Thursday, June 15, 2006
The story of an SL-1210
When I was 17, my main ambition in life was to own two Technics SL-1210s and be a world famous DJ. The SL-1210 is a design classic. It has been around in one form or another for over 30 years and it is built to last. Everything about it is industrial strength, except the tone arm which by its nature has to be pretty fragile. The most impressive thing is when you lift up the platter and there isn't any kind of belt, just what looks like a magnet and some coils. I think this was the first direct-drive record deck and although it has been imitated many times, the SL-1210 is still the de facto standard in the world of DJing. But this design comes at a cost. When I was looking to buy one, they cost £400. I scrimped and saved and finally got together the money. In fact I only paid £360, since I was paying in cash. But I only had one, which was pretty useless when you want to be a DJ. Which is where Ali comes in. Ali was a friend of mine at school. I don't remember when he told me he was HIV positive but it was pretty soon after meeting him. He was a haemophiliac and had contracted HIV from a contaminated clotting factor injection, before testing for HIV had begun. The government had compensated all those who had contracted HIV, so Ali was a well-off young man, though one with a potentially terminal illness. So Ali bought himself two Technics decks and even got them put in flight cases, for the professional DJ look. We weren't great friends at shool but we ended up at the same university (Newcastle) doing the same degree so ended up becoming good friends. We also started DJing together, after getting an amp and some very big speakers. We were a good pairing, he did bang bang dance music and I did Indie pop with some mainstream pop music. When I finished uni after four years, Ali had missed a year due to illness and was still trying to finish his degree off. He never got the chance to though. I last saw him during the Christmas holiday of '94. He was in bed and was unable to come out for Christmas drinks, but I presumed it would be another passing illness, like the ones in the past. But not long after he was dead. At his funeral, Ali's dad told me that Ali had left me his decks. After leaving uni, DJing had dried up, not least because Ali wasn't around to get the contacts, since he was always much more gregarious than me. But I obviously wasn't going to say no. So now I had three decks, which was too many even if I was still DJing. So I gave my SL-1210 to another of Ali's friends and kept the other two for myself. Time went on and the DJing thing was obviously never going to happen so I gave one of the decks to my brother Simon, with the proviso he didn't sell it on eBay. And the other one has been mostly been doing nothing but gather dust for the last ten years. CDs and MP3s have replaced records in my life. And now I have a shed and space to spare, so out has come the SL-1210. I cleaned it up and threw on one of my ten-year old records and the deck still works perfectly. So thank you Technics and thank you Ali.