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17th October 2023

The return of the Vinyl Frontier society: “There’s infinite potential for conversation”

From Nina Simone to SOPHIE, all manner of music gets a fair hearing at Manchester’s premier album book-club, and this year’s committee are looking to expand the weekly music discussion group even further
The return of the Vinyl Frontier society: “There’s infinite potential for conversation”
Credit: Andrew Patra @ Flickr

Like so many of Manchester’s smaller societies, Vinyl Frontier ceased to exist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting the society back and running amidst social distancing and a fractured university society scene was no easy task. A self-described “book-club style music society”, Vinyl Frontier socials are pub meet-ups centred each week around a different album, a premise not well-suited to the guideline constraints of the COVID era. However, as The Mancunion heard from committee members third-year Lorcan and second-year Willow, the society is back and thriving. 

Vinyl Frontier resumed activity in the 2021-22 academic year, hosting socials every few weeks with around 10 to 15 people attending. In the last year, however, numbers have exploded, with 35 to 40 people attending the weekly meeting, and more popular weeks packing the venue completely.

“We’re not, like, sat around in a circle stroking our chins and listening to [the record]”

The proceedings at a Vinyl Frontier meeting are simple. Prior to the meeting, the committee selects a theme, popping four albums to choose from on an Instagram poll. One of last year’s themes was classic West Coast hip hop, with 93 ‘Til Infinity by Souls of Mischief chosen as that week’s album. Every Thursday at 9 p.m., the society convenes upstairs in HAUS, and the winning album is played in full over the PA system for members to discuss. 

If that premise sounds somewhat like a snooty YouTube comment section brought to life, fear not! From early on in our conversation, Lorcan and Willow are keen to dispel any assumptions one might have of a pretentious atmosphere.

“We’re not, like, sat around in a circle stroking our chins and listening to [the record],” says Lorcan, “It’s more like a background thing we can discuss.” They note that it’s not a session led by “some bloke in the middle,” but rather an informal bar social for music lovers, loosely based around that week’s album.

“It’s about the discussion that comes from the music, rather than following some real set structure,” says Willow. Far from a forum for highbrow musical analysis, the committee says that Vinyl Frontier has become a hub for music lovers of all stripes to connect with one another and socialise. 

The committee emphasised how essential nurturing a diverse range of musical interests is to the society’s success. Willow describes meeting another society member at a social early last year, and quickly realising there was almost no shared ground musically between the two of them. Fast forward a few months and they now play in a band together.

Credit: Vinyl Frontier Society

“We don’t want people to pat each other on the back about how much they love x and y,” says Willow, “We want a comfortable space for people to meet […] we want them to disagree!” That space is formed, they argue, by showcasing as diverse a range of music as possible. This is evidenced by last year’s themes, which ranged from Brazilian music and German music, to ‘spooky’ albums and even a Tom Waits week.

Reflecting on last year’s success, Willow and Lorcan note that “it’s kinda cool” that the largest turnouts were for albums by Nina Simone and A Tribe Called Quest. They say that’s evidence that “there’s no one set genre, no one set audience.”

Lorcan also adds that the majority of attendees aren’t necessarily a part of the student band scene: “They’re not musicians or anything […] they’re just people who feel music is everything to them.” 

So where does Vinyl Frontier go from here? The group is clear about their intention to continue to grow the Thursday social, and they see this weekly event as the core of the society. Nonetheless, Lorcan and Willow note that a strong community of music obsessives has grown in the last year, and there’s real potential for growth in other avenues. Previously selected albums have tended to be decades old, so the committee is keen to spotlight new releases from up-and-coming local talent in the coming year.

“There’s no one set genre, no one set audience”

Furthermore, the group is eyeing potential events in collaboration with other societies and has confirmed that a night organised alongside the Gigs and Bands Society and the Young European Movement (YEM) is in the planning stages. And lastly, in steering clear of snobbery and embracing the society’s popularity, the duo confirms that more mainstream music phenomena are certainly up for consideration.

“I wanna sit in a room full of Taylor Swift fans and figure it out […] their voice is just as important as anyone else’s,” says Lorcan. Willow adds, “It can be the most niche or the most mainstream thing […] We just wanna talk about your passion for it.”

Quickfire Questions with the Committee 

Who was the band of your adolescence?

Lorcan: Green Day

Willow: Ah! I was gonna say Green Day

What was your ‘Lockdown Album’?

Lorcan: Brian Eno’s Ambient 4. That was really important to me

Willow: Songs of Leonard Cohen, for sure

Where do you go in Manchester for a good gig?

Lorcan: Band on the Wall

Willow: I do like Night & Day a lot. The best gigs I’ve been to have been in the Pink Room in YES though, for sure

The best gig you’ve ever been to?

Lorcan: I was at Aphex Twin two weeks ago. He was playing some ridiculous dubstep, dissonant techno… It was crazy, definitely my favourite gig.

Willow: Amigo the Devil. He’s like country, dark folk… I did not expect a mosh pit at a country show.

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