I write this article whilst cogitating in a Dalston café, somewhat discombobulated, after another weekend of nocturnal excess. As I lick my wounds and prepare for a very serious session of feeling particularly sorry for myself, it strikes me that everyone around me must be an artist of some description. In fact, if I were a gambling man, I'd wager that each person in here probably has a blog.
We sit with our laptops open before us like gunslingers before a duel. No doubt we're all penning a satirical piece about the foibles of East London, all the while oblivious that we are all part of the parody, rather than the authors of its undoing. The menu is reassuringly overpriced and I'm trying to fathom how any impecunious artist can afford it. I certainly can't afford it! Incidentally, I have now drained my Orangina and have decided to content myself with the complimentary water and, no, it hasn't been flavoured with cucumbers.
Anyway, I digress - the point is, of the artists present in this room, about 40% are likely to be involved in music. Of these, most will tell you that a record contract is superfluous nowadays. They will say, censoriously, that the music industry is dead - that it is an anachronism that should be consigned to the history books. They are right of course: the party is over. When I worked as a lowly clerical assistant at EMI Music, I became aware of an obsolete 'Cakes & Sweeties' fund that represented millions of pounds of debt for the company. It was axiomatic that this affectionately entitled fund wasn't for purchasing foodstuffs with a high sugar content but, rather, that it bankrolled the insouciant and narcotic-fuelled lifestyles of EMI's most memorable icons, as well as its senior members of staff. Needless to say, today there are no more 'Cakes & Sweeties', there are no more imprudent extravagances and, most depressingly of all, there are no more eye-watering advances.
So, why is it that, unlike my fellow comrades assembled around me in this café, I still desire, nay, demand, a record contract? After all, I can still create my music and release it on a plethora of digitally-based platforms. I don't need the permission of one of the music industry's behemoth labels to be a musician, do I?
Put simply, my hankering for the patronage of the record industry can be attributed, in large part, to nostalgia. My childhood homes were littered with vinyl and I can vividly recollect performing somersaults around my father's turntable for many happy hours. As a five year old, I would pour over vinyl artwork with a level of enthusiasm that was usually reserved for Teddy Ruxpin or Enid Blyton cassettes. There is something wonderfully tangible about vinyl and, at a time when we over-value the disposable and undervalue the corporeal, that is a source of great comfort.
photo by Eloisa Cuturi
You may remember a very famous anecdote about John Peel being told by a fellow disc jockey that CDs were better than vinyl because they didn't have surface noise. With characteristic wit, Mr Peel parried with the superb one-liner: "Listen, mate, life has surface noise."
What John embodies here, is that latent sentimentalist that resides in all of us. I am aware that I don't necessarily 'need' a record contract, but that doesn't escape from the fact that I want one anyway. Perhaps I sound decidedly antiquarian but, frankly, I don't give a damn. I can only stomach so much modernity before, invariably, I return to those elements that first inspired my love of music: my father, his record player, and The Beatles' 'Please Please Please Me' in a feathered LP wallet. One day, I hope I too will be able to commend my music to the great black circle.