Olivia Newton-John who recently passed away.

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