Technics has no time for DJs anymore The new SL-1200 turntable is apparently not for you
When Panasonic announced a year ago that it was reissuing the Technics SL-1200 turntable, my gut did a flip. The Japanese company was finally getting in on the nostalgia wave that’s served black fashion and culture so well in the past five years with a product that was arguably the most recognizable piece of equipment in hip-hop not called a microphone.
Yet to ring in 2017, Technics creative director Hiro Morishita told The New York Times that they didn’t plan to market the new product to DJs. He even went so far as to call such a strategy “problematic.”
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That statement is nothing short of a direct insult to the hip-hop community and, more plainly, an act of erasure. You cannot separate the Technics brand from DJ culture. Not in this lifetime. And with good reason, too. It was the best product on the market for 30 years. The look was one thing, but the durability is what made the turntables a best-seller. Then, Panasonic stopped making them, then went through a couple of reboots with side versions, which never matched the original.
In the U.K., vinyl sales are at their highest in 25 years, up 53 percent in 2016. Record Store Day has transformed from a quasi-niche artisanal event to a global phenomenon. To quote DJ Khaled, when it comes to wax, business is boomin’. You can buy LPs almost anywhere and subscribe to any number of services that’ll send vinyl to your house. Some will even pair it with a legit bag of coffee. I get a text every day with a photo of an album cover — if I want it, I just reply YES.
Vinyl culture has not just seen a resurgence, it’s been mainstreamed and gentrified all at once. Which is where this strategy from Technics comes into play. As high-end audiophiles have turned their interest to old mediums, all sorts of brands have been getting in on the fun. It’s why you can buy a turntable in a suitcase at Urban Outfitters with a T-shirt or alongside a $2,000 bike at Shinola.
why even re-engineer and reposition the 1200 as an audiophile turntable if you're not trying to leverage its cultural history?
— Brian Miller (@brianbillion) January 2, 2017
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From an age and money standpoint, hip-hop culture has aged perfectly for this product. It almost makes too much sense. After watching DJs wreck shop with the most well-known deck in the business in their youth, plenty of people would buy one these days as a listening device. While plenty of actual DJs have moved on to other products that certainly wouldn’t stop casual nostalgists from dropping large cash just to be able to say they had one, for the culture.
Which ultimately makes this so frustrating. To ignore the hip-hop community for the sake of, say, the classical music one, just doesn’t make sense. Rappers and orchestras are doing shows together at some of the most famous venues in the world. It’s borderline become a genre unto itself from a show standpoint.
Nas and Kendrick Lamar both performed with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Kanye West used an all-women orchestra in London at Abbey Road Studios to remix his album Late Registration, called Late Orchestration. Jay Z has taken his flows to Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall. Migos have even gotten in on this act. And how could we ever forget the way Sir-Mix-A-Lot shut it down with the Seattle Symphony. <— If you haven’t seen that, you need to watch it, by the way.
But all these synergies of musical styles aside, as a lifelong fan of the turntable as an instrument, a tool, a machine and frankly a cultural cornerstone, there’s a lot of disappointment in Technics’ stance. We get it. It’s supposed to be a better turntable. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon the people that got you there.
But this isn’t a Timberland heir in the ’90s saying their boots aren’t intended for black people. That was a relatively new trend at the time and, in general, it was a reckless comment about an item with a shelf life. Same sort of concept goes for Tommy Hilfiger, who popped off about minorities wearing his clothes back in the day. Shirts and pants come and go. The whole idea of the 1200s was that they did not.
It was an aspirational product for any hip-hop head. Saving the money to get them was half the battle. Not to mention that the worlds of audiophiles and DJ culture are more convergent than ever, which means this strategy of exclusion after using us to build a brand is just not smart. But then again, that’s just what people do when it comes to black culture. Ask Run-DMC.