Vinyl Nation: An Uplifting and Fun New Doc on Resurgence of Vinyl Records
Vinyl Nation, a new documentary by Christopher Boone and Kevin Smokler, opens at a record store in Kansas City. A huge crowd of people is lining up early in the morning. It’s Record Store Day, an annual event when record stores see “record” business.
The crowd is upbeat. All are excited about going into the store and seeking out their favorite bands on vinyl, a format that had been declared dead just a few years earlier but is now seeing a huge resurgence. People talk of friendships being formed at the record store, friendships that are borne out of a shared love of the vinyl format.
“Record Store Day is my busiest day of the year,” says Judy Mills, the owner of the store. “It’s bigger than my Christmas, it’s bigger than my Black Friday, it’s all of those days rolled together. We’re going to see more people in one day then we normally in two months time.”
It’s a festive atmosphere. People are ecstatic when the store finally opens its doors. As a live band performs, many run around the store excitedly , perusing the record racks. Some proudly show off their purchases.
“It’s really weird,”one young man says. “Even my parents are like, why are you getting all that stuff? You have all this stuff on your phone. I said, I don’t know, its really cool.”
And that about sums up the mentality of the record buying community. It’s cool. It’s fun. It brings record collectors joy. Throughout the film we meet people who collect vinyl records by the hundreds, even by the thousands. Some speak of the pure pleasure they get out of holding an album in their hands, of pulling the record out of it’s sleeve, of looking at the cover artwork, of reading the liner notes. Somehow, buying a CD or listening to a song at iTunes just can’t hold a candle to buying a vinyl record.
As the film progresses, viewers meet people who turn their record collecting into a lifestyle. We see people who have hundreds, even thousands of records on display in their homes. One woman in Ventura, California, has made a hobby of photographing herself in recreations of her favorite album covers, which she posts on Instagram.
“I always had a fascination with records,” says Marc Weinstein, co-owner and co-founder of Amoeba Records in San Francisco. “I’ve also played the drums since I was nine years old. And so I was always in bands, interested in music, my parents loved music, I love working at record stores, its all I’ve ever done my entire life since I got out of high school. We have three stores now, and each one of them would be considered the largest record store on the planet. We became a place for weirdo record geeks like myself to have a good job and create a community. It’s a perfect job for me. I get to sleep in late, I get to wear my hair long, and just be myself.”
But Vinyl Nation goes far beyond the realm of geeky white fanboys. Auteurs Boone and Smokler show that record collecting is also a hobby enjoyed by women and people of color. We are introduced to several Black record collectors, one of whom shares her music with her daughter. We meet a mixed race couple in Brooklyn NY. We hear from a Latinx woman who forms a group for female DJs. Vinyl Nation is, among other things, a celebration of diversity.
For some, their record collections are valuable treasures to be preserved for posterity. Several people speak of the provisions they’ve made for their record collections after they’re gone.
At 92 minutes, Vinyl Nation is informative and fast paced fun. It’s also a fascinating look inside a world filled with people who are very passionate about music and about their music collecting. Ultimately the film is a glorious reminder of how much pleasure there is to be had from pursuing one’s interests. Well done and highly recommended.
Vinyl Nation will be available at various virtual cinemas around the Bay through November 30.