This coming Saturday is Record Store Day, an event originally started in 2008 to promote the then marginalised vinyl record format which was supposedly being superseded by CDs and digital music files. And then what happened? On one hand, we can be cynical and take note of a pretentious hipster reversion to the old school, a technology that in fact, at times, sounds worse than newer formats.
But part of the impetus for Record Store Day was also to support your friendly local independent music outlet, the types that were hanging in there supported by the weight of a secondary market, all those crates of records that had been released years and tens of years ago, and that in some cases were being shuttled off to the landfill.
As with many forecasts of the obsolescence of analog formats (books, records) due to the all-encompassing binary code, it turns out that a lot of people want the object. This desire for tangibility also includes analog’s mode of listening, a somewhat more communal experience then the inherent isolation of the digital ear bud.
This otherwise trendy hipster cycle, that eventually saw the reversal of the decline of vinyl records’ sales, reached an absurdist apex when HMV, in a ploy to reverse its own obsolescence (or bankruptcy) turned over a large portion of its floor to vinyl record sales. These were all “classic” reissues released by major labels in a corporate chain store as opposed to selling previously owned records or something you won’t find in a chain store.
So once again, as far as the impetus for Record Store Day, we are left with the all too-necessary support for your friendly local independent cultural outlet, the types that want to earn a living but correctly balance that need with the passions of the music lover . . . here’s your comprehensive guide:
Hong Kong Island:
Classic Shop: Room 201, Won Hing Building, 74 – 78 Stanley Street, Central. Tel: 2541 7733. Email: [email protected]
This shop is right off the Central escalator, down the alley that is packed with the iconic dai pai dongs (open air restaurants) that appear in Wong Kar Wai’s “Chungking Express”. That alone should provoke the wanderer in you, because you have to poke around, keeping an eye out for Classic Shop’s non-descript signage.
Nevertheless, the shop has been there for 20 years selling a large selection of Jazz, Rock, Classical and Asian Pop along with used audio equipment. This is one shop where I have found it worth my while to dig through their Jazz bins, bagging releases by the likes of Lester Young and David Murray. On my most recent visit, though I was trying to resist buying anything, keeping to my agenda to mapping rather than purchasing, I couldn’t resist a Sidney Bechet 10 inch release with an awesome cover drawing of the saxophonist/clarinetist.
Here’s a hint about your “local friendly record shop”: loyal, return customers of places like the Classic Shop (owned and operated by Chau Yiu Keung) will usually give you a discount on multiple item purchases.
Collectables, started by two brothers in 1992, is the first used vinyl store I came across after I had moved to Hong Kong in 2005. By then, I had probably also discovered the junk shops on Cat Street in Sheung Wan where one can also trawl for vinyl records; in fact at that time I bought some records on Cat Street that are now considered rare – Hong Kong and Taiwanese singers from the 1960s and 70s.
It was KY Chan of Collectables (who tragically died of brain cancer in 2009) who basically guided me through Hong Kong bands like Beyond, Joe Junior, Teddy Robbin and Sam Hui let alone more avant-garde fare like Cricket (蟋). Inexplicably after many years KY’s brother, Joe, has moved the store from Queen Victoria Street in Central to Hong Kong City Hall, keeping the light burning with a paired down version of the original stock.
What sells here? I found a Pat Boon pro-America Vietnam War album (“Wish You Were Here, Buddy” HK$180), and in a drawer full of 45s, a nice picture sleeved Harry James selection, but in an accurate marker of Collectables’ market potential there was a full line of original releases of old school “Shanghai Style” singers, such as the pictured selection of Poon Sow Keng selling for HK$2,850. Someone’s buying…
Walls of Sound: 3F, 38 Cochrane Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2805 1584
This shop is also off the Central escalator, but it’s quite visible, at one point level with your progression up the automatic stairs. And speaking of stairs, you have to walk up a few to reach Walls of Sound tiny third floor room; that’s probably one thing that keeps this record store financially viable.
Owned and operated by Elton Wong since 2009, the store has a juicy display of vintage Jazz albums way up near the ceiling. These are hands-off not-for-sale items from Elton’s personal collection, which demonstrates the cultural (rather than financial) investment one puts into this type of retail. Walls of Sound has a well-rounded selection of DVD, CDs, and vinyl records in all genres. One of my personal best, and thoroughly inexpensive finds at this particular shop is a Taiwanese bootleg of Dean Martin’s Greatest Hits with a miss-registered and overly-saturated image of Dino himself.
The Beat Records: G/F, 53 Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon. Tel: 2780 0956. Email: [email protected]
One of the more “upscale” or profitable but decidedly local of my selections. The Beat Records is squeezed behind some of the Ladies Market street stalls in Mong Kok. In it’s “cockloft” it carries a large stock of “classic” reissues (released on 180 gram vinyl) like HMV. But dig deep enough and you might find some obscure, avant-garde (and thus cheaper) records.
On the ground floor there is a large stock of Hong Kong, Taiwanese, Japanese and all Asia releases, both on vinyl and CD (like the Wong Kar Wai soundtrack picture disc seen in the composite photo above). The store also carries action figures of some of your favourite musicians (also seen in composite photo).
And if you’re budget minded, the store manifests the region’s curious approach to copyright: there is a selection of cheap (HK$48) clean but basically-packaged bootleg CDs of classic Hip Hop, Rock and Jazz albums.
Old Sound Collection: 13/F Sino Centre, 582-592 Nathan Road. Tel: 2359 9826
The Sino Center itself is a required destination for those both on and off the Hong Kong tourist track. It is an essential distillation of large and small stores (and various other businesses) that deal in the trendy and obscure; an organised yet chaotic encapsulation of the leisure, entertainment and cultural inclinations of the trans-Asian audience.
Old Sound Collection is not the only record, or used record store in the Sino Center; there are 12 other floors of The Sino Centre to go through before you get to its overflowing collection that includes not only used records (which take up most of its space) but all kinds of printed matter and ephemera from Hong Kong’s past. Run by the affable Mr. Liu (Liu Shun Kwong) the store was filled with customers on the day that I dropped by, but I managed to squeeze in and find two seven inch 33 1/3 Japanese issued Jazz EPs.
But there is always plenty to look at here: Bruce Lee and The Beatles paraphernalia, ancient manga and graphic novels, pages from defunct Chinese language newspapers, along with a healthy stock of used records. I always find something here, and Mr. Liu has always provided me with a more than reasonable price for multiple item purchases.
Paul’s Records: Flat D, 5/F, Wai Hong Building, 239 Cheung Sha Wan Road, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon. Tel: 9841 7136
Paul is practically a Hong Kong cultural institution, certainly a legend. He is almost an experience, an act, more than a store.
The store itself, a typical Sham Shui Po Apliu Street flat, is packed like a warehouse, stacked with vinyl records from floor to ceiling. And then in Tuen Mun, Paul has another warehouse full of records.
His store has also been named “Vinyl Hero”; he adopts whatever wayward vinyl crosses his path. There are no bins here, no titled categories, only the stacks of records, but believe me, you will find something; not to mention that Paul can usually locate something in the maze approximate to what you are looking for.
This store (or company) is well established with two locations, one on Hong Kong Island and one in Mong Kok. While The Beat Records (also in Mong Kok) carries reissues of Leslie Cheung (etc.), Shun Cheong Record Co., Ltd. is split between Jazz and Classical reissues on vinyl and CD, demonstrating another aspect of local taste and/or what the market will bear.
There are many things here that looked tasty, but with the prices for vinyl averaging at HK$280 and CDs at HK$150, I was, at the crucial moments, able to restrain myself. I include the image of the Cannonball Adderley album carried by Shun Cheong as an ironic example of the nature of contemporary vinyl record reissues: the album originally comes from a British based budget Jazz series from the 1960s that took bits and piece from albums of African-American Jazz legends and repackaged them.
Those albums are thoroughly enjoyable but far from rare; I collected three of them by combing the racks of Collectables when it was on Victoria Street. I suspect the original marketing, the record cover design, is one reason why it was reissued; it is what attracted me in the first place.
White Noise Records: 1/F, 720 Shanghai Street, Prince Edwards, Kowloon. Tel: 2591 0499.
White Noise is also a Hong Kong cultural institution, not only maintaining a vital and eclectic range of avant-garde, obscure, and hard to find releases but also showing that there is indeed a place (a niche) for these kinds of audio pursuits within Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial strictures.
The range of their stock includes USA and European Free Jazz, Japanese Psychedelic, Noise, Field Recordings, Indie-Rock (and all its sub-genres) and on and on (both on CD and vinyl). They have also hosted touring bands, both in and out of the store, along with other music related events.
Located at the far end of Temple Street in Prince Edwards, an image of the ground floor doorway is included here (in the composite photo, along with an image of owner Gary Leong) as the building’s owner has refused to let then put up any signage.
I believe Zoo Records has or had wider ambitions, as their stickers (in photo) say “label and distribution”.
Zoo could be seen as a cousin of White Noise (who they have worked with) but with an serious emphasis on Indie Rock, musicians like Damon Albarn or Jarvis Cocker. They used to have a larger store in another location in Mong Kok but are currently housed in one those fascinating offshoots of the ubiquitous Hong Kong mall, the mini-mall, one of those floors or floor of tiny DIY start-up shops.
This is one part of crate digging (or record shopping in Hong Kong) that should not be neglected – finding your way in and out of the mazes and warrens of Hong Kong architecture.
Back To Music: 1F, 45 Main Street, Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island, Hong Kong
A used record store on Lamma? And not only that, but a viable used record store on Lamma. Back To Music has not only hung in there for three years but after two years it upgraded and moved to a larger and more prominent location.
Like many a used record dealer in Hong Kong, owner Ming Ho is personable, willing to chat about music and/or dig up your requested genre. On my last visit he recounted a touching story about his very first purchase, the record that got him on his way – an album by the British synthpop band Yazoo, and Ming, while being dedicated enough to scrape together enough coins to buy Yazoo’s album, still hadn’t put together enough coins to buy a record player! Now he’s got a whole well organised store full of records along with racks of used cassette tapes, CDs and DVDs.
In order to take a random sampling of Hong Kong taste (as far as recordings from the past) I asked Ming what his biggest seller was. He immediately pulled out the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
Please be advised: while I started by calling this guide comprehensive this survey it is far from complete. I wanted to round off the guide at an even ten, but there is also (for example) Ducky’s Records, 4F Chong Kee House, 21 Soy Street, Mong Kok, and for online purchases the Hong Kong based Vintage Vinyl can be found at http://www.discogs.com/user/VVHK/collection
Readers are welcome and encouraged to cite any other record store in the comments section below!