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Lifestyle: Vinyl Ain't Final

Max Le Bras at Alley Tunes

By Max Le Bras from Alley Tunes, 8/660A Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn.

Alley Tunes is one of the last independent record stores in Melbourne, tucked away in a little laneway alongside the train tracks leading to Glenferrie Station. Founded in 1994, at a time when CDs had all but crushed vinyl sales in the mainstream, Alley Tunes catered for a clientele of DJs, ravers, clubbers and record collectors, buying, selling and trading vinyl and CDs from bargain bin fillers to highly sought after rarities.

DJ culture helped the vinyl industry survive the ‘90s with a massive pick up in the early 2000's when more DJ turntables than guitars were sold in music supplies stores. The DJ phenomenon grew exponentially amongst the youth and new dance music was always released on vinyl to enable DJs to incorporate them into their sets and give exposure to music that was popular in the underground scene. At this point in time, the remaining vinyl pressing plants solely survived thanks to the small independent record labels.

In the mid 2000s, DJing on digital formats became possible, while downloading music and online shopping for records grew in popularity. Record stores around the world became increasingly rare as they struggled to compete with the digital music revolution. Alley Tunes’ previous owners could not make ends meet anymore and decided to sell. Fabrice, my business partner, had the idea to add a café to the store to make it a more viable business. During that time, a handful of record labels, producers and DJs released their music exclusively on vinyl as ‘limited editions’ to give the format a more prestigious status. From 2010 on we noticed a sales and interest uptrend and the beginning of the so-called "vinyl revival".

Given the convenience of the digital format era, what do you attribute the vinyl revival to?

The tangibility of the format. The feeling of ownership of a physical medium. The cover artwork and the ritual of hunting for a rare record to add to your collection. Record shopping is a great activity for awakening sensations like finding and discovering. I think mostly though, the nostalgia and "old world" feel of record buying is strong in many people’s memories.

Do you think DJs in particular prefer using vinyl - if so why?

DJs nowadays have the luxury of choosing a format to perform with which is fantastic, but DJing started with the art of manipulating sound on vinyl records, so that tradition will always attract DJs.

Which genres are the most popular on vinyl?

Primarily electronic dance music and generally all groove based music. So, techno, house, funk, afrobeat, disco, reggae and jazz especially.

What demographic are buying vinyl these days?

The number of very young customers has grown significantly in the last few years. The 20-30 age bracket is the biggest, but we are still seeing an “all-ages” customer base, really. Thanks to the ease of access to music these days, a lot more young people are exposed to all eras of music. Their tastes are very broad and that does translate into people wanting to collect vinyl.

Max Le Bras is a DJ and has been the co-owner of Alley Tunes for the last 15 years. He first visited the shop in 2001 and became a regular customer by 2003, before eventually making it his business.

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