Vinyl is here to stay - a look at Bristol's vinyl record scene


By Elsie King, Second Year, Film and English

On Saturday 15 April, thousands of record enthusiasts flocked to their nearest vinyl selling store to get their hands on the variety of releases curated especially for World Record Store Day. The existence of such an event is testament to the unwavering popularity of vinyl, despite the technological advancements of recent decades. To understand vinyl's place in popular culture and what makes it such an important medium, Epigram spoke to DJ and record store owner, Michael Savage.

On Gloucester Road, hidden down a narrow staircase inside the electric-yellow vintage clothing shop ‘Repsycho’, is Prime Cut Records - a tiny basement space, packed wall to wall with vinyl. Michael Savage, originally from London, was attracted to the city by Bristol-based band The Moonflowers. He explained, ‘They had a video on a program called The Chart Show and I just loved the vibe of the video. I just sort of thought, right, I'm going to move to Bristol.’

He did just that and began DJ-ing as soon as he arrived. This led to him becoming both a DJ and a Club Promoter for the next ten years. Unfortunately, this didn’t last forever, and it was the ending of Michael’s music career that led to the opening of Prime Cut Records. Michael explained that ‘Music was my world, but when that business collapsed, I was just sort of left with 10,000 records. I thought, “I'm going to use this to start a record shop.”’

Vinyl itself has recently undergone a rebirth after briefly losing popularity to more compact mediums like CDs and cassettes. Yet recently, record sales suddenly began to rise again. Now every student seems to have their fashionable little Crosley record players tucked in their bedroom corner, equipped with their mum's hand-me-down records from the 80s, providing a whole new generation with a love for the Talking Heads. Michael explained to Epigram the reason behind vinyl’s sudden resurgence: ‘Digital kind of took over at points, but there was a big push from radio about 10 years ago. It was all about vinyl - they kind of kickstarted the industry again.’

Within this temporary blip there was, however, always a loyal vinyl enthusiast – the ‘male, middle-aged buyer.’ However, Michael explains he's certainly noticed a shift in vinyl’s audience; now, it’s ‘not just the domain of middle-aged men. It’s much broader.’

A lot of these new consumers are integral to the Bristol music scene. Michael told Epigram that ‘a lot of my customers are musicians, a lot of them come in here to buy stuff to sample as well.’ With every other teen boy dabbling with DJ-ing and online mixing courses, it seems vinyl is permeating the rave scene once again. Mark elaborated that ‘more people are going back to vinyl and DJ-ing with vinyl. On a daily basis, people are coming in and they're 18, 19 or 20 and they’ve just bought decks and they're hungry for things to mix.’

Of course, Bristol itself has always been a hub for music, especially the clubbing scene, which Michael would ‘put up there’ with cities like Manchester and London where a lot of rave culture was born. If you fancy getting into mixing yourself, you can take some tips from the expert as Michael is currently working with a lot of 80s new wave and what is termed as ‘disco not disco’ (a blend of punk and disco). You don’t even have to worry too much about finding pristine vinyl either, as Michael stated that ‘the condition doesn’t matter too much actually, because on a loud sound system you can get away with a lot more.’

'On a daily basis, people are coming in and they're 18, 19 or 20 and they’ve just bought decks and they're hungry for things to mix.’

However, if you’re out to find a valuable record, Michael shared a few tips while emphasising that he is no expert. Firstly, certain pressings, especially first pressings, are worth more - you can find the pressing through the matrix number on the dead wax. He also explained that it is not very useful to search for the obvious big vinyls, for example, ‘things like the Beatles - there's hundreds of pressings of each item so it is a bit of a nightmare. There are also bootlegs of rare items out there.’

According to Michael, ‘some of the records that are worth the most are classical music and Nigerian funk records. The other genre is folk music, which is worth tens of thousands of pounds. It has to be a very specific pressing and it has to be sort of pristine, or limited runs - they only pressed about 100 copies of a lot of them!’

Whether you are in search of music to mix, sell, or just enjoy, it seems that vinyl is not leaving the popular market anytime soon. Michael agrees, claiming ‘I think it's here to stay really. I can't see it slowing down.’ However, this popularity does not mean that shops like Prime Cut have not been negatively impacted by the pandemic or Brexit; as Michael explains that ‘Brexit has really affected things. If I’m buying something from Germany, I now have to pay VAT and a handling charge. My European sales have totally flatlined.’

So, if you want to keep vinyl on the shelves, priortise supporting independent record shops like Michael’s, whose store is an integral contributor to the fabric of Bristol’s music scene. If you cannot buy in person, buying online from the digital music marketplace Discogs still allows you to support independent businesses. In fact, there are other independent record shops dotted across Bristol other than Prime Cut Records, such as Plastic Wax Records and Wanted Records, that are just waiting to be explored!

A definitive guide to Bristol vinyl
The magic nostalgia of vinyl

Michael Savage also offered his top three records that should be at the top of your list during your vinyl search, including Selected Ambient Works 85-92 by Aphex Twin, The Blade Runner Soundtrack and David Bowie’s To Station.

Featured Image: Unsplash / Eric Krull

Have you visited one of Bristol's independent record shops yet?