Hunting for gems
By DARYL GOH
Collecting vinyl can be a very challenging but satisfying hobby.
EVER felt you were going around in circles? When it comes to vinyl collecting, that is the feeling you get with each visit to the Sunday flea market at Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya.
Renowned as the thriving hub of the second-hand market for LPs and obscure vinyl, Amcorp Mall has served collectors well in the last eight years, but there is a niggling feeling that the hunt for good titles and the excitement of stumbling upon a rare find is starting to dry up.
Most will agree that the audiophile crowd with their expensive hi-fi equipment can lay claim to keeping vinyl alive during the format’s lean years. But the true renaissance of record collecting in Malaysia has a lot to do with ordinary (and younger) music fans catching the LP bug, and they shouldn’t be airbrushed out of the story.
“Vinyl is big business. There is a lot of recycling going on between the (vinyl) sellers at Amcorp and you tend to see the same records moving to different stalls every weekend,” said Joe Rozario, 59, who runs Joe’s MAC (Music, Art & Collectibles), a cavernous store at the basement of Amcorp Mall.
Rozario, known as the “vinyl guru” to his loyal clientele, isn’t too worried about decreasing interest in vinyl collecting because of the limited titles and genre range available to the masses here.
“Do you want to know who is buying vinyl now? Young adults and people aged 30 to 40. This new generation will start off with the basic second-hand titles – The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, etc – but they tend to move on and ask for albums that they also grew up with,” he added, pointing out that Britpop bands, grunge groups and heavy metal LPs are much sought after.
“As far as the Malaysian second-hand market for vinyl goes, most of the production and import titles stopped in the late 1980s. That was the period when only hardcore collectors held on to their LP-buying habits while loads of stores were throwing out their stocks to make way for CDs.”
The friendly Rozario, who can count on a stock supply of over 10,000 LPs in his store and home, admits that there is strong demand for rock-based LPs and the enquiries for jazz, vintage soul and Americana records are also growing.
“If you are a music fan with a broader taste, what’s available in the second-hand vinyl market here is rather small in terms of selection. This is not the US or England where you can get a wide range of albums and genres.
“In the 1960s in Malaysia, we had a market cornered by popular music. That carried on into the 70s and 80s. It is very difficult to track down rare and niche albums, whether jazz or classic soul, on LP.”
Of course, the “vinyl guru” sees a niche that needs to be filled urgently. “We do special orders for our customers and we are also making plans to cater to this new, young market.”
Regarded as a walking dictionary of classic rock, Rozario laughs when asked about younger fans badgering him about importing newer rock titles. “You get more people asking about White Stripes on LP than Deep Purple these days. But I’m afraid the costs of bringing in new LPs from Radiohead and the indie type bands are rather prohibitive.”
According to Rozario, adding new LPs from contemporary bands to his store is a risk because some of these records can cost from RM80 to RM250 (box-sets). For the moment, Joe’s MAC store will remain a second-hand vinyl destination, but there are plans afoot later this year to import selected new LP titles.
A key reason why new vinyl may be difficult to find here is that most of the stores that deal with vinyl are independent shops that don’t have a contact (or account) with the major record labels. Major labels here also rarely import vinyl, but you can find Universal Malaysia, Warner Malaysia and EMI occasionally activating their vinyl catalogue on special orders.
Apart from audiophile stores offering premium grade LPs and heavy metal specialist stores in Pertama Complex in Kuala Lumpur, the MPH outlet in 1 Utama in Petaling Jaya is a word-of-mouth destination for regular vinyl junkies. The store’s music section, which imports anywhere from 10 to 40 albums a month, is one of the few places in the Klang Valley that maintains a rack for new vinyl with affordable pricing.
InterGlobal Music, an independent label, is also drawn to the vinyl importing game, and with a catalogue that includes the Rhino (180g) titles, Universal imports and MoFi reissues (of classic albums on vinyl), things are beginning to improve on the selection front.
“Vinyl is not a cheap hobby but I’m optimistic that this format will hold a strong, dedicated fan-base. While paying for good vinyl may not be a problem (for some), locating the albums can be difficult,” said Cheah Mun Kit, managing director of InterGlobal.
Major labels rarely press more than 5,000 copies of a given title while specialist labels tend to be more restrictive in their print run.
Another familiar face at the Amcorp Mall flea market is Nazmin Nazin, the “commander-in-chief” of the Helter Skelter vinyl stall that specialises in much sought-after second-hand LP imports from the United States, limited editions and a fair amount of new vinyl.
“You can find dedicated music lovers, a lot of them in their mid-20s, clued up on the vinyl scene. They also know how much an original Stone Roses LP or a rare Smashing Pumpkins pressing can cost,” said thirtysomething Nazmin who has been actively importing vinyl independently for nearly seven years.
On the subject of the new generation of record-loving fans, the Internet is a major source for obtaining new vinyl. With Amazon.com launching its massive online vinyl store early this year, prices have become more competitive for LPs shipped from the United States rather than the more traditional British online sites.
Matthew Tan, a fashion buyer and devoted indie music fan, noted: “If you don’t have a job that takes you abroad, I reckon buying vinyl online is the best and cheapest option for music fans who want the latest releases.
“I pre-ordered the new Portishead album, a double LP, and the Tings Tings debut; they cost me about RM60 to RM70 each (with shipping) from Amazon. The bargains are endless if you surf long enough.”
Auction site eBay and British online sites like Soul Jazz, Juno, Rough Trade and Honest Jon’s are some of the favourite stops for this 27-year-old, who stopped buying CDs regularly since he started his vinyl collection a year ago.
Naveen Balasingam, an engineer in his early 30s, is a rare case in the vinyl-collecting field. Clearly ahead of the game, he started in the mid-1990s, buying radio promo and second-hand LPs on the cheap in Subang Jaya, Selangor.
“There was this little store in front of Taylor’s College (in Subang Jaya) and they were getting rid of loads of perfectly good condition and current titles at RM12 or less. As a student (then), these LPs were definitely cheaper than cassettes and CDs – and my dad had a record player at home. It made sense to buy LPs and they are worth a lot more now,” said Naveen, who has amassed about 400 titles on LP including a nearly complete Soundgarden collection.
Whether spotting an obscure classic at the flea markets across the nation, crate-digging for second-hand gems at places like Amcorp Mall, locating quality buys at audiophile haunts or sourcing for new vinyl online, there is no denying that the vinyl fad is a special, growing niche – and it is here for the long haul.