BOOK REVIEW: Heavy Vinyl: RIOT ON THE RADIO By Usdin, Vakueva, Flores and Nalty

BOOK REVIEW: Heavy Vinyl: RIOT ON THE RADIO  By Usdin, Vakueva, Flores and Nalty

Whether one is a fan of Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s hit “1999” earlier this year or not; it inevitably must have roused nostalgia amongst music fans of a certain age. Heavy Vinyl goes back even further to 1998, is set in New Jersey and narrated by main character Chris. Some things such as Chris’ red baseball cap could potentially still be dug today, but other things, whilst they were the zeitgeist at this fin de siècle period are now virtually obsolete such as Chris’ “Discman”.

Music is very important to Chris. She was terrified when she thought she broke her Discman after dropping it. Music is Chris’ attempt to find out who she is. Apart from admitting poor dress sense through her lyrics; Chris has made seldom progress.  Her favourite band is Stegosaur. Stegosaur front girl Rosie Riot is her favourite band member. Chris reads “Spinned” music magazine. As a teenager, Clare naturally dislikes the music her dad plays in the car.

Chris has just started working at a local record shop called Vinyl Destination. Her work colleagues are her good friend Maggie, Kennedy and Goth styled Dolores (who is slow to warm to Chris). The four ladies are managed by Irene who has an awesome right sleeve tattoo of musical notes. Kennedy is a “music encyclopaedia” who digs the TV series of the day: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Dolores “favourite records involve screaming”. Chris’ passion for music sometimes overwhelms her. She physically manhandles a customer who claims “Lauren Hill (who released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1998) sucks”.

Extraordinary and inexplicable things begin to happen. Rosie Riot (who is due to perform the next day at Vinyl Destination with Stegosour) goes missing. Rosie was last seen rehearsing with the band the previous day and was excited about the new LP; hence there was no reason for her to abscond. The gig is cancelled and Irene announces “Code Violet”.

We learn that there has been a spate of bands disappearing. Chris learns that Irene, Maggie, Dolores and Kennedy are more than just peers with a passion for music working in a record shop; they are part of a “secret teen girl vigilante club”. After being taken down to a secret underground lair in Vinyl Destination; Chris is inducted into the “Fight Club” (technically not a zeitgeist reference as the film was not released until 1999).

Chris’ choice to join this club is bizarre; Chris has never thrown a punch before. This club has had many successful missions including a mission which helped Shirley Manson (Garbage). Whilst Chris’ inexperience of fighting is noted; she is still seen as an asset as she is a big Stegosour fan and “scholar”.

In many ways Heavy Vinyl reflects upon our own not too distant future as the girls discover that a leading record label is implementing “mind control chips into their artists” with the aim of taking the meaning and messages out of music.  As well as reflecting on teen anxieties, teenage rites of passage, sexuality and mix race relationships; one truly feels they have been transported back to 1998. The record store plays the Spice Girls, Placebo and Portishead. The girls can’t wait for the new Zelda game to come out on Nintendo. Music competition programmes such as X Factor have yet to surface. MP3’s and streaming are unknown words in the girl’s vocabulary. Mobile phone ownership is not the norm.

Whilst young adults today may not be familiar with the nineties artists references, the devices nineties young adults used to play their music on and the lack of mass mobile phone ownership; young adults today can nonetheless relate to these girls and the challenges they face in their normal lives and as club members. There was the potential to reference Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” or OK Computer (after all mind control via computer chips is integral to the storyline); nonetheless, Heavy Vinyl doesn’t need an “Airbag” or to come up for air. Independent women, diversity, sexuality and most importantly, nineties music (with a top 10 favourite list from lead author Carly Usdin) are honoured and celebrated in style.

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