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Vinyl Nation

An Ann Arbor native has emerged as the chronicler of the vinyl-record revival.

by James M. Manheim

From the November, 2020 issue

An Ann Arbor native has emerged as the chronicler of the vinyl-record revival.

Kevin Smokler, codirector and coproducer of the documentary Vinyl Nation, is a product of "Burns Park, Varsity Day Camp, Greenhills, the works," he says. Though he now lives in San Francisco, the movie makes it clear that vinyl love is in no way confined to hipster enclaves. Smokler and codirector Christopher Boone traveled to Detroit, Winston-Salem, NC, and Salina, KS, finding articulate exponents of the zen of vinyl wherever they went. "Vinyl--it's the only way to make sound solid, like a solid format. Like, to bring it into our dimension," says one interviewee. "Otherwise it's just invisible vibrations in the air."

Record shows, where fans gather to buy and sell LPs, are a motif, but the directors explore the whole vinyl phenomenon, from the flakes of plastic the records are made from to philosophical observations--including those stimulated by the question of what vinyl lovers hope will happen to their collections when they die.

Smokler and Boone take pains to show the diversification of the vinyl community beyond the stereotypical older white guy with a ponytail--they interview people of all ages, genders, and colors, and explore the intersection of vinyl enthusiasm and DJ culture.

Vinyl sales actually surpassed CDs in the first half of the year, and are still growing. A production manager at Jack White's Third Man Records in Detroit says in the film that they pressed 250,000 records in their first year, around 700,000 the next, and "this year we're to probably come in at a million plus."

That was in 2019--this year, with the pandemic devastating retailers, Smokler and Boone offered a showing in April that raised $37,000 for struggling record stores.

Now the film is back. It can be viewed online all month, and tickets purchased through the Michigan Theater website benefit the theater:     (end of article)

[Originally published in November, 2020.]


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