It’s often been described, erroneously, as a comeback, what with music stores liberally stocking them these days. Vinyl records, actually, never really went away. Labels might have stopped reissuing them in the 1990s and early noughties, but new releases, and reissues, are coming thick and fast once more.
While the culture in Malaysia may still be at novelty level, the situation in a metropolis like London, is entirely different.
A recent trip there proved very fruitful to my “digging” ambitions. A simple Google search will reveal much more than a handful of music stores in the city, and many of them boast a vast vinyl section. There’s a piece of the pie for every kind of music lover, too, which is why some stores are genre-centric … dance, indie, etc.
But I was after a broader spectrum of the music sphere, so, Music & Video Exchange proved to be a great bet, a store with two branches in London … one smack in the city, and the other in Greenwich.
Walk into either one of the stores, and it’s immediately apparent that this is the handiwork of music and vinyl connoisseurs. Used records are separated by their price, and since I was armed with prior knowledge that the “bargain” section often contains gems, that’s where I remained … and unearthed most of the 1980s synth pop titles I was looking for … paying nothing more than £4 (RM23) per piece, and forking out as little as 50p (RM2.90) for a copy of Level 42’s Level Best: A Collection of Their Greatest Hits.
So, what music is most sought after? Greenwich store owner, Jamie Upton, says that classic rock titles shift the fastest and in the largest quantities, too, name checking The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen and more.
Casbah Records in Greenwich also observes a similar trend in listener taste, with its owner Graham Davis echoing Upton’s sentiments: “A copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours will only last a few days in the store,” he said of the once-highest-selling album released in 1977.
Naturally, the range of titles reaches either end of the spectrum – good and “bad” records. “Easy listening music records could be described as ‘bad’ records, which we sell, of course,” Upton jested amusingly. Richard Clayderman, anyone?
Record buyers make up a motley bunch, and Upton has noticed a slight shift in clientele. “We get tourists, students, middle-aged men and all kinds of people, but in the last five years, I’ve noticed more younger people,” he said, unwittingly describing a crowd that could easily encompass hipsters.
Davis, likewise, observes a similarity in a younger buying audience. “We are situated between two universities (University of Greenwich and Greenwich Community College), so, a lot of younger people come into the store. We also have a lot of tourists, and there are also more people in Greenwich these days,” he said, citing the rapid development of the quaint, early-established district of the present London. His shop, of course, also profits from a steady stream of regulars.
The last 10 years have seen remarkable growth in vinyl releases, and while this may bode well for the industry, casualties exist, too – like dance music. “We have always sold dance music, but that trend has fallen away in the last decade. I guess that’s because people are buying downloads of it instead of physical copies … it’s hard times for dance music now,” he said, attributing the genre’s decline in the vinyl format to pressing plants being occupied printing reissue titles of other genres.
Given that the CD market has shrunk, which Upton reckons has directly been the result of piracy, more albums and seven-inch singles are appearing on vinyl. He feels this has changed listening habits, too, but also reminded of an age-old culprit: “The economy in the country isn’t that great, either.”
The scenario is very similar at Casbah Records, where Davis has observed records shifting quicker than CDs, and now more than ever, less familiar titles moving out fastest. “An Oasis or David Bowie title might have sold 25 copies each before, which is good, but that has changed,” he said, explaining that times can get hard for a newer and independent store like his, which specialises in new titles, with some used fare to boot.
Conceding to some head-scratching himself, Upton, though, has managed to find some logic in seeing younger people buying Blondie and Grace Jones records. “Those artistes look great, and those records sound good, too.”
For a store like Music & Video Exchange, its inventory comes from formerly avid music collectors. “These are older people who sell records because they are selling off their homes to move to smaller ones,” he said, citing space constraints as their usual reason.
In the exchange and buying practice of Music & Video Exchange, nothing legal is refused. “Between here (Greenwich) and Nottinghill, we have 30 to 40 staff who are specialist buyers, and who pick out the best stuff for us to sell,” Upton added, intimating that his store sells “something for everyone”.
With Casbah Records, it’s a straight up job of acquiring stock from major distributors and smaller labels. The opportunity to purchase from underground labels gives the store an added advantage of covering most musical bases.
“We try to sell the best of everything, the cream of the crop, and we try to present that approach in an attractive way … to make the store interesting. We do the best we can to maintain good customer service,” explained Davis.
And if there’s one thing that’s apparent with the record buying thrill in London, it’s knowledgeable staff who extend great service. Sure, you can always trust a Google search for info or recommendations, but educated store hands offer just that bit extra, making record buying a soulfully-satisfying experience. I should know … I returned home with 25 pieces of vinyl (finally completing my Nik Kershaw trilogy of albums) and just about the same number of CDs. Now, that’s shopping!