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Rediscovering the real thing
Collecting the past for the record
By Avanti Nim
STEP into Past Image and you're greeted by a wave of nostalgia. From old movie posters to local historical documents and rare vinyl records, this vintage collectibles store has it all.
Owner Willy Ong opened his store in 1991 but has been collecting since he was 20. "I wanted to share my passion for collectibles with people, and since I was running out of space at home, there was no better time to (open shop)," says the 64-year-old. "Selling the items also means I have more income to keep my collection afloat."
Although his vast assortment of memorabilia spans the entire shop, vintage records make up about 40 per cent of the sales. Mr Ong notes: "Vinyl is definitely coming back into fashion. I think people started buying them for sentimental reasons or for investment, but then they realised records offer a better sound quality because they're analogue, rather than digital like CDs. Over the last couple of years, I've definitely seen an increase in the number of young people who purchase my records."
What makes this record store stand out from the others is that about 70 per cent of the few thousand records on offer are in Mandarin. These are much rarer than their English counterparts, and can fetch anywhere from S$5 to S$1,000.
Mr Ong explains: "I chose to sell mostly Chinese records because I think you have to sell what you know, not what you think will make money. I've always had an affinity for these, and it's lucky that most other stores specialise in English music, because it means my store has a niche market in which to operate."
While Mr Ong would prefer to only sell vinyl records at his store, his specialised collection of music means that it's just not possible. Apart from the Mandarin selection, Past Image also stocks vintage Singaporean records, given to Mr Ong by band members or their families.
He adds: "There aren't as many Chinese or local records in the global market, so they're very difficult to source. I buy most of mine from other collectors, and though a small selection is available online, the shipping costs make it quite prohibitive. So I have to sell other items to supplement our sales, or the store just won't survive."
Past Image is at #03-08 Excelsior Shopping Centre, 5 Coleman Street. Open on Monday to Friday from 11am to 6pm and on Saturday from 11am to 4pm. For more information, call 6339 3985
A musical adventure awaits
SURFACE Noise is a wonderland for music buffs. Not only does it stick out like a sore thumb among the older businesses in the blast-from-the-past Textile Centre, but it also stocks the most improbable-sounding genres that might leave even the most ardent music fan scratching his or her head.
But if anybody is curious enough to find out what exactly is Sludge, D-Beat, Crust or Screamo, then be sure to drop in for an aural surprise.
Set up by Zhafran Mohd, Suhayl Agoes Djaja and Hasib Khan - the founders of 4490 Records, Canopus Distro and Azadghei Records respectively - Surface Noise opened last month and is the newest entrant to the local independent record store scene.
With each of them specialising in different types of underground alternative music, Suhayl says the collaboration allows them to offer customers a bigger and more diverse mix.
Of special interest is Surface Noise's strong selection of local and regional indie titles - some released by the respective "distros" - on vinyl, CD and even cassette tape, the forgotten analogue format that has been making a quiet comeback recently.
Despite the loud music they sometimes play in-store, the older tenants of the building have been "showing the love" for the new kid on the block, as Surface Noise has injected new life into the quiet shopping centre.
The owners are not worried about the lack of footfall because it is just across the street from the bustling Kampong Glam district. The trio have also built a sizeable following from the years they have been running their distros from their homes.
Running a store now has also helped them overcome some of the challenges they faced doing business online: they no longer have to worry about setting up a mutually convenient time and place for delivery or answer queries about what is in stock or not, because the public can just walk in.
In the spirit of encouraging visitors to discover as much new music as possible whenever they pop by, prices are kept as low as possible with most items averaging around the S$20-S$30 mark.
Tapes start from only S$5 while local garage punk-rock band Daily Ritual's self-titled album on vinyl is going for just S$15.
"Our prices are wallet-friendly, and we definitely intend to keep it that way," adds Suhayl.
Surface Noise is located at #04-16 Textile Centre. Open 2pm to 8pm on Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Monday). For more information, check its Facebook page or email email@example.com
A must-visit museum for metalheads
WHEN Mohamad Khalid Bin Sulaiman finishes work, he doesn't go home. Instead, he heads to Golden Mile Tower every evening and remains there late into the night to run his underground extreme metal music shop Ravage Records. (Richard Clayderman and Taylor Swift fans, look elsewhere.)
His "supportive and understanding" wife doesn't mind at all as the store also doubles as a home away from home for the die-hard fan of the genre who also plays in local black metal band Balberith. In addition to the CDs, vinyls, tapes, T-shirts and accessories on sale, the space also doubles as a museum of his impressive personal collection of music and related paraphernalia including out-of-print albums, video tapes, figurines and vintage wear.
Khaal, as he is known to his metalhead customers and friends, has been a legend of sorts in the scene for almost two decades now, having started Ravage Records in 1998 when he was still in school. "Back then I was already mail-ordering a lot of stuff for myself and my friends because you can't get them in Singapore; things just grew from there," says the 36-year-old.
In the beginning, he would travel around town, delivering the items personally to his customers at places like Funan Centre, Plaza Singapura and Forum The Shopping Mall which were regular haunts for fans of extreme metal music. "But it was tiring being a walking salesman so I tried looking at some central locations but I didn't want my overheads to be too high otherwise I cannot price my stuff as cheaply as possible," shares Khaal.
Since 2002, he has settled in the Beach Road area. He started out at the Army Market above Golden Mile Food Centre, but his growing inventory made him move to a bigger space at Golden Mile Complex and then Golden Mile Tower next door for about four years now.
Ravage Records attracts both local extreme metal lovers as well as visitors from all over the world who had found out about the shop.
On weekends, it's almost like a community event with the crowd not only browsing but also interacting with one another over their shared interests.
To call the 18-year effort a labour of love is an understatement considering Khaal sold most of his possessions including his beloved guitar to set up Ravage Records. "I started this with just S$2 with the intention of helping my friends but this shop has turned into my second home," he muses. "I'm not a businessman - metal is my passion - so I'm not afraid of losing money; I just want this to be the best metal store in Singapore."
Ravage Records is located at #02-41 Golden Mile Tower. Open 5pm to 10pm on Wednesday to Monday (closed on Tuesday). For more information, call 9792 9305 or check its Facebook page