Wax nostalgic: The popularity of vinyl records in the Chippewa Valley

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By Billy Tuite —

Modern advancements in digital audio technology have made it incredibly easy to carry thousands of songs in portable devices and listen to them anytime and anywhere. Despite this, 9.2 million vinyl records were sold in 2014, a 52 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Why do so many people cling to this old analog format? At least in Menomonie, much of this affection for vinyl comes from passionate music fans with a specific interest in discovering diverse music.

“I like that I can go into a record store and flip through records I’ve never heard of,” said Jake Docksey, a University of Wisconsin–Stout junior who serves as the treasurer for the Music Production Club. “Say you find a 1970s record with a lot of cool looking dudes with afros on the cover. You might not know what to expect from it, but then you play it and it blows you away.”

Docksey’s collection consists of nearly 800 records, which covers a wide swath of genres from progressive rock to funk music to jazz.

“Once you start building a decent-sized collection, you get a little addicted to it,” Docksey said.

Another Menomonie resident who shares this addiction is Jason McAtee, a UW–Stout Spanish instructor and local disc jockey. For McAtee, it started with a small set of Kiss records and eventually evolved into a devoted collection of works from hip-hop artists and DJs.

“I’ve been collecting many records over the years,” McAtee said. “I haven’t listened to every single record I’ve owned, but I don’t leave them all up on a shelf. I pull them out and listen to everything from classical music to classic rock and all my underground hip-hop records.”

McAtee and Docksey have similar backgrounds as aspiring producers and DJs. Docksey’s record collection began during his junior year of high school, when he initially used the records to sample sounds through his drum machine.

“Shortly after that, I got a really good deal on a turntable from Revival Records in Eau Claire,” Docksey said. “My friend from Chippewa Falls and I started going there regularly and just digging through records and learning about music we didn’t even know existed.”

Revival Records, which opened in 2009, is one of the largest record stores in the Chippewa Valley, with more than 50,000 records in its inventory. Owner and operator Billy Siegel said his passion for vinyl records began with an interest in the cover art, and his appreciation for the medium evolved from there.

“Vinyl is a piece of art,” Siegel said. “You get to hold a large picture in front of you and it’s meaningful. You get the smell of the record and you can take care of it and put it on your shelf.”

Siegel is shattering the perception that records are only for old collectors. He states that Revival’s main demographic consists of young adults between the ages of 17 and 24, a phenomenon that can likely be attributed to the abundance of contemporary artists now turning to vinyl.

“If music is being pressed on CD or released on MP3, it’s also being put out on vinyl,” Siegel said. “Actually all the new vinyl that’s out there usually comes with an MP3 download, so you get the best of both worlds with vinyl.”

Indeed, discovery of the new and preservation of the old are two of the primary goals for Revival Records. The latter is especially important, as vinyl is quite susceptible to wear and tear over time.

“There is still quite a bit of loss in vinyl, especially when it sits in people’s basements and gets all moldy and damp,” Siegel said. “We want to take music that has been sitting in peoples closets and basements and sell them for somebody else to enjoy.”

McAtee echoes this sentiment, as he expresses a willingness to endure the cumbersome and fragile nature of vinyl for the sake of preserving the unique quality of its sound.

“It’s that analog sound,” McAtee said. “It’s not chiseled up and it’s not broken down in binary form. I’m really just a fan of analog sound and keeping that alive.”

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