The rebirth of vinyl has been well documented over the last two years. In 2016, vinyl sales hit a 25 year high and outstripped digital sales for the first time ever. Nowadays, it comes as a surprise if an EP release isn’t vinyl only, whereas five years ago such a decision from a label could have been considered financial suicide.
Record stores that have been going for decades have experienced an upturn whilst new ones seem to constantly pop up. One such new arrival is London based record shop Wax Material, it’s difficult to give out an address for it, because, well, it’s mobile.
“I’ve always been a free-spirited person, so the fact it’s mobile instead of being an actual store fits me well.” Owner Jessi Vincent gleefully informs me. As you’d expect from someone who dedicated ten hours a day for three months to building Wax Material, Jessi’s passion for music and her project is infectious.
My first encounter with the shop is Art of Dark’s Halloween party, where the 1990 Ford Transit is situated in the far arch whilst the likes of Praslesh and Andrew James Gustav work their magic. The vehicle in question is usually associated with an electrician and may conjure up images of Jessi dishing out worn out records from a jumbled up box, but nothing could be further from the truth. Inside you’ll find two Technics 1200s on a listening station, an elevated chilling space and a mouth-watering selection of records, both new and old.
The idea for the project came as an accumulative experience. In July 2017, she and her best friend took on the extensive pan-Europe road trip of London to Romania for Waha Festival. “We were in an absolutely packed out car for four days, even sleeping in it. It sounds awful, but there was something very special about that trip which sparked something inside of me.
Anyone that’s been to Waha Festival can attest to how special that place is. It was at Waha where I had an amazing wave of inspiration come over me, making me realise I could roll many of my dreams into one. I decided right there and then that I would buy the perfect van, morph it into a mobile record store and do road trips to festivals all over the world.”
The choice to start a mobile record store would be an odd choice to those outside the world of electronic music and perhaps even to those in it. Why go mobile?
“The shops play a key part in meeting the amazing artists that I have done so far along this journey. For me, it’s all about being able to share this experience with as many people and artists as possible. That’s what gives me a buzz.” It’s easy to see why a buzz is generated when past diggers include the likes of electronic music royalty such as Rhadoo and Sonja Moonear.
In times where the commercialisation of underground music seem more and more prevalent by the day, stories such as Jessi’s offer a stronghold of inspiration and keep the values of the scene going. “It’s always been clear to me how much I adore records and owning a record shop was always a dream of mine.” Even with digitals admitted numerous advantages, people still prefer the subtle imperfection of vinyl, but why?
“There’s nothing quite like the sound. When that sound is running through your living room there’s nothing like it.” Wax enthusiasts have been arguing that vinyl sounds better since the emergence of digital DJing and the merits of the argument have been debated ad nauseam since. The re-emergence of vinyl has nothing to do with the sound quality of wax vs. wavs, but rather to do with the culture surrounding it that has been around since the birth of DJing.
“I’ve honestly never given much attention to technology, and never considered the possibility of trying out another way of DJing.” Uruguayan DJ Nicolas Lutz told fabric back in 2013. “There is just nothing like playing a record, I’m in fact sorry for people who don’t share in that experience.”
For any of the vinyl purists out there, DJs or just collectors it’s a familiar story. People don’t opt for vinyl over MP3s just for the sake of it, especially considering all the potential issues that come along with playing it. The thrill of going to a shop like Wax Material and digging through records, finding sounds that otherwise you would have missed, is impossible to compare to hopping onto Beatport and purchasing the digital version.
Whilst ‘digger culture’ has always been around in electronic music, there seems to have been somewhat of an explosion with those associated with it in recent years. The likes of Francesco Del Garda, Nicolas Lutz and Binh have seen their bookings boom as digger culture becomes more and more of a recognised and valued tag, despite the fact those DJs associated with the tag may reject it.
Other corners of underground music may view such DJs as pretentious but on the contrary, their championing of records comes from a place of respect for themselves and other DJs. “If you are a professional, you should be able to make the turntables work in this moment.” Onur Özer noted back in 2016. For the Turkish spinner, there seems little in the way of excuses, “All you might need to do is find two or three pillows and put them under the decks…if you want to make it work you usually can.”
The persistence of DJs wanting to play vinyl, combined with the elevated respect for the culture behind it from both a promotion and club goer standpoint, has led to a beautiful twist of the arm for festivals and clubs. It’s not enough to have two old turntables on a subwoofer, sound engineers are now paying just as much attention to the analogue set-up as they are fine-tuning the speakers.
When you hear DJs such as Voigtmann or Shanti Celeste talk at length about how they can play Houghton Festival with no fear of the vinyl skipping or doubts about the set-up and how much joy they derive from it, it’s impossible not to view vinyl set-ups as a necessity in the club and festival world.
Hearing stories like Jessi’s, when you see vinyl’s resurgence and the re-opening of record stores, it almost feels impossible not to view the bounce-back of physical music and the corresponding values as a retaliation to the digitalisation and general commercialisation of underground music.
For a city such as London, it’s impossible for large sections of it not to be commercialised. This, of course, extends to music as well, but for all extortionate ticket prices and events filled with infectiously bad vibes in London, there’s equally, if not more, promoters such as Art Of Dark, Cartulis and Stump doing everything right and driving the scene forward.
As for London and Wax Material, “The shop fits like a glove with a city like London.” Jessi informs me “It’s what people seek in this city, diversity and flexibility, things that make life a bit easier. London is non-stop, fast-paced and just plain busy. I feel that purely having those wheels under the store is one of the main attractions for Wax Material for a lot of people that simply don’t have the time to venture out to record shops. So I go to them!”
Praslesh have just polished off a five-hour set and I walk down the arches of Great Suffolk Street Warehouse to collect my earlier purchases. I did spend more than I expected to but that’s not because of pricing, but because of the sheer quality of records on offer, a common problem for customers visiting excellent record shops. A rare Janeret record coupled with a selection of 90s UK tech-house and US electro records happen to my selections of choice.
Jessi’s passion for music and records as well as for Wax Material is evident within a minute of talking to her. It’s incredibly inspiring and a little bit tear-jerking that someone’s dream is coming to fruition and it’s all grown from the world of music.
Where next for Wax Material? Jessi is always on the look-out for new stock and is happy to take private digging appointments for those wishing to visit. There’s also the small matter of a new monthly radio show on bloop. with friends and DJs alike being lined up.
She’ll also be making an appearance at Gottwood Festival 6-10th June in Wales, with guest sets on the fly from DJs playing at the festival.