What happens when a vinyl record reaches the end of its playtime on a manual turntable? Well, just silence, with maybe a repeated pop every 1.8 seconds if there’s a dust-speck on your LP. This is because of the record’s ‘locked groove’, a closed loop of sound at its innermost ring.
It catches the needle and sends it round and round endlessly, so that your stylus doesn’t stray off the vinyl and onto the label sticker. (This can of course happen accidentally, and you’ll know it by the demon-scream scrape of needle on paper.)
But why should an artist leave silence when they could put something into that groove, which will play on forever (until either you lift the player’s tonearm, or an EMP shuts down the world’s electricity)? A handful of artists have done exactly that, and the best examples make use of the groove’s inherent repetition to create some creepy effects.
Stiff Little Fingers, Inflammable Material (1979)
Compared to works by The Clash and The Ramones upon its release, Inflammable Material chronicled the civil unrest and heartbreaking hardships which this Northern Irish band saw slithering through the veins of their homeland. Side B’s locked groove comes after the song Closed Groove, and contains the sound of a n electronic phone ringing on and on and into eternity. Even without the accompanying lyrics, it lands as a persistent question unanswered (and let’s face it: punk is all about asking ‘Why?’) but the sound really comes into focus when you consider the song’s repeated outro, under which the phone begins: “Scream whenever you hear this tone.” Listen to the song’s final moments below.
Protomartyr, Ultimate Success Today (2020)
Detroit post-punk-art-rockers Protomartyr released their critically acclaimed fifth album during the onset of the pandemic, though it was written well before anyone had heard the word ‘COVID’. Its lyrics seemed to mirror the apocalyptic nature of the world’s stage at the time, sifted through with dissonant guitars and singer Joe Casey’s idiosyncratic baritone. In the locked groove of Side A after the song June 21 is an ominous wasteland soundtrack: flies buzz, insects trill, and no other form of life stirs… for the rest of time. Let’s hope they’re very wrong. Here’s the song’s whole clip, which is very much worth watching, and you can hear the locked groove soundscape (for only a few seconds) at its conclusion.
The Muppets, The Muppet Show 2 (1978)
After Kermie and the gang have finished their raucous renditions of The Pig Calypso, Happy Feet and, of course, The Muppet Show Theme (interspersed with sketches and other adorable slivers of banter), we hear that cute li’l frog and Miss Piggy leaving the theatre to go to dinner. After a second or two comes the wobegone voice of Fozzie Bear – he’s been forgotten about completely, and locked inside. When he realises he’s all alone in the dark, he begins a mournful, repeated cry for help… help… help. Traumatic as hell. Listen below.
Pink Floyd, Atom Heart Mother (1970)
The last track on this beautifully sprawling, number one album from England’s finest prog-weirdos is titled Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast. It’s a soundscape-with-dialogue assemblage which features the band’s roadie Alan Styles preparing, chewing and commenting on his own breakfast. As it closes out, we hear the sound of a dripping tap – a sample captured and intended for rhythmic experiments by guitarist Roger Waters – which then slots into the locked groove, plinking on without end. It comes across as vaguely sinister and melancholic, inviting subjective interpretation from the listener in a very fitting conclusion for the seminal LP. Check it out below.