In 2007, the year of the inaugural Record Store Day, vinyl sales in the UK had hit an all-time low: only 210,000 were sold that year. The last 12 years have seen an astonishing comeback for the format, with 4.2 million records sold in 2018. Still well short of vinyl’s 60s and 70s heyday, but hugely impressive nonetheless in the era of digital streaming.
So what’s behind the vinyl revival? Is it purely a lifestyle fad? A yearning for the tangible in a world that’s gone online? To answer this, according to Pete Hutchison, you have to understand why vinyl went out of fashion in the first place. “Vinyl became unpopular in the 1980s because the compact disc was mis-sold as superior,” he says. “In fact the quality was poor, both sonically and aesthetically.”
As the download replaced the CD in the Noughties, people started buying records again, initially for their physical appeal. “If you’re going to have a physical format it’s nicer to have a record to hold,” says Pete. But then people started to realise that vinyl sounded better too. “The digital file is a series of numbers or sample rates whereas the analogue waveform is endless,” explains Pete. “You get a lot more information with vinyl, and people are picking up on that.” Ultimately, Pete feels confident that vinyl’s superior sound quality will ensure its longevity. “Despite fashion coming and going I’m pretty convinced it will retain its popularity over time.”
A true audiophile and avid record collector, Pete runs his label The Electric Recording Co. from Workspace’s Westbourne Studios, re-releasing limited editions of rare classical and jazz recordings from the 1950s and 60s. His Westway HQ is a treasure trove of vintage musical equipment.
Pete got access to EMI Classics master tapes via a contact he’d made through his other record label, Peacefrog. He then spent years — and tens of thousands of pounds — tracking down and restoring original valve equipment from as far afield as Nigeria in order to remaster the records to their original quality. According to Pete, valves are the key to the “open and engaging” sound of 50s and 60s vinyl, far better in his opinion than records made using transistors, which were invented in the 70s.
It’s not just the sound that’s reproduced faithfully — the album sleeves are recreated by hand using 1950s letterpress printing techniques. The resulting package, with its obsessive attention to detail and fidelity to original techniques, is strictly for the connoisseur, and priced accordingly: one seven-LP boxset, a re-release of a 1956 recording of Mozart’s Parisian compositions, currently retails at £2,750. Pete has recently branched out into jazz, re-releasing records by the likes of John Coltrane and Bill Evans that were originally put out on labels such as Riverside and Prestige. Pete exports his records all over the world. “The classical recordings are very popular in Hong Kong, while the Americans seem to like the jazz more,” he says.
With the Notting Hill Carnival, Island Records, and Basing Street Studios, the local area can lay claim to being one of London’s true music hubs. The Clash were touted by NME as “the sound of the Westway”, while vinyl mecca Rough Trade is still going strong on nearby Talbot Rd. When he moved to Westbourne Studios in 2002, Pete would have shared the building with Blur frontman Damon Albarn, who made the first two Gorillaz albums there. “Notting Hill’s rich in creative heritage so it made sense for us,” says Pete. “It’s been a pretty good place to operate from really.”
While other creative companies have come and gone, Pete remains an inspiration to all of us who dream of making a living from their passion projects. The Electric Recording Co. is a “labour of love,” Pete freely admits. “But I’ve always made my labours of love my business.”
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