Keep Your Vintage Champagne I'm Buying Vintage Synths

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Keep Your Vintage Champagne I'm Buying Vintage Synths

I recently wrote an article for another publication about the most exclusive nightclubs in the world. Not surprisingly Las Vegas featured prominently on the list.

Thing is, even if I won the Mega Millions or earned myself some serious Zuckerbucks, personally I wouldn't feel comfortable in one of those super-extravagant mega-clubs.

See I don't go to clubs for the champagne and the bright lights. The clubs I love most are often so dark you can't really see the people, so instead you just feel the vibe and enjoy the music. Give me the dusky grime of London, the anarchic punk attitude of Berlin. Or just get me out in a muddy field or a sandy beach surrounded by thousands of happy strangers where the only dress code is one that allows you freedom of movement. Now we're talking!

So, if I had that sort of cash to splash – the sort that people who think nothing of splashing $10k on bottle services in a single night – what would I spend it on?

I guess I've always known the answer.

Rewind…

You can call it dance music, EDM, whatever, I remember when it was acceptable to just call it rave and even though I've got my gray hairs on, it's still an obsession.

I don't feel old but lately I've been getting frequent reminders of my age via the internet – "it's the same year as Back To The Future II" or "it's the 20th anniversary of some classic act like the Chemical Brothers."

This year, meanwhile, will see the 20th anniversary of many classic releases including breakthrough debut albums from Goldie, Leftfield, BT and Felix Da Housecat to name just a few.

1995 was also the year when trance entered its golden age, when jungle matured to become drum'n'bass, when trip-hop entered the mainstream, when Aphex Twin redefined IDM with "I Care Because You Do" and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez dropped "The Bomb".

As a pimply teen with delusions of DJ grandeur the track I was most obsessed with, however, was Josh Wink's Higher State Of Consciousness. It was all the types of music I loved put together on one 12"; it was house, it was techno, it was hip-hop and, more importantly, it was also, in my opinion, the greatest acid track ever released.

I was already a gear-head in the making, but the name of this so-called "acid box" proved ever elusive. I therefore made it my new mission to find out – once and for all – how the hell they made those "neou-neou" noises that defined the acid sound.

Keep in mind the internet was still on dialup and to access it I had to visit my friend's house. Google was years away at this point so it took a hell of a lot of detective work to discover what it was I was looking for – a Roland TB-303.

Silverfinger

Now I know nothing about investing. Fact is my only investment to date is a whole lot of time creating, mixing, listening and dancing to a broad selection of electronic music. So don't ask me about stocks or bonds. I don't know about commodities or whether gold values will rise or fall. I like art for art's sake, not whether it will appreciate in value. As for wine? I'm the sort of guy who couldn't tell you the difference between an $8,000 dollar bottle of Chataeux du Snobe and that stuff you get out of a box.

I do know one thing, however. I know that TB-303s haven't been made in decades but are still in huge demand and I've seen them go on eBay for upwards of five grand. Classic beatboxes, too, like the TR-909 and the TR-808, can fetch high prices too – I've seen 909s go for four grand, more if they're in mint condition.

So if I had money – crazy amounts of money – I'd buy all the 303s I could get my hands on. In other words I'd be the Auric Goldfinger of acid house – bulk-buying all those Roland boxes nobody originally wanted until guys like DJ Pierre, Adonis and Phuture started digging them up in Chicago pawn shops for peanuts.

And while I'm at it I'd stockpile Technics turntables too, since I've noticed list prices on eBay have started exceeding the $500 mark. For a guy like me that constitutes a smart investment.

You've Got So Many Machines…

I mentioned Aphex Twin earlier, quite possibly the biggest gear-head in the entire EDM pantheon. The amount of kit he's got is, quite frankly, obscene. According to RDJ mythology he once owned a bank vault in London to keep some of his equipment in. When recording tracks for Syro, meanwhile, he had to get engineers in to refit his studio several times to ensure it's all patched up the way he wanted it – only to change it all again days later.

When I first discovered his music in the mid-nineties it blew me away, it sounded like nothing else on earth. So to own even the smallest fraction of his kit would, to me, be a lifelong dream come true.

I've always been a synth nerd really. Even as a child I recognized the ubiquitous Yamaha DX-7 – not just in music videos, I was even able to recognize its presets in songs.

Over the years I've studied classic synths in greater depth; what their names are and what songs they've appeared in and, in doing so, created a dream-list of which ones I'd love to own.

Keep Your Vintage Champagne I'm Buying Vintage Synths

Welcome To The Machine

The first dream synth on my list is an old classic from the late 60s, the EMS VCS3. If you want to talk analog synthesizers then this is a true classic – amazing rich, full sounds all wrapped up in a fiddly, unpredictable package.

The VCS3, isn't just a vintage synth however, it's a piece of musical history. It featured heavily on Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here and Dark Side Of The Moon, along with other prog-rock and psychedelic pioneers like King Crimson and Tangerine Dream. It was also popular with many of the grandfathers of electronica including Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre and Brian Eno. More recently they've been used to great effect by Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers to create their own, unique spaced-out sounds.

Considering its age, and its enduring contribution to modern music, the price tag of a VCS3 is quite high. Expect to pay at least $7,000 dollars to buy one.

Keep Your Vintage Champagne I'm Buying Vintage Synths

The Beast

Another classic, and easily the most expensive production synth out there, is the Yamaha CS-80. It's not the sort of thing you want to bring on tour though. This late 70s monster weighs about 200 pounds and comes with an equally hefty price tag – expect to pay around $8,000 or over $15,000 dollars depending on the condition of the unit.

The sounds of this beast range from the infernal to the divine – which is precisely what makes this synth so desirable. Once again the early electronic pioneers, such as Brian Eno, Kraftwerk and Jean Michel Jarre, made considerable use of it. Vangelis was another CS-80 devotee, using it on Chariots of Fire and the timeless soundtrack to Bladerunner.

Despite the emergence of newer digital synths, the CS-80 also helped define the sound of 80s pop music, including Michael Jackson's phenomenally successful album Thriller. You know the main synth chords on Billie Jean? That's a CS-80. Stevie Wonder meanwhile, another serious synth geek, was utterly obsessed with his and apparently played it so much that he wore it out. More recently the CS-80 has been used by Daft Punk, Röyksopp and, you guessed it, Aphex Twin.

A Man Can Dream…

Sure, there are emulators out there, incredible ones that sound almost like the real thing – almost. But there's nothing like the cool factor of having the real thing for yourself. Which would you rather do? Play a flight sim or fly a real fighter jet? There's no comparison.

With classic synths it's about more than just the sound, it's the look, the feel, the experience… Not to mention the smug satisfaction that comes from owning a vintage piece of kit, a true piece of musical history. Add to that the rising sense of chaos as you try to tame this wild, unpredictable monster with all those unfathomable knobs and buttons.

With the exception of the trusty Technics SL turntable, none of the above kit can be described as user friendly. But therein lies their charm – they're hard to figure out and difficult to control, and just when you think you've got the settings right you turn your back and they go out of whack again – just like life itself. And perhaps that's one of the reasons that the sounds they emit are so enduring, because, to use synth terminology, we gain a deep appreciation of their resonance.