"Vinyl is Made of Really Nasty S**t": A Look At Sustainability in the Underground Music Industry.
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
The future of underground music is inextricably linked to sustainability. It has to be.
Finally, the message is getting across. With urgent climate change warnings frequenting the news, it’s important to consider how our behaviour in the music industry impacts the physical environment. Climate scientists have urged that actions must be taken in order to keep temperature rise below 1.5 °C, a figure provided to save low lying countries and divert major climate disasters.
So how does the underground music industry fit into this? Events are fundamentally at their core hedonistic: events create a space for partiers to escape reality, seek pleasure and be part of a collective body. However, this hedonism becomes problematic when it is at the expense of the environment and there are some serious issues that need to be addressed.
Vinyl: a major player within the underground industry, something inextricable from the roots of electronic music. Yet, is it a necessity? Guilty myself of recently purchasing records (ironically highlighted in our previous Facebook posts), reading Chicago house DJ Benn Jordan’s article ‘I’m Sorry But No More Vinyl’ made me reconsider whether buying vinyl is a necessity. Yes, vinyl is cool and resonates with the roots of the electronic industry but we aren’t living in 1989 anymore. The rapid digitalisation of our age has allowed music to be available at our fingertips, a privilege we should consider more when buying music.
Recently, vinyl sales have rocketed, with many artists exclusively releasing material on vinyl. One of my favourite new releases Grant’s Grant005, a deep, soulful release, I sadly realised was only available to purchase in vinyl format. While this makes it exciting — DJing is after all about owning, selecting and sharing those rare tracks people haven’t heard before — it also means people have to buy vinyl in order to get unique tracks. And as Jordan emphasises, records really are made of nasty s**t. Upon decomposing PVC, which is used to make records, breaks down into chlorine gas and heavy metals, substances damaging to both human health and the environment.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to discredit vinyl DJing, it is an extremely skilful art, a passion explored by many artists who build up rare collections and it gives the selector a certain uniqueness. Going to the Diskery, Birmingham’s oldest record store, also reminded me of the communities which are built upon record collecting. Walking into the Diskery, we were immediately offered a drink as we looked around, making us feel at ease in the thriving community where people socialised over a beer and a record. Additionally, a record club is run weekly, providing a space where people can discuss reactions to records in an intimate setting. It was clear that all who went to the Diskery had a deep passion for listening to and collecting records, with people spending hours upon hours in there.
On the other hand, is the decay of the environment worth less than pressing physical records? There are millions of records in the world right now and I wouldn’t want, or be so naive to expect, that the reselling of them will stop. Yet, this shouldn’t be a reason to press more records. New releases should be available only in a digital format, a proposal which preserves the art of vinyl DJing by buying what already exists, while simulatenously protecting the environment by stopping new production. If people still want that vinyl feel on new releases use digital vinyl, simple as.
Vinyl isn’t the only thing we need to consider within the underground music industry. With the move to ban single use plastics in the EU, waste reduction is more prominent than ever. If you’ve ever stayed till the end of a party, rave or festival you can’t miss the amount of waste strewed carelessly across the venue. As the lights come up and the room is illuminated, so too is the hideous sea of waste curated by yourself (yes you, the avid party goer), made up of plastics, bottles, glitter, tents and an array of random objects.
So what can we do to reduce this waste and our own carbon footprint? How can we address the issues of climate change while simulatenously living the party lifestyle? Many festivals, venues and events have started to address these issues already. Birmingham’s ‘eco club’ Suki10c is 100% wind powered and has a 100% waste recycle rate, with no waste going to landfill. Secret Garden Party’s litter bond initiative gave festival goers a motive to collect rubbish and receive £10 back from their ticket price. Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival charged for glasses this year, much to my mum and dad’s distress, but did it stop them from throwing them away? Yes, we’ve got a stash of them in our cupboard. Importantly, on our own personal level we can bring reusable bottles, use biodegradable glitter, reuse our tents, recycle our rubbish and share transport. Little steps which add up overall.
Stamp the Wax’s recent video ‘The Environmental Footprint of Touring DJs and Club Culture’ outlines another important issue, linking together globalisation, touring and DJ’s carbon footprint. DJ’s are increasingly replacing local residences with international tours, a way to build up their fanbase worldwide. However, as Stamp the Wax highlights, touring DJs accumulate a huge carbon footprint.
When you consider the densely packed line ups events have now, the footprint increases by a substantial amount. Take a party I recently attended, Just Jack’s Halloween event Return To The Laserdome, hosted a brilliant array of DJ’s. However, Motion’s event included three artists from Germany (Tama Sumo, Bufiman, Vladimir Ivkovic) and DJ Bone from America. Any of these artists would be great playing an extended set, so why attempt to produce a festival worthy line up for an event that is one day? Unfortunately, these line-ups have a knock-on effect, setting standards for future events to host internationally packed line-ups. Thinking about these issues could help to reduce carbon footprints while concurrently providing opportunities for home grown talent to grace the decks.
Nevertheless, we can’t just point fingers at event organisers and DJ’s, this footprint can also be transferred to party and festival goers. This year I went to Dimensions, set in the beautiful Fort Punta Christo of Pula, Croatia. My carbon footprint for this journey was 0.21 tonnes. Doesn’t sound too big right? Especially in relation to the UK’s average footprint of 10 tonnes per person, per year. However, relative to India’s average carbon footprint of 1.8 tonnes, it takes on a new significance. Additionally, a group of 10 of us attended the festival making our collective footprint 2.1 tonnes, surpassing India’s average yearly footprint in less than one week.
While the fusion of surreal settings, amazing music and beautiful weather is hard to find in the UK, we should think twice about attending events abroad. I’m not saying I’ll never go abroad again because that’s unrealistic, however, we should take responsibility and make sure the festivals we are attending are promoting sustainability in order to offset the emissions caused by people travelling to them. If not, the beautiful locations that festivals are hosted at, something which is integral to the enjoyment of the partier, may no longer be usable. Alternatively, we could follow in the steps of my friend who amazingly cycled to Dimensions, of which we all discredited at first. But he made it, got to see many stunning places on his journey and significantly reduced his footprint (well done Angus).
For now, the single use plastic ban will have a large impact on the way we party, eliminating plastic cups and straws from piles of waste. Nevertheless, there is much more to be done in order to be sustainable in the electronic music industry (and at that the whole music industry). At the moment we are not sustainable. We cannot keep blaming others, it is time to take a shared responsibility when planning events, pressing vinyl, booking DJ’s and choosing what events we will attend. Combining these issues, we can head in the right direction for a sustainable future.
One person can have an impact. It’s time for the underground music industry to take this issue under their wing. Something can be done about the destruction of the environment.
At least for now anyway.
 Jordan, B. I’m Sorry, But No More Vinyl.. [online] Bennjordan.com. Available at: http://www.bennjordan.com/blog/?p=697 [Accessed 21 Nov. 2018].
 Parkinson, S. How big is the average Briton’s carbon footprint, really? |. [online] Sgr.org.uk. Available at: http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/how-big-average-briton-s-carbon-footprint-really [Accessed 28 Nov. 2018].
 Andrew, R. Guest post: Why India’s CO2 emissions grew strongly in 2017 | Carbon Brief. [online] Carbon Brief. Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-why-indias-co2-emissions-grew-strongly-in-2017 [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].