Won over by vinyl

In the year 2000, Vikram Bhat got into buying and listening to vinyl records. The vocalist of death/doom metal band Dying Embrace and head of MG Road’s erstwhile eatery Ullas Refreshments, Bhat would buy LPs whenever he was on holiday in Europe or other parts of the world. But at the turn of the new millennium, vinyl had nearly faded out. Bhat explains his choice, “I bought vinyl because they were cheap. I would see a CD priced at 12 pounds, but a vinyl in the clearance bin would be about 3 pounds.”

Fast-forward to today and Bhat has been running Mahatobar Distribution for nearly four years. It’s a small but well-stocked store dedicated to metal and rock music, where he sells CDs, vinyl and other merchandise. “Vinyl has been a steady part of my sales inventory,” Bhat says. Although primarily stocking metal and rock, he occasionally gets requests from customers who want to buy LPs from The Beatles, ZZ Top and even Tchaikovsky. He adds, “I have customers who come to my store and say, ‘I would rather buy one vinyl compared to three CDs’.”

In India, vinyl continues to have a steady growth, even if it stays in its niche. Worldwide, there was Record Store Day on April 21, marking the 11th celebration that started out to help promote independent record stores. Major record labels also play an important role, as artists and imprints work to put out an exclusive release to mark the day. Closer home, vinyl has been on sale mostly at stores such as the erstwhile Rhythm House in Mumbai or Landmark in Bengaluru, but with mixed success. Since 2015, there’s been The Revolver Club in Mumbai, which actively promotes and sells vinyl both online and at their exclusive store.

Bhat says, “Vinyl is a very small market in India. The price is one thing and then a certain age-group as well. It’s a very small number among the younger kids who have discovered the format and liked the sound.” The culture of vinyl, however, is certainly gaining followers among younger audiences who don’t associate holding an LP with a sense of nostalgia as such.

Bengaluru-based visual art collective FRISK, which includes Anand Vijayasimha, Abheet Anand, Sanjana Bhatt and Sachin Bhatt, bond about their favourite records as well as the experience of listening to music while you can hold LP gatefold artwork in your hands. Although they also consume music via streaming and downloads, Anand recalls when he and Sanjana were introduced to the Foo Fighters’ one-off EP St Cecilia by Vijayasimha. “I didn’t know it, but the whole thing was live-tracked in a hotel room. I always felt it was way more organic than any of their other records. We heard it on vinyl and you can really feel the space,” says Anand.

“It’s a way for me to bond with my dad. He started a collection when he was around my age and I just contribute to his. We both sit and talk about the record we are listening to,” says Bhatt. They also moonlight as artwork agency blankfound and have worked on album art for Indian indie bands such as The F16s and Black Letters. For Record Store Day, they looked out for albums by the likes of Deerhunter or Frank Ocean’s ambient-hip hop pathbreaker Channel Orange and Tesseract’s evocative modern metal offering Altered State. It will be a hard find and certainly won’t come cheap like it used to back in 2000. Vijayasimha jokes, “It’s an expensive habit, but it’s better than having other habits.”

On their list is Delhi band Peter Cat Recording Co’s new release Portrait of a Time: 2010-2016, out on vinyl via French label Panache. The album is a collection of songs from across their discography, lending to their earthy, lo-fi, wistful and energetic mix of gypsy, waltz and psychedelic rock. Their aesthetic, perhaps, would have demanded a vinyl release of their earlier albums, but we live in a time where even pressing CDs is expensive.

The band’s vocalist and guitarist Suryakant Sawhney shoots straight about whether Indian bands ought to release music on vinyl. “Depends on your audience and your cash flow. In our case, we have neither a huge audience nor the cash flow.” Perhaps to their surprise, all copies for sale in India (at ₹1,100) have been cleaned up and they are waiting for their second shipment. But signing with a French label was a move to look for an international audience. Sawhney adds, “There’s a prominent PR push they are making in France and the rest of Europe for both digital and vinyl formats which is far more useful.”

Vinyl finds buyers in small but dedicated corners in India, which explains why events such as Record Store Day take place only at select locations. A consumer and vendor like Bhat, however, says a special annual event may help introduce vinyl to younger buyers, but the die-hards will stay regardless. “For the genuine fan, any day you walk into a store and get a record you like is Record Store Day.”

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 6:03:36 AM |

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