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Dubplate culture?

I was scooting around the internet earlier today and came across something I hadn’t known about before – dubplates. In the headlong move towards digital technology, there’s a retro thing going on – in fact it’s probably been going on, quietly and in the background, for a long while.

While most of us are capturing our old film, video and vinyl records onto fully digital media, there are people busy recording music digitally and then transferring it onto vinyl.  This is something you see in the DJ world, and most often in reggae and drum&bass, because they tend to prefer the acoustic response of vinyl (or so I gather, I’ve been having a conversation with HOCSoundSystem about it). There’s apparently a division of opinion in the DJ world about the respective merits of vinyl vs digital media.

Investigating further, I see from Wikipedia that dubplates – one-off vinyl records – have a long and distinguished history in reggae because it’s easy to press a single disk with an existing music track and custom-made lyrics, for example for a particular sound system. But they’re increasingly common in other music genres as well now.

The equipment isn’t exactly cheap but the price of has decreased substantially over time to the point that some people literally have the kit in their living room.there are apparently increasing sales of dubplate cutters – the gadget you need to do this work – and booming business for the specialist dubplate ‘cottage industry’.

When intrigued me was the very retro-ness of this industry, the fact that the ‘old way of doing things’ is still valued, and has a large and increasing following.

It made me wonder how a similar retro-style might look in other industries. For example, if you look on Ebay these days you’ll find quite a few suppliers of handmade paper and notebooks, etc. Some while ago I came across someone who hand-prints books on handmade paper, binds them himself and offers them as limited editions – though in that case, what he’s offering in this form is, if I remember tightly, copies of mediaeval magical grimoires and treatises that are very probably available on the internet – but there appears to me a market for what would be in effect freely available text in this specialist form.

Even the ‘Hearing Voices’ poetry people I blogged about a few days ago have put work out, not as a web page or e-publication, but an actual magazine – it’s not limited circulation per se, but I can’t image there were huge numbers printed and those who have copies will possess a physical thing that connects them to a particular place, time, event and vision of what’s possible in poetry.

And in the art world, of course, numbered limited-issue prints are a known and accepted part of the market and have been for decades.

This is, really, about exclusivity – having a one-off, customised vinyl record to play to a club audience, one of a number of specially-made ‘luxury edition’ books, or an item that has some personal significance of ‘I was there’. Different takes on the idea of exclusivity, but all quite understandable.

Meanwhile, going back to my trusty 1907 Army and Navy Catalogue, which dates from a time when the Army and Navy Stores in London sold everything the gentleman officer would need for his posting abroad, I see that many popular books of that time were available, not just as ‘paperback’ and ‘hardback’, but in half a dozen different bindings and paper qualities from six shillings and fivepence up to forty shillings.

So this all makes me wonder whether there might still be a market for, say, limited edition fiction, handprinted, sold almost as an artisan craft piece. And I’m not talking about reprints of top ten novels, but new original fiction. A deliberate turning back of the clock to older methods, styles and values. Under what conditions might such a thing be viable as a product?

I don’t know the answer but I’m interested to hear anyone’s comments!


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