Thursday, June 12, 2008

Vinyl isn't dead... but what about the turntable?

In doing some legwork for a little pet project I took on recently, I did a number of fairly extensive image searches online recently, looking specifically for deejay-related event photos, booth setups, and stuff along those lines. And I noticed something that I found just a tad surprising.

In all of the photos that I came across, I rarely if ever saw an actual turntable in use.

Oh, don’t get me wrong; the omnipotent Technics 1200 was certainly in place in a vast majority of the club photos I unearthed. And yet what was once the very cornerstone of club culture seems to be little more than an obligatory nod to the past these days… a common relic in the museum that is the deejay booth, present only because it’s what you’d expect to find in such a place.

I’m not writing this little installment to bemoan the demise of vinyl or to weep over the turntable’s fall from favor in the age of digital deejaying solutions. I myself first began to incorporate CDs into my club and radio work well over a decade ago and I too have fallen prey to the mighty beast that is Serato. And contrary to this rant, the turntable *is* very much alive and well in certain arenas of dj culture (and not just among the turntablist crowd…)

But there’s just something about seeing all of these great photos of what appear to be great club nights with great deejays doing great things up there in the booth and NOT seeing a single turntable in action. True, they have their limits in comparison to the CDJs and digital setups of the modern era, but what the 1200 lacks in features or functions it more than makes up for in style.

I remember buying my first pair of beloved Technics clear back in 1990. Six long months spent toiling away in the kitchen of a Gold Star restaurant (what up to my Cincy peeps!) was well worth the payoff in the end as I packed those two big boxes into the trunk of my Celica and raced back home to get them setup and ready to go.

For as many hours as I logged on those damn decks, cutting and scratching and mixing away to my heart’s content, I could count any number of occasions where I would just sit there and stare at those things. Not only did they just *look* so damned cool, but I guess in a way… there was a sense of accomplishment that came with them, as if they said “you’re ready for that next level” to me every time I powered them up and got to work.

That’s not to say that modern deejay toys don’t have that same allure to them; all these years later and I still find myself oohing and aahing over the mound of new tech junk that hits the market every year. But few things are quite like the Technics 1200 turntable. In fact, they’ve hardly changed much since they first appeared in the early 70’s. Maybe that’s the appeal… that something so dated has managed to stay relevant all these years. Or maybe I’m just a pseudo-purist, reluctantly dragging each of his feet in opposite directions.

Or maybe it’s the notion that there’s a whole new generation of up and coming deejays these days who will never learn their craft or cut their teeth in the way that I did, a whole generation who (most likely) may never even lay their hands on actual vinyl... who’ll never learn how to balance a tonearm or wire a cartridge into a headshell or find the right type of wax paper to slip under their mat that’ll give them juuust that much less friction with the platter.

I dunno. Call me old-fashioned I suppose. More than anything else… well, I guess I just wish that I saw those turntables in those photos doing something more than holding an ashtray or a collection of empty Heineken bottles. They’re turntables damnit. They deserve more than that… y’know?

- M

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