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Has streaming made it harder to discover new music? | Music streaming

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Earlier this year, Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill unexpectedly became the most popular song in the world. After it was used on the soundtrack of the Netflix sci-fi series Stranger Things, the streaming figures for Bush’s 1985 single rocketed by 9,900% in the US alone. Something similar was happening wherever Stranger Things was available: by 18 June, three weeks after season four of Stranger Things premiered, Running Up That Hill was No 1 on Billboard’s Global 200 chart, which, as its name suggests, collects sales and streaming data from 200-plus countries.

It became a big news story, big enough that Bush – no one’s idea of an artist intent on hogging the media spotlight – was impelled to issue a couple of statements and give a rare interview. That was partly because it was an extraordinary state of affairs: the upper reaches of the Global 200 are usually the sole province of what you might call the usual suspects – BTS, Bad Bunny, Adele, Drake et al – and not a world that plays host to tracks from critically acclaimed 37-year-old art-rock concept albums. And it was partly because the unexpected success of Running Up That Hill seemed to say something about how we discover and consume music in 2022.

Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill as used in Stranger Things – video

We live in a world where music has never been more abundant, or available. As has frequently been pointed out, the rise of streaming in its multifarious forms essentially means the entire history of popular music is available, free, at the touch of a button. We have more-or-less eradicated obscurity: even if something is too recherché for Spotify or Apple Music, the likelihood is that someone will have ripped it from somewhere – radio, tape, vinyl – and uploaded it to YouTube. One theory that’s gained traction recently is that music is now so abundant as to be completely overwhelming in its availability, and that listeners, faced with everything at once, are increasingly playing it safe and sticking with the tried-and-tested.

That theory would explain both the tiny handful of current artists who seem to have a stranglehold on the album charts – despite the statistic that says 60,000 new tracks a day are uploaded to one streaming service alone, only one or two new artists a year join the stranglehold ranks – and the fact that around half of said album chart is invariably made up of greatest hits collections by a small clique of “heritage” acts: Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Abba, Oasis, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Eminem. Presenting the public with infinite options hasn’t broadened tastes, goes said argument – it’s actively narrowed them.

At the same time, the longstanding gatekeepers of pop music have seen their power wane greatly. Simon Garfield’s superb history of BBC Radio One in the 1990s, The Nation’s Favourite, depicts an era in which getting on the station’s playlist was, as one music industry figure puts it, “the best chance of breaking a new record”.

But its listenership has long been in decline – 4.85m people listened to its flagship breakfast show in 2021 as opposed to 7.5m in 1996 – an indication of a broader shift away from radio among younger audiences. It may be that young listeners with specific tastes still crowd around its evening specialist shows in the way they used to with John Peel or the Evening Session, the Essential Selection or the Radio 1 Rap Show, but you wouldn’t bet on it: specialist radio shows are no longer the only place a keen-eared listener can find music that’s niche or genre-specific. Music television barely exists beyond a scattering of historical documentaries; there’s Later … With Jools Holland and that’s pretty much that. An attempt in 2017 to reboot the weekly Top of the Pops format, titled Sounds Like Friday Night, was cancelled after two series due to low viewing figures.

In Britain, the music press is a ghost of its former self. Beyond coverage in broadsheet newspapers, there’s Mojo and Uncut and Classic Rock, a scattering of indie magazines and a few successful specialist magazines with highly targeted audiences – prog rock fans, 80s pop enthusiasts – but the overall picture is one of a shrinking market catering exclusively to readers old enough to remember when the music press mattered. The British press certainly doesn’t wield the power it was once reputed to – the ability to make or break artists – and nor does American music website Pitchfork, by far the highest-profile and most influential of the online music titles. Even some of the internet innovations that were supposed to replace the tired old music media appear to have gone the same way. Whatever happened to MP3 blogs? They’re presumably still out there – the Hype Machine aggregator certainly is – but it’s a long time since an artist claimed they were pivotal in their rise.

Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down the Line – video

It’s a state of affairs that opens questions about the way we discover and consume music now, to which the sudden success of Running Up That Hill provided at least a partial answer. In 2022, it seems, the most effective way of promoting music is to get it placed on a TV show, film or advertisement – a notion bolstered by an unexpected spate of renewed interest in Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down the Line, which went from dimly remembered 1978 album track to Gen Z favourite overnight after it was used multiple times in the latest season of US teen drama Euphoria. The people whose job it is to place music on soundtracks thus wield a degree of sway over public taste unimaginable by even the most high-profile rock critic or radio programmer in their respective medium’s heyday.

But it can’t all come from soundtracks. Where else might an audience that doesn’t read reviews or listen to the radio get its information about music? Who are the other gatekeepers now? Is it all down to the shadowy figures who compile Spotify’s highest-profile curated playlists – Today’s Top Hits, RapCaviar, Viva Latino – and the algorithms that try to predict what music you might like based on your listening habits? Certainly, a place on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist is as prized by record companies as a spot on the Radio One A-list used to be. (If you’ve ever wondered why so many artists are so eager to collaborate with artists outside their usual musical field – as seen with the recent Ed Sheeran and J Balvin team-up – it’s likely a strategy designed to game the streaming services and turn up on as many different genre-specific playlists as possible.)

Equally, you could argue that there are limitations to the playlists’ influence, or at least how much listeners emotionally invest in the music they punt at us: “The way people hear music [now], it can glaze over you before you really get to the heart of it,” as Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O put it recently. Specialist playlists are slightly hobbled by their very anonymity – it’s impossible to work out the tastes and motivations of their faceless compilers in the way you might have done a music critic or a specialist DJ. And, the fact that there’s something deeply uneasy about being spoon-fed music by a computer aside, algorithms can never provide you the greatest music recommendations: the songs you never thought you’d like but end up loving anyway.

Viral star Gayle performs at the iHeartRadio festival.
Viral star Gayle performs at the iHeartRadio festival. Photograph: James Atoa/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock

A corrective to streaming services’ more-of-the-same approach to music discovery might lie on video sharing platform TikTok, which has been implicated in the success of everyone from Doja Cat to Sam Fender. The music its users choose to hoist into the spotlight seems almost impenetrably random: as anyone with TikTok-using teenage kids will tell you, recent viral TikTok hits have included New Edition’s 1983 single Mr Telephone Man; Edison Lighthouse’s early 70s bubblegum smash Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes; a spectacularly irritating instrumental version of Streets Favourite, a Shangri-Las-sampling track from a flop 2005 album by rapper Capone; and Tiny Tim’s psych-era novelty Tiptoe Thru’ the Tulips With Me. Nonetheless, record labels and artists seem incredibly keen to court TikTok users, with occasionally pitiful results: witness Justin Bieber’s awful single Yummy, not a song so much as a hook designed to be played in the background of videos about food or beauty regimes or fashion “looks”, or the saga of Gayle, the US singer-songwriter whose moment of virality with her hit single abcdefu was supposedly staged by her label, Warner subsidiary Atlantic Records.

But TikTok also often feels like a closed ecosystem, with no real impact on the wider world. Traditionally, attempts by major labels to make mainstream stars out of TikTok music “celebrities” such as Jeven Reliford and Lil Huddy have come to nothing. Ask a musically savvy tween TikTok user about a song called Rises the Moon by Liana Flores; if you haven’t heard of it, they will have. The track is a genuine phenomenon in their world: a prettily melancholy, plummy-voiced bit of folk that sounds not unlike Vashti Bunyan. It’s been streamed 119m times on Spotify, bred umpteen cover versions (I counted well over 200 covers or remixes on YouTube before giving up, exhausted) and a kind of musical subgenre: there are Spotify playlists called things like Rises The Moon Vibes and Rises The Moon Type Songs. But it achieved all this without turning its author into a mainstream star, and without spawning a meaningful follow-up: Flores’s most recent single, 2020’s Sign, has 1.5m streams, not 100m.

Perhaps that’s a state of affairs that’s in the process of changing: classic dance music-referencing pop musician PinkPantheress is a rare example of a musician who found success on TikTok before crossing over into a wider market; something similar might conceivably happen to Katie Gregson-MacLeod, a 21-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter signed by Atlantic on the basis of a melancholy song called Complex, which went viral after she posted a clip of its chorus to the platform. Or perhaps they’re going to be the rare exceptions that prove the rule.

Katie Gregson-McLeod’s video for Complex.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us back to Running Up That Hill, or at least the nature of Running Up That Hill’s success. An old song becoming hugely popular again as a result of exposure in film or TV is by no means a 21st-century phenomenon. In the late 80s and early 90s, whenever an old track was used in a Levi’s advert, it was virtually guaranteed a new lease of commercial life, whether it was Ben E King’s Stand By Me or the Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go?, both subsequently UK No 1s. The difference was that those songs’ latterday success impacted at least temporarily on the artist’s wider catalogue. A Ben E King and the Drifters greatest hits comp spent seven weeks in the UK charts; the Story of the Clash compilation returned to the Top 10: their interest piqued, people were exploring artists’ back catalogues further.

That didn’t happen with Running Up That Hill. It was a huge hit, but the rest of Kate Bush’s oeuvre went largely unexplored by the people who listened to it, at least in Britain. Hounds of Love, the album that spawned Running Up That Hill, briefly entered the US Top 20 for the first time. Here, it skulked around the very lowest reaches of the Top 100 for a couple of weeks and that was it. Running Up That Hill has still been streamed 550m times more than Kate Bush’s next most popular track.

Perhaps that’s because streaming encourages a kind of decontextualised discovery. It’s a world where albums are less important than single tracks, where you’re encouraged to focus not on the artist, but the song; where music is served up with any accompanying visuals relegated to a tiny corner of the screen; where historical context, image, subcultural capital – all the other stuff that was once part of the package – no longer really matters. The popularity charts that flash up on Spotify when you click on an artist’s name often give a noticeably warped view of what said artist is, or was, about. It’s a world where Pavement are most famous for recording Harness Your Hopes, a 1999 B-side so obscure that frontman Stephen Malkmus didn’t recognise it when he heard it again and which was first hoisted into public view thanks to a quirk in Spotify’s algorithm. Where St Vincent is best known for a duet with Bon Iver called Roslyn, that carries none of the excitement or invention of her solo albums, but which happened to be in a Twilight movie. Where Aphex Twin is not an idiosyncratic electronic auteur whose oeuvre ranges from the impossibly beautiful to the incredibly challenging, but the guy who made Avril 14th: two minutes of pretty but inconsequential piano noodling from his 2001 album Drukqs, which towers over the rest of his oeuvre in popularity thanks to its use on a host of soundtracks and as a sample on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Music stripped of its cultural context, artists’ histories rewritten, a previously unimaginable abundance of choice that’s apparently limiting horizons, artists who rocket to vast success without becoming remotely famous: music discovery and consumption in 2022 is a weird, confounding, counterintuitive and strangely fascinating place, where the traditional ways of doing things have been completely overturned, but it isn’t entirely clear what’s replaced them. It’s a place that, over the next week, a series of articles in the Guardian is going to try and pick its way through, in an attempt to figure out what we listen to, how we listen to it and why, and – possibly – what the future might conceivably hold. Even if they don’t point to an obvious destination (these are uncertain times) it should be an intriguing journey – as journeys through unfamiliar territory tend to be.

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$2.5m last year • The Register

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Scammers have scammed their fellow cybercriminals out of more than $2.5 million on three dark web forums alone over the last 12 months, according to Sophos researchers.

In a Black Hat Europe session, Sophos threat hunters detailed their investigation, which examined scams on two well-established Russian-language marketplaces, Exploit and XSS. They also looked at BreachForums, which launched in April 2022 after a Europol-led operation shut down the earlier version of the stolen-data souk, RaidForums.

And it turns out that scammers gonna scam, even in the criminal underground.

“We saw referral cons, fake data leaks and tools, typosquatting, phishing, ‘alt rep’ scams (the use of sockpuppets to artificially inflate reputation scores), fake guarantors, blackmail, impersonated accounts, and backdoored malware,” writes Sophos senior security researcher Matt Wixey, in the research posted today. “We even found instances where threat actors got revenge by scamming the scammers who scammed them.”

Scams on these three cybercrime forums are so prevalent that all of them have dedicated “arbitration rooms.”

Exploit, which has about 2,500 reported scams, has two: one for claims and another, the Black List, for confirmed scams. These have been around since the mid-2000s, along with closed Russian attacker forum XSS, which reported around 760 scams on its site, according to Sophos. XSS also keeps a “ripper list” that indexes scam sites.

“Exploit is the worst for scams, both in terms of numbers of reports and money lost to scammers,” Wixey writes. “It does have around twice as many members as XSS, and may also attract more scammers because of its reputation.”

Exploit’s open claims’ room lists 211 claims totaling $1,021,998, while its Black List cited 236 exploits that cost other crooks $863,324. 

In one case, an Exploit user opened an arbitration claim in an attempt to negotiate with ransomware gang Conti about decrypting a company’s assets. Exploit admins, however, closed that claim because ransomware is banned on the marketplace, so apparently there are some standards.

Meanwhile, XSS, for comparison, reported 120 open claims valued at $509,901. BreachForums’ arbitration room, which has only been around since that market opened in April, lists 21 claims worth $143,722.

While higher-end scams on all three forums hit six figures — $160,000 on Exploit and XSS are the most lucrative — some victims on these sites have filed claims for as little as $2, according to Wixey. “Threat actors seem to be as indignant about having their money stolen as anyone else, no matter the amount,” he notes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the claims processes sometimes descend into name calling, insults and general chaos with the accuser accusing the accused of scamming. In some cases the alleged victims end up getting banned from the sites for being dishonest.

While banning is the most common punishment for ripping off fellow criminals on these forums, BreachForums also publishes banned users’ email address, registration, and last-seen IP address, thus leaving them open for doxxing, the research says. 

However, Sophos also cites a few cases “involving serial scammers” who were banned, and simply created new profiles, paid another registration fee, and carried on with their criminal ways.

As Wixey notes: “If there’s a takeaway from all this, it’s that no user is immune; any trade on criminal forums involves an inherent risk of scams.” ®

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Meet the award-winning geneticist changing patients’ lives

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Prof Sally Ann Lynch talks about the complexity of DNA tests and the work that led to her winning the HRCI Research Impact Award.

Last Thursday (1 December), consultant geneticist Prof Sally Ann Lynch won the inaugural Health Research Charities Ireland (HRCI) Research Impact Award for her contribution to the field of research.

The award highlights the role of health research charities in funding research as well as principal investigators who have participated in the joint funding scheme from HRCI and the Health Research Board.

Lynch’s work, which was supported by the National Children’s Research Centre and the Children’s Health Foundation, Temple Street, was recognised for its real-world impact and for making a positive difference to patients’ lives.

Specifically, Lynch and her team undertook two projects under the scheme, which identified a total of 11 genes that have been responsible for significant health issues for people.

One of these genes, the LARS gene, and its association with a failure to thrive in babies was a brand-new discovery.

With the remaining 10 genes, Lynch discovered new clinical symptoms that were not previously associated with diseases for these genes, from lung disease to neurological conditions.

Lynch told SiliconRepublic.com more about her research, which started 10 years ago.

“We were using new technology to try and make diagnoses in families where routine testing was negative. It was done in collaboration with a team in UCD [University College Dublin],” she said.

“We successfully identified new diagnoses in a number of families using this. Now, this technology forms part of routine diagnostic testing in the investigation of children and adults with various different clinical problems.”

‘I do feel it is important to try and find diagnoses where one hasn’t been found’
– SALLY ANN LYNCH

Lynch said the LARS gene had not been previously recognised as a gene that caused human disease.

“This gene, if it is not working properly, causes children to fail to thrive. Many had evidence of anaemia and liver problems and when these children got a dose of flu or other viral illnesses, they could get very ill and go into liver failure,” she said.

“A colleague working in the metabolic unit in Temple Street had identified a small number of families who had affected children so we collaborated together and received consent from the families to use this new technology to see if we could identify the cause of the liver failure. We found genetic alterations in this gene, LARS.”

The discovery can help many children around the world be diagnosed as well and, while a new treatment has not been developed yet, a greater understanding of the condition can help with day-to-day management.

The challenges around genetic testing

While discoveries such as these can be amazing for diagnostics, medicine and innovations in health, the work is not without its challenges.

Because there is so much variation in DNA, trying to work out if these variations are causing a disease or if they are completely benign can be extremely difficult.

“It is important that due care and attention is paid to genetic test reports as they are not always black and white. The biggest challenge we face is interpreting DNA changes and trying to work out if we have reached a diagnosis or if it still remains elusive,” said Lynch.

She added that DNA tests are often misconstrued as easy to organise and have the ability to give a yes or no answer, when the reality is far more complex.

“DNA tests might give you a diagnosis, they might not give you a diagnosis. Sometimes a gene change is found and no one is sure whether a diagnosis has been reached or not because there is not enough evidence to be completely sure. DNA tests need consent. DNA tests need thought.”

Upon winning the Research Impact Award, Lynch spoke about her passion for solving rare diseases and said that an estimated 300,000 people in Ireland are living with a rare disease.

“Rare diseases undoubtedly get less bite of the funding cherry than other conditions, even though they are more in number and are just as, if not more, challenging. This needs to change.”

She added that identifying new genes is the first step in a long road that will hopefully one day lead to a new treatment.

As part of her research work, Lynch helped produce a handbook, Genetic Testing & Risk Assessment of Rare Disorders, for primary healthcare professionals.

“As a medic, staying still is not OK. I do feel it is important to try and find diagnoses where one hasn’t been found. I do feel I have to keep trying.”

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Infinite lives: the company saving old arcade machines | Games

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On a rural industrial estate five miles outside Honiton, under the flight path of a nearby aerodrome, sits a rather nondescript warehouse. Only one feature marks it out: in front is a graveyard of stripped arcade cabinets, slowly rotting in the cold and damp.

I am here to visit Play Leisure, a company that restores and sells old arcade games. It has a compelling TikTok account where it shares new discoveries – a recent post showed off a Deadstorm Pirates machine with its enormous sit-in cabinet and giant cinematic display. I’ve dragged my friend and fellow arcade fanatic Joao Sanches along, and now I’m feeling nervous and responsible because, walking up to the unmarked entrance, I’ve no idea if they will have anything interesting in stock after our 90-minute drive.

But peering inside, I spot it immediately, sat there in the cramped reception area amid piles of cardboard boxes: a pristine 1992 Street Fighter II machine, the backboard sporting a wild illustration of Ryu kicking Ken, each special feature on the playfield named after famous Street Fighter attacks. I almost gasp.

Matt Conridge, the owner of Play Leisure, has always been interested in arcade machines. “Like a lot of us in our 30s and 40s, it comes from back when I was a kid,” he explains as he comes to greet us. “I used to visit arcades at seaside resorts – places like Dawlish and Lynmouth.”

Matt Conridge, the owner of Play Leisure.
‘It comes from back when I was a kid’ … Matt Conridge, the owner of Play Leisure. Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

Three years ago, Conridge was running a video game bar in Bideford, north Devon, when Covid hit. Facing disaster, he decided to close up and use his contacts in the arcade scene to pivot into a new project: restoration. He rented a warehouse, employed a small team of specialist engineers and started buying up all the old coin-ops he could get his hands on. The plan was to repair them and sell them on to private collectors and retro theme bars, after the pandemic.

“Back then, we were only buying small quantities so it usually came from collectors. Now we take them on an industrial scale,” says Conridge. “At the moment, with what’s happening in the economy, arcades are cutting costs, getting rid of some of the lower performing machines that cost them more to run than they make in revenue. We get clearances from arcades, play centres, trampoline parks … ”

Another problem is that older coin-ops require specialist engineers to maintain them. “A lot of the people who used to build and service these machines have retired,” says Conridge. “That knowledge is dying.”

Matt takes us through to the main warehouse space, where we’re momentarily stunned again. Crammed into a space about the size of a tennis court are 200-odd arcade machines from throughout gaming history. The first thing I spot is the twin cabinet version of Sega’s brilliant 1995 racing game Manx TT Super Bike, which allowed players to sit on reproduction motorcycles and compete against each other along narrow country lanes. Nearby there’s Konami’s thrilling Silent Scope 2: Fatal Judgement, complete with its authentic sniper rifle controller, and further back in this electronic labyrinth is a twin cab of Final Furlong, the crazy Namco horse racing game that you control by sitting on a plastic horse and jumping up and down.

I’m taken back to the first time I visited Japan in 2000 to attend the Tokyo Game Show. I walked into an arcade in Akihabara and saw salarymen on their lunch hour, dozens of them in rows playing this game, grimacing with effort in the darkness.

The warehouse has about 200 arcade machines from throughout gaming history.
The warehouse has about 200 arcade machines from throughout gaming history. Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

The machines arrive in huge shipping containers and Conridge is never quite sure what games he’ll find or what condition they will be in. “The problem is, arcade operators don’t generate any more money by keeping machine internals clean,” he says. “If you open it up and start cleaning the inside you may end up causing issues. We’ve opened them and found coins, tools … We found a porno mag in the back of a machine once. We’ve just got one from Blackpool, a crane machine that dispensed sweets – it’s been left for a few years and the sweets have fallen inside and rotted, then the flies got in there … ugh.”

Will they clean that? “No,” laughs Conridge. “We’ll sell it off and let someone else deal with it.”

Conridge is however, conscientious about whom he sells brittle older machines to. “There are some retro machines that we advise people not to buy unless they’re technically minded,” he says. “There’s a pinball machine, a 1966 electromechanical model we’re just about to put on sale, and we’ll refuse to sell that to nine out of 10 people who contact us because we know it won’t be suitable for them. These machines are like classic cars: they are specialist pieces of equipment and need constant care. If I sell it to someone who just wants a working machine, they’ll be fed up after five minutes – we’ve got to choose the right customer for it. Someone who is able to tinker.”

It’s not just ancient pinball machines that are problematic. The big video arcade games of the 1990s – the technical peak of the industry – often used proprietary hardware that is simply impossible to replace or reproduce. “The Sega Model arcade boards used custom Lockheed Martin chips, which you just can’t source,” explains Chris, the lead engineer. “We have to decide whether to harvest parts from less interesting games and use them to resupply classics like Sega Rally.” Around the outskirts of the warehouse space, there are shelves groaning under the weight of esoteric parts, haphazardly piled or collected in boxes.

Lining the warehouse are shelves of esoteric parts.
Lining the warehouse are shelves of esoteric parts. Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

Adding to the value of these machines now is the fact that arcades historically dumped old units when they stopped being profitable. “Ten to 15 years ago companies just didn’t foresee that there would be any interest from collectors,” says Conridge. “We just sold an Addams Family pinball machine for £10,000 – that would have been chucked in a skip 15 years ago. People didn’t expect anyone would want them.”

This was especially true of larger speciality machines, such as rhythm action games, with their bulky floor pads and complicated controllers, and driving games with their realistic race car cabinets. Not only did they take up valuable floor space, they were expensive to maintain. Their growing rarity represents an interesting challenge for Play Leisure, because games like Dance Mania and Guitar Hero are exactly the sorts of machines that the new era of retro gaming bars – such as the NQ64 chain, which has just taken on £2m of funding – are looking for: not only are they fun to play in a bar environment, they’re fun to watch, too. “Dance Mania is now a £3k machine,” Conridge says.

When cabinets arrive, their condition is assessed. For Conridge there is a delicate balance between restoration and preservation. He shows me a Point Blank machine that’s just come in: Namco’s entertaining light gun shooter, which was also popular on the PlayStation, is a currently a hit with buyers. He will aim to repair these machines whatever state they arrive in – even though the guns themselves, with their delicate recoil mechanic, are often busted beyond repair (“they get really smashed by kids in the arcade”).

On this cabinet, the lavishly illustrated decals on the sides are peeling off: do they change the artwork for a modern reproduction? “If we do, it will look better but it won’t be original,” says Conridge. “It’s a challenge. We don’t tend to sell perfect-looking machines. When we went into arcades as children, the machines would have cigarette burns – that’s how you remember them. There’s a certain charm to that.”

‘I almost gasp’ … at the sight of the classic arcade game Street Fighter II.
‘I almost gasp’ … classic arcade game Street Fighter II. Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

Some arcade cabinets are not economically viable to repair, but that doesn’t mean they’re unsellable. “We sell quite a lot of project machines,” he says. “For a collector working in their garage, that’s fine. We had a Star Wars 1982 Atari machine come in about 14 months ago. We put it on TikTok and Facebook – someone rang and they were desperate for it. It was nice to save this original machine from being scrapped.”

If they can’t be repaired, they’re stripped for parts: circuit boards, cathode ray monitors, joysticks, motors. Almost none of these are manufactured any more, so they’re all saved. Even completely stripped cabinets can have value: people often use them as a shell for their own arcade machines, using a PC and LED monitor. “Our customers can be really creative,” says Conridge. “We have people turning them into cocktail cabinets, stands for DVD players and games consoles. It’s nice because they’re not ending up in a landfill site – they’re getting another life.”

Conridge reckons half his machines go to retro bars and modern arcades. The rest are bought by private collectors. There’s a highly active arcade-collecting community, based around Discord servers and forums such as UKVAC, and Covid brought in a lot of new customers who started building gaming dens in the midst of lockdown.

Besides retro pinball tables and 1990s hits, the big sellers are attached to film or TV licences. Play Leisure has sold three Star Wars Battle Pods, really big immersive machines, for £10,000 each. An Aerosmith-branded arcade game named Revolution X will sell for £1,500, an X-Files pinball table for £3,500. There’s an odd market too for old coin-pushing machines, mostly thanks to the TV quiz show Tipping Point and the growing popularity of TikTok accounts that specialise in coin-pushing live streams.

Close-up of game instructions.
‘It’s nice because they’re not ending up in a landfill site – they’re getting another life.’ Photograph: Joao Diniz Sanches

Joao and I spend the whole day here, snaking between the machines, peering into their exposed innards. We photograph everything. A long time ago we worked together on the video game magazine Edge, often reporting on arcade shows – these machines, which are now antiques, were the newest, hottest tech when we started our careers.

And before that, as a kid, I hung out in arcades in the 1980s. Donkey Kong, Defender, Space Harrier, Out Run; a pocket full of 10 pence coins, a whole day to waste. It is bittersweet to see the machines here, their CRT monitors cracked or missing, light gun holsters worn and split.

It is good that these things are being saved. To many of us, these are more than just disposable commercial products: they are works of art containing within them the experiences of thousands of players, my own included.

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