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Be specific: Local indie label Underwater Peoples on why vinyl trumps CD and MP3

underwater peoplesAri Stern runs all-vinyl label Underwater Peoples from his living room in D.C. (Michael Temchine/FTWP)

Underwater Peoples, the indie-pop label that Ari Stern runs out of the living room in his D.C. apartment, has had a good first year. It's been bookended by the release of a 7-inch single, by New Jersey buzz band Real Estate, and the label's first LP, by Alex Bleeker and the Freaks. Note the formats -- Underwater Peoples is a vinyl-only label. Turntable required to listen to these hazy, laidback jams. We talked to Stern (who had just bought a couple LPs earlier that day -- Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band") about how he made the format decision and why vinyl is still the best.

Did you always want to do a vinyl-only label or was it just something that sort of happened organically?
I think it was probably more organically. We're all pretty big record collectors so vinyl seemed right. Nobody really wanted to do a CD. Just doing a digital release is kind of lame. So it felt kind of natural to do it that way.

(The pointlessness of CDs, after the jump.)

Vinyl's experiencing a resurgence over the past couple years. Why do you think that's happening?
A lot of what people thought was just a trend it's continuing to grow. A lot of people are starting to take notice. There was that article in the New York Times. The fact that Best Buy is now stocking vinyl says that it's probably going to be sticking around. It represents the complete opposite of what a digital release represents. If you're just a casual music listener, buying MP3s is great. But if you really care about it, you want something physical, tangible. An artifact. This is my copy, it feels great. It's more of an experience as a whole.

But I'm sure you also have an iPod and like to be able listen to music on the go sometimes.
Oh, totally. Well, we are going to put our stuff on iTunes eventually. Some people do just want the digital download. It doesn't mean they like the music less than someone who goes out and buys the actual record. I do think it is cool that it's only on vinyl because that's what I'm interested in buying. But I don't discriminate against formats. I do have an iPod, I listen to it when I'm walking around and stuff. But when I'm at home or at friends' places we do tend to listen to records. It's a conversation starter. It's just more fun all around.

So what do you have coming up?
We're doing a 10-inch for this group Mountain Man. It's like old-time blues and gospel-based singing. Just a guitar and three voices. Then we're putting out an EP for Pill Wonder which should be done pretty soon. Then we're doing our next compilation, the Underwater Peoples Winter Review, which is going to be a free download for a little while and then we'll release it on a CD. Moderately priced.

So CDs and digital are good for something, like those label compilations.
Different formats are good for different things. CDs are nice and I bought a lot of them when I was younger. But now they're kind of pointless because I just buy one and put it on my computer and it just sits there.

By David Malitz  |  December 17, 2009; 2:13 PM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags: Alex Bleecker, Real Estate, Underwater Peoples, vinyl  
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Another great indie vinyl label was Trensmat Records (Ireland, I think) who specialized in noise/drone-rock. Their limited edition releases were all wonderful, but I think they've recently closed shop.

Austin, TX

Posted by: df198081 | December 17, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm already sick of the vinyl snobs. Most people don't have the ears and the equipment to tell the difference between vinyl and a properly mastered CD (or even a high bit-rate MP3). It is one thing if you are in a group of like-minded people that you can share the passion with. If that's not you then you're just flaunting your disposable income.

Posted by: slar | December 17, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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