Music

Published: Saturday April 19, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday April 19, 2014 MYT 10:31:10 AM

Back to the future: Celebrating Record Store Day in Malaysia

Need a vinyl-hunting adventure? Just swing over to these independent record stores in the Klang Valley.

New independent record stores opening up in Klang Valley suburbs. A new breed of vinyl-loving fans getting hooked on record-hunting. Young and old music fans crate-digging side-by-side at these stores. 

To round if off, there’s the Record Store Day (RSD) 2014 celebrations, which takes place today, thrown into the mix.

It’s not a dream. Don’t rub your eyes. It’s true. The Malaysian masses are waking up to vinyl. Here’s a phenomenon that mirrors the current renaissance of vinyl abroad. Even closer to home, there has been a buzz of new record stores in Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok catering to this demand for vinyl.

In Malaysia, it looks like this niche market is finally starting to go places with the arrival of independent record stores, like Hard Graft Records, Teenage Head Records, Tandang Store and the recent Ruby Music Centre/Cool Record Shop collaboration. More new players are reportedly on the way with brick and mortar stores. The vinyl-hunting map now stretches from Subang Jaya to Petaling Jaya in Selangor and all the way to Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. 

There is also an imminent upgrade for one of the more established crate-digging haunts in the country.

“The noise you hear about vinyl is real, and the excitement for the format is contagious,” said Joe Rozario, 65, the owner of the Joe’s MAC (Music, Art & Collectible) store in Amcorp Mall in PJ. 

“I don’t think you have to convince people about the romance of a physical product. People are in deep love with this format. This is a long-lasting relationship,” he added.

Joe’s MAC, which started as a flea market stall at Amcorp Mall back in 2003, has emerged as a recognised vinyl destination in Malaysia. A recent mention in British experimental music magazine Wire in March has upped its global profile as a record store boasting rare Asian LPs.

It is not an exaggeration that Joe’s MAC, which is home to more than 11,000 pre-loved/new records, has become a first-stop for many newbie collectors as well as a meeting point for veteran vinyl enthusiasts. He expects a healthy record-hunting crowd today at his store to celebrate international Record Store Day 2014. There will be bargains galore (the 2-for-1 deals) through the weekend but Rozario reckons: “every day is a good day to buy records.”

Rozario says it’s great to have younger music fans on board, too. He put the whole trend into perspective: “We still have our regulars from the old days, but the walk-ins have increased, too. Now you find younger fans at Joe’s MAC. They come in with their smartphones at the ready, as they check the LP pricings on (marketplace guide) Discogs. 

"Some just come to Instagram the vinyl. Hey, no problem! As long as people are talking and sharing the news about Joe’s MAC.”

Nick Mun, owner of Hard Graft Records, an independent vinyl store in Petaling Jaya in Selangor.
For the record: ‘When the idea of opening an independent record store came about, I wanted it to only sell vinyl. Proper racks. Proper browsing. Something for music fans,’ says Nick Mun, owner of Hard Graft Records in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

This business, or “labour of love” as Rozario claims, is about to get a bigger home soon.

“In August, we’re moving to a bigger shoplot right across from where we are located right now. The floor space is huge (4,000 sq ft/371.6sq m) and that means more vinyl and more elbow room,” said Rozario, who revealed that classic rock, pop and Chinese LPs have been regular sellers at his store.

Rozario added, his store, which mostly sells vintage LPs, shifts an estimated 12,000 pieces of vinyl a year. Rozario’s vinyl selling philosophy is simple – just give the masses a comfortable space to browse for LPs and always be on hand to talk to them.

“A bit of knowledge-sharing goes a long way. I talk to vinyl collectors about rock music from my era and in return, I also get to learn about newer bands.”

Rozario has also seen local music tastes getting more sophisticated and plans to ramp up the diversity at his new and improved store.

“No doubt, there is constant demand for classic artistes (Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix). But we’re getting more requests. Some customers ask if we carry Serge Gainsbourg LPs, others come looking for classic soul LPs. Three months ago, we also received a shipment of 2,000 classical records. That supply has nearly finished.

“We’ve also sold a few Sonic Youth deluxe box set reissues ... well, you wouldn’t think Joe’s MAC is the kind of store to attract alternative music fans, would you? But we do!”

The jovial gentleman, while adjusting his trademark beret, definitely is looking forward to one of his biggest years in the vinyl selling business when his shop moves.

More than a decade ago, Rozario was a one-man-show business. Today, he hires runners in the United States, Australia, Britain, Singapore and Germany to supply LPs. There is also a Joe’s MAC branch in Central Market in Kuala Lumpur. If Rozario is an established name in the homegrown vinyl community, then look out for the new players, too.

Hard Graft Records, which started from home two years ago in Kuala Lumpur, relied heavily on word-of-mouth to gain a following.

The crew - (from left) Wan Hazril, Alak Idle and Sanan Anuar - behind Tandang Store in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. Apart from DIY releases, punk LPs and underground titles, the record store has also begun to embrace reggae, dub and indie LPs.
The crew — (from left) Wan Hazril, Alak Idle and Sanan Anuar — behind Tandang Store in Kuala Lumpur. Apart from DIY releases, punk LPs and underground titles, the record store has also begun to embrace dub reggae and indie LPs.

“The main focus for Hard Graft is to bring in new LP releases that are not readily available here. I used to hand deliver the records to customers by meeting them in MidValley Megamall or the Bangsar area. It was a cash-on-delivery thing,” said Nick Mun, the owner of Hard Graft Records, who finally realised his dream of running an independent store.

Hard Graft Records opened its doors in Petaling Jaya last December. Tucked on the first floor of an office building in the PJ New Town area (near Tong Woh Medical Hall), the store welcomes customers with rows of new releases on the racks and also classic rock reissues on the walls.

Now, with the store opened, Mun, in his early 40s, joked that he no longer has to deal with the back-breaking work of carting heavy vinyl boxes to gigs or vinyl-only parties, where he used to sell direct to music fans. A change in fortunes has bestowed him a comfortable couch and a sound system at his store for customers to take in the music.

“It’s good to have a proper place, because with a store, I can put up more records and people can come over to browse and hang out,” he added.

On the day of this interview, Mun received a steady stream of regulars who also brought their friends over to the store.

“They say that music fans don’t bother about record stores any longer. I beg to differ. I think people still do care,” he argued.

“The challenge is to let the masses know they can get new releases on vinyl here. That awareness needs to be heightened.”

For this year’s RSD, Hard Graft Records will be having a vinyl listening party and live in-store bands.

Cheah Mun Kit (right), the main man who operates the Cool Record Shop, which shares a shoplot with the neighbourhood vinyl haunt Ruby Music Centre, owned by Tham Peng Kee (left), in Petaling Jaya in Selangor.
Cheah Mun Kit (right), the main man behind the Cool Record Shop, which shares a shoplot with the neighbourhood vinyl haunt Ruby Music Centre, owned by Tham Peng Kee, in Petaling Jaya in Selangor

Mun has already stocked up well for his customers with classic rock, alternative music, punk, indie and metal LPs. Contemporary new releases from Mogwai, Arctic Monkeys, Ghost and Chvrches catch the eye at this store, while LP reissues from Ramones, Fugazi and Slayer provide finger-itching temptation for record-hunters out there.

For publicity, Hard Graft’s Facebook page has more than 3,000 followers, which goes a long way in directing traffic to his store.

Over at the newly-opened Teenage Head Records in the SS14 neighbourhood of Subang Jaya, Selangor, the feelgood buzz for vinyl can already be felt before you enter the shop. A few tables are lined up outside the store, with vinyl hunters sipping coffee (available at the store), while chatting and unwrapping their newly-purchased records.

The store, which is operated by Mohd Radzi, 37, has a true “mom and pop” record store vibe. After quitting their day jobs, Radzi and his wife Linda decided to take the plunge and start a record store with a youthful exuberance. A giant Sonic Youth poster on the wall gives music fans a clue on the “indie/alternative” slant here.

The range of vinyl records – new releases and second-hand – reflects the owners’ personal tastes. If anything, Teenage Head Records (named after Singapore indie band The Oddfellows’ debut album) can easily be regarded as the local version of Championship Vinyl (the store from the cult movie High Fidelity).

“We’re definitely looking to add to the vinyl fun. We only started this month, so, give us time to get the balance right. That said, I’m sure we can get some people excited over the vintage My Bloody Valentine EPs and Morrissey LPs,” said the affable Radzi, who also goes the extra mile to clean each and every pre-loved record that can be purchased at Teenage Head Records.

“It’s extra counter service! You always want to go home with a record that is ready rock. Actually, it also gives me time to have a conversation with the customer. That way, I can find out what else I can bring in to Teenage Head to improve the store,” he added with a smile.

Radzi has fortunately gotten his RSD 2014 releases sorted out in time. He has also invited a bunch of local musicians to play an acoustic show (11am onwards, today) in his store.

For those seeking out underground metal, obscure punk and dub reggae LPs, then a dash to the Tandang Store in Kampung Baru Ampang, Kuala Lumpur is a must.

“Since we opened this trading space last October, we have been selling lots of hardcore/punk LPs as well as many different styles of metal music, be it doom, death metal or grindcore,” said Wan Hazril, 32, who is one of the hands-on partners in the store’s operations.

“We have also started to carry some dub reggae, pysch rock, blues, indie and jazz LPs. Many kids don’t really associate these LPs with the punk/hardcore/metal stuff. But at Tandang, we are trying to change mindsets. You might like doom metal, but we can recommend some experimental jazz that is equally interesting. We think it’s really important to introduce music when you have the opportunity, and with a record store, you can build a connection with the people who come through the door,” he added.

Elsewhere, there’s an inspired collaboration between Ruby Music Centre and Cool Record Shop in Petaling Jaya. Ruby Music Centre, which opened in 1972, is still being run by Tham Peng Kee, who has defied the odds and kept his neighbourhood store going with surplus vinyl stock from warehouses and closed down record stores nationwide.

“Maybe this is the oldest vinyl shop in the country. I don’t know, I just enjoy doing what I do ... selling records,” said Tham, 68, who proudly claims that his “new old stock” selections have attracted crate-diggers from Europe and South-East Asia.

“I have loads of Chinese records from the 1970s and there are many unopened boxes of disco-era LPs and pop/funk records. All unplayed. Where do I get my stock from, you ask? Of course, I can’t tell you. It’s a trade secret,” he said with a laugh.

These days, Ruby Music Centre shares floor space with Cool Record Shop, which is run by Cheah Mun Kit, 55. This two-in-one shoplot arrangement works out to be a treat for record hunters. Ruby Music has the surplus LP bargains while Cool Record Shop, which opened last August, is slowly drawing the masses in with its range of mainstream jazz, pop, Chinese and audiophile quality LPs.

“The good news is, we also have a stash of limited edition Record Store Day titles. Some REM, The Doors, Green Day ... the list looks good. Just come over (today), we’ll be more than happy to show you around both our ‘stores’. This vinyl revival has also made it possible for music fans to shop in a real vintage record store like Ruby Music Centre. Who would have thought that this would be happening in 2014,” declared an amused Cheah.

> More info on Joe’s MAC (Music, Art & Collectibles), Hard Graft Records, Tandang Store and Teenage Head Records can be found on Facebook. Ruby Music Centre/Cool Record Shop is located at 26, Jalan 21/19, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Lifestyle, Record Store Day, Klang Valley, Vinyl

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