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Back into the groove
RESIST the temptation to pack that dusty old turntable and send it off to The Salvation Army because it hasn't been used for decades - this might be the time to hook it up again.
With the vinyl revival now in full swing, putting something on to spin - whether it's the latest Eric Clapton album, a reissued Beatles classic, or a Pet Shop Boys 12-inch single - has never been easier.
While compact disc (CD) sales overtook vinyl and almost condemned it to music history during the 1990s, the latter has been staging a comeback after digital downloads became the new dominant force.
Ironically, it is probably easier now to find Adele's new album on wax than on CD, thanks to a new wave of vinyl record shops that have been opening - and expanding - over the last couple of years.
Vinylicious Records kick-started the trend when it opened in Parklane Shopping Mall in early 2013. It has since shifted to Peninsula Shopping Centre and also has two outpost operations - a branch at Orchard Gateway which will be fully operational by November and the one-year-old The Analog Vault at The Esplanade.
Owner Eugene Ow Yong says expanding has helped him to reach out to more music-lovers.
The Orchard Gateway outlet was initially only a testbed and pop-up shop of sorts to see if casual shoppers and tourists would be interested in vinyls.
"A lot of people who bought records from us there have actually never heard of Vinylicious," says Mr Ow Yong, much to his surprise.
Sales over the last fortnight have also been so encouraging that he is "going full steam ahead" and turning it into "a full-fledged music shop that will also stock CDs, posters and other music paraphernalia".
Music lifestyle stores
Similarly, The Analog Vault - which stocks jazz, classical, hip hop, electronic dance music and lounge titles in addition to books - also has helped Mr Ow Yong to tap into a niche segment of music-lovers which are different from the ones who frequent Vinylicious for its more mainstream selection of vinyls.
"I was initially apprehensive as I wasn't as familiar with (The Analog Vault's) genres which are picked by our curator Sharon Seet but went along with it and it's been growing from strength to strength - that taught me you can't just stick to music you know," he admits.
Also hot on the expansion trail is lifestyle music store Hear Records which has been operating out of Burlington Square for the last three-and-a-half years.
With two weekly shipments of new titles and one monthly of pre-loved vinyls, the shop is perennially stacked wall-to-wall with records.
On weekends, customers hunched over while "crate-digging" (the term vinyl enthusiasts use to describe the act of searching through piles of records) has become a common sight; bringing new life to the once-sleepy shopping mall.
Hence, it's only natural that owner Nick Tan has been toying with the idea of a second outlet for some time now and the delay was due to his search for the ideal location.
He initially wanted somewhere central - "If you want the masses, you need to go to the masses," Mr Tan explains - and searched high and low for the last six months from Tanglin to Raffles Place before settling for Chinatown.
The new branch is currently under renovation and will officially open for business on Oct 28. At over 300 sq ft, it will be as big as its flagship.
Mr Tan says nostalgia is a reason why he has chosen to be in Chinatown: one of the music shops he grew up with, Foo Leong Record Store, is just a stone's throw away. "I'm here at least once a week so this is like my second home," he adds.
Mr Tan also likes the area for its history and heritage which adds to its character - something which he feels every record shop also must have.
Like its flagship, the new store promises to be both a hangout and hideout for music-lovers; and boasts extended opening hours for those who knock off late.
Mr Tan even has a unique hiring policy: "Some people might feel stressed out from their jobs; so we have one-day part-timers who come in and do something they enjoy instead for a change by getting a taste of what it's like to work in a record store. This is their asylum!"
Over in the eastern part of Singapore, two new music shops have also recently opened - Barbershop Music, located within hairdressing salon The Panic Room in Geylang officially launched in August; while RetroCrates, which started online last October, has taken the plunge and gone the brick-and-mortar way.
The latter, run by a husband-and-wife team, Dennis and Celia-Ann Tay, is situated in Joo Chiat and opened for business exactly a week ago. The couple, who are East-enders and live just around the corner, says they have decorated the second-floor shop-house unit to make it their second home. "There is a kitchen area and there is a living room area, complete with comfy sofa, a rug and cushions, to sit back and enjoy the music," muses Mrs Tay, who used to work in the IT sector.
That is why they were clear about not setting up shop in a mall: "We chose a place that could have been somebody's home ... where everybody is welcome to crate-dig, lounge around and feel comfortable - whether you are starting out or restarting the vinyl journey."
Mrs Tay adds that despite the growing number of record stores in Singapore, they "tend to complement each other, rather than compete".
Keeping the music alive
While RetroCrates also carries a range of contemporary pop and indie titles, its speciality lies in used classic 1980s New Wave pop - think Roxy Music, Duran Duran, a-ha, Bronski Beat, Blondie, Pet Shop Boys and more - which the Tays themselves are fans of and grew up on.
Mrs Tay notes that having both virtual and physical storefronts allow customers to enjoy the best of both worlds: "Online is for those who know exactly what they want and have no time to venture to a shop; and a brick-and-mortar shop for those who want to browse, to feel, touch and crate-dig."
She adds that running her own record store is also more than just a dream come true. "I think it is not (just) about getting into the trade; it's more about following my passion from a wee kid till now - it's more about the love of music in my life and keeping the music alive."
Where to indulge in a spot of crate-digging
WHILE The Adelphi is home to some of Singapore's oldest record shops and has the most number of music stores under one roof, there are also plenty located island-wide for vinyl-lovers to check out. Here are some of our favourites, new and old:
The Barbershop Music
311A Geylang Road
If crate-digging is a vice, then The Barbershop Music has found itself a perfect home in the heart of Singapore's red light district. Used vinyls start from as low as S$5. Pamper yourself with a haircut and shave at the barbershop the store is located in on the way out.
55 Tiong Bahru Road, #01-53
@CuratedRecords on Facebook
Come for the coffee and cafes in Tiong Bahru; but stay for music. Curated Records' boyish owner Tremon Lim is big on alternative and obscure acts, so do remember to ask him for recommendations if you are feeling musically adventurous.
House of Turntables
9 Raffles Boulevard, Millenia Walk #01-42
One-stop shop for turntables, new and used vinyls and other accessories - just tell owner Kevin Pang your budget and he will work something out for you. Its new location is now in Millenia Walk.
175 Bencoolen Street, Burlington Square, #01-39
@HearRecords and @HearRecordsChinatown on Facebook
Hot new releases sell out extremely fast at Hear Records so check its Facebook page for weekly updates on what is coming in. Busy on weekends so if you want to have a chat with owner Nick Tan, weekdays are the best to pop by. Customers can also help themselves to the whisky. Hear Records will open its second store next month in Chinatown.
6001 Beach Road, Golden Mile Tower, #02-41
@RavageShop on Facebook
Every genre of heavy metal you can imagine under one roof run by long-time fan Mohamad Khalid Bin Sulaiman who operates it in the evening on top of his day-job. The shop doubles as a museum for rare rock paraphernalia that are owned by him and not for sale.
Red Point Record Warehouse
80 Playfair Road, Kapo Factory Building, Blk B #06-11
@RedPointRecord on Facebook
A treasure trove of used records in the heart of an industrial estate. Red Point stocks every imaginable genre from pop in every language to classical and even Cantonese opera.
448A Joo Chiat Road
Katong and Joo Chiat are not just for foodies with this New Kid on the Block (1980s boyband pun intentional) entering the local record store scene. For those looking to get (or get back) into vinyls, they stock a highly affordable USB turntable for under S$200.
200 Jln Sultan, #04-16, Textile Centre
Stocking the most improbable-sounding genres (Sludge, D-Beat, Crust or Screamo, anyone?) that might leave even the most ardent music fan scratching his or her head, Surface Music opened earlier this year and is the collaborative effort between four local independent distributors. Drop in for an aural surprise. Tapes start from S$5 if you really want to go old school.
3 Coleman Street, #03-01, Peninsula Shopping Centre
The shop that started the wave of new record stores in Singapore.
The main branch stocks new and used titles including rare and first pressings which one usually only finds on eBay; while its two outposts - The Analog Vault at the Esplanade and a second Vinylicious branch at Orchard Gateway - have other unique offerings.
Zenn Audio Electronics
292 Bedok Road, Bedok Shopping Complex
Simpang Bedok is known for the multiple bak chor mee stalls in the day and prata shops in the night but it's also home to Zenn, which repairs and sells turntables and also has vinyls, amplifiers and speakers for sale.
By Dylan Tan