Last weekend, the Wee Red Bar at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) held a record fair, an opportunity for some of Edinburgh’s independent labels, sellers and DJs to come together to showcase their latest releases. Delving through huge physical volumes of music may not be everyone’s idea of fun, and of course, relatively few people own a turntable or even care about vinyl nowadays. Yet events like this are at least indicative of Edinburgh’s musical vibrancy which was seemingly never affected by the changing dynamics of music consumption.
The fair was more than just a typical vinyl marketplace, with a much more diverse range of music on offer – some old and new, some clubby and some more obscure, but certainly a lot of artists that you never would have heard of before. It felt more like a display of musical niches, particularly focusing around dance music genres, but that’s not to say that it only catered to the those that hold such tastes. Fundamentally, it was local interests converging; Edinburgh has had a bustling underground music scene for years, meandering broadly across the spectrum of genres. The record fair seemed a real coming together of this, sharing the musical culture which characterises the city.
Whilst Wee Red Bar’s record fair is a recurring pop-up event, it only comes back around every few months. Given how important events like this can be for unearthing local musicians and labels, one must ask why don’t they come around more often? Why there isn’t more of a physical presence to Edinburgh’s music scene? The simple reply is because of music streaming, but not in the negative way we are used to hearing about it. Whilst services like Spotify hold a monopoly over the dissemination of much mainstream music, the underground music scene has been somewhat modernised by Bandcamp, Discogs and other online record sellers.
The online marketplace acts as a conduit for these local, independent record labels to spread their music to a wider audience of dedicated listeners. One Edinburgh-based label found at the fair, Hobbes Music, can boast an impressive range of support on many of its recent releases from influential touring DJs like Ben UFO, Daniel Avery and Avalon Emerson, and the way Bandcamp operates in making this music accessible has no doubt had an impact on this success.
So, perhaps the reason why we don’t see many more events like this is because these labels can reach their target audience online more easily than they could before with physical record sales, and so direct their efforts more heavily towards the online marketplace. That said, the rise of online music services certainly does not spell the end for physical record sales. Independent music (particularly dance genres) has always been an insider’s market, an ‘if you know, you know’ kind of thing. What is the likelihood that the casual listener would find any of these releases online? To those actively involved in the scene – the DJs, the sellers, the fans – digging for hot new music has always been important, regardless of the ‘vinyl revival.’
The near-infinite choice of music offered by services like Spotify and Bandcamp effectively dilutes the market and the music you really like is perhaps lost amidst the millions of other sounds. Additionally, the record fair drew together the influences of some of the people who define Edinburgh’s music scene and presented their tastes to buyers. As such, vinyl sales offer a more nuanced and directed approach to finding new music, suited to absolutely anyone who is interested.
The record fair reiterated how much Edinburgh has to offer music fans, but the only real way of finding out is by looking into it yourself. Music streaming does not stop anyone from going out into the city and exploring what is there. Those who want to find new music always will, and physicality of vinyl records will always contribute to this.
Image: Tomasz Sienicki via Wikimedia Commons