Play That Funky Vinyl

Wax Poetics keeps obsessive record collectors obsessing


| March-April 2008


Wax Poetics was nominated for the 2011 Utne Independent Press Awards in both the "Arts Coverage" and "General Excellence" categories. This article is part of a package called “For the Love of Music.” For more, read Really Fresh Air and Good Karma in Stereo.

Andre Torres longs to listen to music the way his grandfather did. “I would see him put a record on and sit down in a chair and stare at the stereo,” says the thirtysomething co-founder and editor in chief of Wax Poetics, the Brooklyn-based magazine dedicated to funk, soul, hip-hop, jazz, and the other obsessions of record collectors worldwide. “Now, I’ll listen to a record and maybe have the TV on, muted. I’m online, answering e-mails, doing a billion things. Music for him . . . it really did require that kind of time and patience. I wish for a day where I can actually sit like my grandfather and listen to a record and be that engaged by it—that’s maybe a bygone era that I still hold onto in my mind.”

Wax Poetics lionizes that kind of nostalgia, from its reverent history-lesson writing style to its gorgeous vintage photography to its cover stars: classic names like Miles Davis, Slick Rick, Rick James, Mandrill, Too Short. It’s a godsend for hard-core audiophiles, but with immediate appeal for anyone who remembers the vinyl era, long before tapes, CDs, and certainly the cold, bloodless computer files that house our music now. “There is no aura to an MP3,” Torres notes.

A record—a warm slab of vinyl, round and thick and shiny and oddly comforting—is all aura. It’s music you can feel, smell, almost taste: “tactility,” Torres calls it.

“There’s a sort of ritual attached to listening to a record,” he says. “You open ’em up sometimes, the gatefold, and find weed from people rolling joints back in the old days.”

For Wax Poetics’ core constituency, the ritual of listening to a record might not be as important as finding it. These are the “crate diggers,” devout record collectors who scour flea markets, estate liquidations, sidewalk sales, and what few dusty record stores still remain, seeking out names both famous and obscure—preferably obscure, actually, and the more obscure the better. Rare soul 45s from artists even devout music lovers have never heard of can sell for big money on eBay and the like. (Yes, in this field, the Internet is actually good for something.)