Run That Sh!t proves vinyl isn't dead

By David Specht | 1/21/14 11:49pm


GVL / Hannah Mico.

When an entire music library can be stored on a device smaller than a stick of chewing gum, it seems unlikely to find a DJ combing through rows of milk crates resembling a section of a record store on stage during a performance. Unless, of course, that DJ was one of the hosts of “Run That Sh!t” — an all-vinyl rap takeover hosted by The Pyramid Scheme on Jan. 15.

Featuring Grand Rapids’ locals Mike Saunders aka Mr. Fables, Andrew Christopoulos aka Dreas, and DJ Backteeth, the event cost only $5. But while the price was right, the weather was not, and the result was a house that was less than packed. However, for those passionate about true hip-hop, including the DJs, the size of the crowd had little to do with their level of enjoyment.

“I think the all-vinyl format is special to us (DJs) because we not only have a love for the music, but also a love for the history and culture behind it,” Christopoulos said. “Vinyl does a better job of bridging music and history together than an MP3.”

Christopoulos explained that a themed all-vinyl event such as RTS encourages more of a creative dialogue than just plugging in a computer and playing. DJs must get their crates together and decide on what route to take, while also communicating with the other DJs to make sure everyone is on the same page.

On Thursday, the sets were dominated by late-80s/early-90s East Coast classics such as Big Pun, Nas and Gang Starr, as well as lesser-known MCs of the same region and era, such as Jeru The Damaja and The Beatnuts. Also thrown into the mix were bits of neosoul and jazz rap, such as that of The Roots, as well as West Coast sounds from artists including Eazy-E and Ice-T.

The sets were well blended with smooth transitions between tracks, allowing listeners to enjoy a wide variety of hip-hop that spanned eras and regions. But by looking at the numbers, it’s clear that it isn’t just the DJs who are reviving this format of music. The year of 2013 was a dreary one for the music industry.

According to Nielson SoundScan, not only did CD sales drop by 14 percent, but digital music downloads, such as purchases through iTunes, faltered as well. However, one medium of music that didn’t flounder was vinyl, which experienced a 33 percent increase in sales from the previous year.

It seems as though vinyl records have made an impressive comeback in an era that is becoming increasingly dominated by music streaming services such as Pandora.

While the practicality of the bulky, fragile discs certainly doesn’t play into their popularity, the experience that comes with them, according to Mike Saunders, definitely does.

“For some people, they like to see that the DJ actually went out and collected the records,” Saunders said. “There are stories of finding records, digging through crates in basements. You make a lot of friends who put you on to great records and try to do the same for them.”

The organic sound of a record playing has also played a role in its popularity. Filled with hisses and pops, vinyl fills the air with a warm sound that more modern mediums lack.

“It’s also about nostalgia,” Saunders said. “Remembering when those records came out and how excited you were to go to the record store, or how hype you were when you went to shows or parties and the DJs were spinning these records. For those of us that remember that, it brings back good memories.”

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