Shoppers go retro this Christmas with 'tangible things' like cassettes and Polaroids
L.A.'s Analog Alley attracts people looking for real things, backing Toronto author's Revenge of Analog theory
At the end of an unfashionable street in west L.A., there's a sanctuary of obsolescence known as Analog Alley.
You can rifle through records, buy VHS tapes, even watch the Big Sleep in the world's smallest movie theatre, on a screen sandwiched between books on a bookshelf. In shops in this block of the neighbourhood, you can also buy technology that faded from use before many customers were born.
Lucia is buying cassettes as a holiday gift for a friend. She says others her age are really getting into analog technology like cassettes and VHS tapes. It's all about the weight in the hand. The crackle and hiss.
"I feel like it's more unpredictable how a cassette's going to sound than a CD or online streaming," Lucia says.
When asked if the imperfection is part of the allure, she says: "Totally. Totally."
"Digital offer the ease of convenience," Sax says. "You can get it faster, you can get it cheaper, you can copy it endlessly and replicate it. And when you do that, it's fantastic and really great to have something instantaneously. But what do you lose? You lose the joy that comes with something that's hard to get, hard to find, that takes effort, that takes up space, that costs money, and the more effort you put into things, the more you sort of get out of it."
Sax lifts his Polaroid camera.
That's exactly right, says 29-year-old Sarvár Abdullaev, who's in one of Analog Alley's two bookstores, perched on a ladder and leafing through a novel. In books — actual books — he finds an emotional connection with a real thing.
"I think we have too much technology around," Abdullaev says. "Certain things I want to keep the old-fashioned way. I want to have something tangible."
"I think all sorts of different analog technologies, which were previously dismissed as obsolete, are now the types of things that we'll be giving each other over the holidays: watches, cameras, turntables, books, even subscriptions to magazines," Sax says. "When you look at the markets that are driving this — in consumers out there — largely it's people who are younger, who are in their twenties. Even their teens. People who have grown up almost exclusively with digital. So they're not going back to what they loved and remember. They almost see analog as something new."
"There's a little bit of a bait-and-switch going on with the major labels where they're saying, 'Yes we love vinyl, we love analog,' but they're treating it as if it's a digital product," says Sebastian Matthews, owner of Touch Vinyl.
Matthews says many major labels are just reverse-engineering analog records from digital versions in order to be on trend.
"They're happy to rip from CD and press that onto vinyl just so there's this sexy thing that the youngsters will pick up," Matthews says.
"We're in Los Angeles, so we'll start here with the film section," says Jacobs as he gives a 30-second tour of his small Analog Alley bookstore, SideShow Books. It's a shrine to all things analog: every inch not taken up by books is filled with old cameras, speakers and board games. He even sells photos tossed by newspaper companies as they converted their libraries to digital.
"The bookstore itself is like a public service," Jacobs says. "It's not like people aren't buying books, they're just not buying them in bookstores. They're buying them online. It's convenient, you can find what you want, and I agree with that."
So if a bookstore in Analog Alley at the height of the "revenge of analog" can't make it without digital, is the whole movement just a fad?
"Digital is going to remain the standard and it's going to keep growing," Sax says. "But as it does, analog is only going to become more attractive. Because it's really going to stand apart from the digital reality of the day-to-day of our lives."
In other words, says Abdullaev as he stacks his purchases on the bookstore counter, "better isn't always better."