Danielle Wright goes to the Auckland Record Collectors Fair and finds vinyl's appeal more than just nostalgic.
In a room filled with neatly shelved vinyl records, collectors huddle in rows, flipping through the covers, stopping momentarily to examine one from all angles, before resuming their search for the ultimate record.
Although it's early on a Saturday morning, the room is abuzz, not just from the music coming from the stage, where a beautifully restored wooden turntable is giving the songs a richer sound than that of an MP3. It's also from the thrill of the chase, and it's well and truly on as more people stream through the double doors.
"The thrill of finding a rare record, especially at a really cheap price, as well as the quality of the artwork - much larger than on other presentations of music- keeps me coming back," says one collector, George Watts.
The media often talks about the comeback of vinyl but it's always held a certain cache, especially among DJs. Even Steve Jobs, a pioneer of digital music who changed the way we listen to and distribute music forever, listened to vinyl rather than iPods when he was at home.
Collectors I spoke to admit to buying a vinyl record for all sorts of reasons - they might follow a particular label or genre of music, or anything by a certain producer; they might buy something for the artwork or, for one, because he used to dance around with his mother in the kitchen to it as a child.
"Most serious vinyl collectors take it one step further and move into the music business in some form," says Watts. "Collecting vinyl is the first step, it's like a university degree in a subject you create yourself."
Klaus Buwert, organiser of Auckland's Record Collector's Fair says vinyl's popularity is still growing steadily. His fair enables a set of stall-holders - individual collectors or specialist music shops - to sell vinyl in pristine condition, all labelled in a very organised manner and in neat and colourful plastic boxes. If there's one thing I've noticed about vinyl record collectors it's that they like to keep their records tidy.
Collectors are also, dare I say it, elitists, and although the record player on stage looks vintage, it's been modified for the ultimate in sound quality: "It's a Garrard record player set in rimu with an African hardwood tonearm," says Buwert, somewhat proudly.
As record collector Peter Wilson says, "My wife lives for dance, I live for motorcycles and musical equipment."
Once, you could tell a lot about a person from their record collection. With more music online and hidden in iPods, these judgments can't be made so easily - perhaps allowing the odd "bad taste" record to creep in - and collecting music on vinyl does seem to be a means of forging your identity as well as connecting with like-minded friends.
English professor and avid collector Kim A. Herzinger suggests, "Collecting is a means by which one relieves a basic sense of incompletion." This may be why, when a family comes along, the need for collecting vinyl usually wanes a bit, at least for a while. I spoke to several new dads who pine for the days when they would rush to a friend's house on a weekend to introduce them to their new vinyl purchase.
But however you listen to, collect or covet them, vinyl records are more than just a slice of history, they are well and truly in the heart of each collector in a way MP3s never will be.
* The Record Collectors Guild has information about safe buying, the history of album cover art, how to store your vinyl and buying tips.
For the vinyl fanatics, wear your passion on your sleeve with bespoke music-inspired T-shirts: vinylgeorge.co.nz
* Southbound Records - the newest vinyl record store in Auckland is at 69 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden. Ph (09) 302 0769.By Danielle Wright