In 2008 New York photographer Eilon Paz was shown a photo of a man, Frank Goessner, a German, who lived around the corner from Paz in Brooklyn. Goessner was wearing combat gear, holding an AK-47, surrounded by a mass of records. As a music fan, Paz was intrigued and (perhaps bravely) met Goessner to ask him about his records, and to understand why he was posing with an AK-47 in front of them.
It turned out Frank Goessner had a passion for travelling around West Africa searching for records. (This may or may not explain the AK-47. It may just have been something he picked up in Wal-Mart with his groceries. If we’re being critical, Paz hasn’t provided an entirely satisfactory story around the gun).
Paz found the subsequent conversation so fascinating it led him to further conversations with similar vinyl-collecting folk, cataloguing a New York / Brooklyn crate-digging scene.
The resulting blog and subsequent book, “Dust and Grooves” is a minor classic, and revealed threads of enthusiasm and shared passions for old funk, rock, jazz and soul records linking collectors around the globe.
Between 2008 and 2012 Paz interviewed well known musicians and DJs like Gilles Peterson, Questlove and Four Tet. People who used vinyl to discover music and who had held on to their records, despite looking at a future where MP3 files were the dominant way of consuming music and were clearly set for decades of dominance.
Or at least so we thought.
In 2008, Daniel Ek launched Spotify. At the same time, reports emerged that vinyl sales had stopped declining for the first time in two decades, and were in fact rising. And in 2010, there was the launch of a small photography-based app on the IOS App Store: Instagram.
Needless to say, in the years since Paz’s book, not only has an interest in vinyl sky-rocketed, but social media’s influence – for good and ill – has grown.
It has certainly become easier to find people with a similar interest online. If the evil algorithms don’t do it for you, a simple hashtag will direct you towards, or away from if the prospect sounds grim, of thousands of the world’s most ardent collectors of vinyl.
No longer do we need to dress in combat gear to attract the attention of interested creatives (although it might be worth a try, right? #gunsandvinyl might yet be a thing).
So to capture this very different world a lavish new coffee table sized book has been published, which takes a snapshot of the vinyl community in 2021 over 450 pages and with over 700 photographs.
The idea came not from New York this time but Yorkshire, home of record collector Iain Wakefield. Iain began interviewing record collectors he discovered across the world on Instagram last year, posting snippets of those conversations on his website.
The result is a fascinating snapshot of record collectors in 2021. No longer the preserve of DJs, wearers of army camouflage or simply people who grew up in the sixties and never lost faith in the medium, it’s a trawl through what is a more diverse world of newer collectors, clearly sometimes obsessive, but reassuringly more often very normal people whose love of music and records is something the reader can happily identify with and who have often found their interest in music rekindled by the vinyl revival. (I should declare Iain has interviewed me for the book, which hopefully won’t put you off. I count myself in the “normal” camp. My family may dispute this).
Iain is clearly an avid record collector so I asked him what led him to want to talk to other collectors…
“It was Instagram that really led me to starting the book project. My Instagram account is populated by my record collection and I only post photos of records, never myself. The vinyl community on there is like no other community I think and I had always wondered about the stories behind other peoples record collections. For example, questions like where they shopped for records or why they collect records always used to pop into my head when I would scroll my Instagram feed.”
“When I was put on furlough from my job, it gave me the time to start asking those questions to other collectors using Instagram as the initial point of contact and taking the conversations from there. The idea started as an online blog initially and then progressed into the coffee table book.”
The book looks lovely and you mention you work in design – has that background been helpful when producing the book?
“Yes, thats right. Day to day, I work as a Landscape Architect so I’m designing on a daily basis. Putting the book together was more straight forward than I actually thought it was going to be and I think that was because of my design background. I use the same software, Adobe Indesign, on a daily basis which was a great help. Once I had picked a number of page layouts, it was a case of piecing together information and photos that had been provided by the collectors when I’d interviewed them. There were tweaks along the way but I’m really pleased with the way the book has turned out.”
Were you aware of the Dust and Grooves blog and book from a decade ago and did that come into your thoughts?
“I own a copy of Dust and Grooves myself but it didn’t really come into my thoughts when I was compiling my book. The main driver for me was Instagram when I started my project and that is reflected constantly throughout the pages of the book with nods to independent record shops via their Instagram handles and of course, the Instagram handles of the collectors featured.”
“This book and project was put together primarily during two of the COVID lockdowns that the UK were put into which meant talking to collectors via online applications was the only way to do it.”
How do you think the Vinyl community has evolved over the last ten years?
“It has evolved massively! One of the big things I have noticed was the amount of younger collectors that have begun digging for records in the last few years. The vinyl community is so diverse these days that the stereotype that only older men collect records is now untrue. When I was compiling the list of collectors to interview, I wanted to try be as diverse as possible with who I was interviewing for the book so studied what genres they collected and the type of records they bought. Of course, I also wanted a mix of male and female collectors with varying ages.”
Why vinyl? What is it about the format you like?
“My answer is similar to most collectors I think. It’s all about owning a tangible format that you can hold in your hands and study the information provided by via the sleeve notes.”
“For me, It’s never been about vinyl sounding better than other formats, it’s all about vinyl as an object. One of the most satisfying things in life for me I think is sitting and looking at my shelves of records all neatly organised (by genre!) and deciding what to play next. “
What was your first record?
“It was actually “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd and if I’m honest, I bought it entirely because of the sleeve’s artwork and how mysterious and interesting it is. I didn’t have a turntable at that time so had to wait a little while to discover how great that record actually was.”
What is the best bargain you have found?
“About a year and a half ago, a friend of mine gave me his records that he had been buying when he was growing up. There were around 80 records all original pressings including a lot of stuff by The Smiths, Pixies, My Petrol Emotion, Chapterhouse and other artists around that era.”
“However, the cream of the crop was a 1991 original UK pressing of “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine. The price it goes for now is astonishing and I was so grateful for him to gift me that record.”
What are your thoughts on using Instagram as a way of sharing record collections?
“It’s fantastic in my opinion and it’s an endless source of inspiration for adding new records to my collection. I’ve discovered many new bands and genres scrolling through Instagram and I don’t think that my collection would be anywhere near as big without having my Instagram account.”
So finally, what are three records that mean a lot to you – ones that if your house was on fire and you could only save three, which three would they be?
“Wow that’s a tough question as I’d want to save them all! However, if I had to pick three they would be “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd (the first record I ever owned), “Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Bruce Springsteen – my favourite ever record – and “Hunky Dory” by David Bowie, which according to Discogs is the most valuable record I own.”
You can follow Iain’s Instagram account here: @IDWakefield