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In the streaming age, we’re all aware of the need for physical, collectable products. Over the last few years, there has been a gradual increase on the sales of vinyl, showing that music fans not just in the dance world are returning their focus on to a tangible product, one that’s rich with life, passion and design. We all marvel at our own (and our friends) collections of wax, and our contribution to keeping the format alive. A pretty positive thing in this day and age of instant gratification and sharing. But what happens when a passion turns into an obsession and your hobbies begin to ruin your life? What would be the downside of collecting 50,000+ records, seemingly the by product of being unable to stop buying random bits and pieces?

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Those ‘trusted’ purveyors of news and culture, The BBC ran a feature in April of this year that explored The Eight Tribes of Vinyl Collectors, lightly exploring the different ‘types’ of vinyl collectors and those that are buyers. From ‘The new buyer’ to ‘The Nostalgia Collector’ and ‘Shop Owner’, it seems they miss out on a ‘type’ of collector that sadly doesn’t get any thought: ‘the obsessional hoarder’. When collecting and dedicating your life to your aesthetically charged desires, things can often turn rather tricky. Consuming your thoughts, taking up your time and holding your undivided attention, many of us have our vices. From golf to cars, music to video games, we’ve all annoyed and upset our loved ones through our one-track mindedness, seemingly obsessed on inanimate, non emotional, consumerable objects. Musical formats have always been a collectable item but what happens when the obsession for black plastic becomes too much? From divorces, homelessness and mental breakdown, a seemingly harmless past-time of indulging in music can have quite an effect on your wider life at large if you let it. At what point do we become ‘hoarders’ rather than ‘collectors’ and become dispossessed from their family, friends and life?

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Esquire magazine recently wrote about a new book, Dust & Grooves, concentrating on the, various cavernous locations where people are hoarding their collections, some of which are reaching nearly 100,000 strong. As an opening line in the book states, written and photographed by Eilon Paz, “Some collections built through crate digging are meticulously organized by name or color with others the wood is warped and sits beside piles of records and used electronics, all covered with dust and grime”. a poignant statement by the author, but after looking at the pictures, there is a positive spin on the obsessional drive of these insane record collections, driven by love, passion and undying dedication. 

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For some of us, the ability to store and house gargantuan collections is too mammoth and unrealistic a task thank god for institutes such as London’s first ever Vinyl Library in Stoke Newington, enabling vinyl lovers and collectors to deposit and share, whilst accessing a vast and endless collection of wonderful music.

“A musical community sharing space and library full of all kinds of freaky goodness. For £10 a month members get access to events and can borrow vinyl!” explains the company’s mission statement. “To raise the consciousness of the listener through the raw vinyl form and to preserve the heritage of songs and good times whilst maintaining the two elements, tradition and modernity in balance.” Although a great idea, in just under a year since the project started, the library’s popularity growth has well exceeded it’s current home even a public institute such as this is currently looking for a new home to cater for the storage of an increasing amount of vinyl.

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Unlike some of the world’s largest and most respected collectors such as Brad Miocevich in Perth, one of many people that have built custom spaces to house collections that exceed 20,00 in a private music library how do some house a collection of this size? What do you do when your floor can’t be seen due to the piles of albums and EPs strewn across it and how is it affecting people? 

According to the Vinyl Factory’s blog, an infamous case of hoarding overload can be referred to as one of the most extreme cases of over collecting, with a 68 year old collector in Canada collecting a staggering 250,000 records, even rendering him unable to even use his bathroom or shower due to records filling every nook, cranny and space the house had to fill.

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As critics of those who fall foul to hoarding point out, at what point does the act and pleasure of listening to music become lost through the drive to increase? Surely when your collection exceeds tens of thousands, you aren’t really listening to music anymore. And spare a thought for those that are dealing with what’s been left behind. With the aforementioned Canadian hoarder, the house was bought outright by a record label and a mass clean up begun before they even started cataloguing the music. Others have been tipped off to long forgotten graveyards, such as photographer Frederic Thiphagne and his blog Les Mains Noires. Given unprecedented (but guarded access) he was contracted into silence before being able to take photos of an abandoned warehouse stuffed full of records an unsoecified amount  at that a few weeks later, the warehouse and all of the potential musical gold and stories behind them were lost as the warehouse was demolished, wiped from the face of the earth without a trace.

Further investigation and research has gathered psychological reasons and studies into the phenomenon of collecting, especially with music, but at a minimum. Russell Belk and Simon Reynolds two of the only writers and scholars to extensively look at the effects of obsessional record-collecting suggest that music collecting can wander off track into destructive behaviour obsessiveness and consumer fetishism often combined with an “idiot savant” level of data accumulation. Reynolds refers to the practice as a “perverse consumerism” that literally “eats up your life”.

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Of course the above pointed out are all extreme cases of insatiable desire, when collecting turns into something much larger than mere musical appreciation but with the sales of vinyl rising (already an expensive medium itself), one does have to often consider the life changing, space saving format of the Mp3 and digital formats. Boring, lifeless and non-tangible they may be, but they have offered music collectors and hoarders a chance to amass music from the four corners without having to give up their lives in the process. With this in mind, perhaps it would be fair to say that we are all hoarders of music in our own right so lets spare a poignant thought for those that have suffered for their love of music.

 

Written by Joe Gamp