Crate Digging

I picked up my Mikey Dread LP during a summer in Williamsburg. I had just polished off a jerked chicken leg and was chatting with a friend of Miss Lilly’s Cafe.  As I sipped sorrel through a pink straw she recommended I look into the history of sound clashing in Brooklyn.

There is something about the discovery of an LP; something that sparks an appreciation far beyond that of a digital download. For record collectors and casual diggers, wax represents a time, a place, and is as much about how each of those records ended up in the collection as it is about what is actually on side A or B.

Even in a time where the physical search of music seems like a waste of time, vinyl continues to be worth digging. Enough so to motivate publications like Wax Poetics to tribute an entire magazine to vintage digging traditions.  Record labels from NYC’s Bastard Jazz to London’s Young Turks still pump out 12″s as if vinyl was today’s standard format. There exists a strong international community of collectors loyal to the grooves of the phonograph. Younger than you’d expect, they dig because to them vinyl is a cultural artifact, a puzzle piece to a bigger musical history.

Traveling record events like the US’ Beat Swap Meet are a chance for fans to deepen their collections; a chance for Tom Petty fans to discover the other productions of Jeff Lynne, hip hop heads to compliment their collection of Jay Dee productions with the works of jazz pianist Gap Mangione. Others buy albums for cover art, in attempts to visually contextualize music that was never released with video.

For the DJ and producing communities, vinyl is the medium that spawned sampling, which meant that recorded snippets could be used as raw musical material. For hip-hop creatives like Questlove and DJ Jazzy Jeff, the rarity and obscurity of a collection is a competitive edge. This same competitiveness is what flourished original sound system culture and is what motivates devoted collectors like Gilles Peterson to scour the globe for exotic analog sounds.

Unfortunately today, DJing out of crates limits the opportunity for live experimentation. It’s difficult for DJs to pass up the opportunity to loop and remix their own material on the fly in the name of ‘purity’. However, the DJ vinyl tradition is far from obsolescence as software like Traktor or Serato replicate the vinyl experience on a digital platform. There seems to be something magical about manually quantizing and syncing tempos that you just don’t get with auto beat match.

It’s the feel of vinyl, the possession of a piece of art that continues to surpass digital formats. There’s a reason why music lovers continue to feel more accomplishment walking home with a bag of gems from the 99p bin than we ever do torrenting an entire discography.