Monday, July 12, 2010

The black circle is spinning again

I love to read about the vinyl record resurgence and yes, vinyl is a 'hot' item in other parts of the world.  Here's a great article, read on:

Tifa Asrianti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It’s almost a clich√© to say that vinyl records are for old folk, people who have so much time for the Beatles or Beethoven.

Invented in the thirties as then the most convenient sound-carrying medium, the black vinyl fell by the wayside in the late 1980s, soon after the mass-production of the compact disc (CD).

And as the compact disc has now been eclipsed by the even more convenient mp3, the strange thing is that long-playing (LP) records is making a comeback, especially among serious music fans who scoff at the cold comfort of mp3s and the miniaturized music of the CD format.

Some of Indonesia’s pressing plants were forced to shut down in the early 1980s and today no local music is released on black vinyl, but a group of dedicated music fans are going against the odds to collect vinyl records, both from local and international artists.

These people formed a kind of cult, speaking in their own language, showing off their collection online, logging on to eBay and Amazon to salivate over what’s in store and when necessary showing up in person in a small number of LP—peddling vendors left in some cities like Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya.

One of the collectors is Idhar Resmadi. The 24-year-old student from Bandung started collecting vinyl records in 2005, when he was still in his sophomore year. His first LP record was the greatest hit collection The Beach Boys Greatest Music, an obligatory item for collectors. He bought it for only Rp 50,000 (US$6).

“When I started collecting, I was a student and did not yet earn a living, so I only bought [LPs] when I had the money. But my quest for records only intensified in 2007,” he told The Jakarta Post .

Another vinyl aficionado is Anizar Yasmeen, a staffer at a state-run university in Malang, East Java. He only became interested in records earlier this year after his friends in Balikpapan—an affluent oil city in East Kalimantan—brought him into the eye-opening experience that comes with collecting vinyl.

The first LP he purchased was Led Zeppelin IV and Hot Space, an LP by Queen featuring glam rocker David Bowie. He got the Led Zeppelin album for Rp 50,000 and Hot Space for only Rp 30,000.

These first two LPs, in spite of their defects, left a lasting impression on him.

“Those first LP records already had scratches, but they still sound great. They are quality LPs records that I prize,” he said.

As any vinyl record collector are likely to do before querying skeptics, they launch into a long rant about how superior the sound quality of an LP compared to the dry sound of music from compact disc or the treble-heavy and tinny sound of mp3s.

“The sound is overwhelming, even the hissing and crackling sound that comes out of the player give you a feel-good sensation,” Idhar said.

And it is also predictable that the collection of both Idhar and Anizar have grown in number pretty rapidly in the past years, with Idhar amassing 80 LP records on his shelves including classics from Sonic Youth, Radiohead and My Bloody Valentine and Anizar owning 30 LP records from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Cocteau Twins and 10 EP records.

Idhar was convinced that LP records would soon catch on in the country and become a new trend after meeting with so many like-minded youth. Last year, he found a community in which members could meet and swap their collections or simply buy from others.

But as any other vinyl buffs would argue, swapping or selling is always a bad idea. “I always buy, never swap and sell. LP records are becoming more expensive by the day and are hard to find. And as you know, collectors usually have their own musical preferences. In Indonesia, LP records of metal bands are the most sought-after. Some collectors are not content with owning them on CDs they also buy LPs.

My preference is indie rock and pure electronic music,” he said.

Anizar is more eclectic. His collection ranges from LPs by hard-core bands like Shai Hulud and Have Heart to influential indie rockers the Smiths and lots of the Beatles.

“It is not easy to get LP records here in Malang, so I usually ask my friends who travel to Jakarta, Bandung or abroad [to buy me records]. I got my Beatles LPs from a friend who traveled to the Netherlands,” he said.

Anizar also goes online, connecting with people who sell LPs on their online store or community websites like Kaskus or even Facebook.

And logging on to these websites have somewhat taken its toll on him, financially. “The price range of LP records in Indonesia is between Rp 150,000 and Rp 300,000. I never have a budget for buying records.

I buy it once I got the money. Last month, I was almost broke from buying too many records,” he said.
Things are looking up for Idhar. He lives in Bandung, a city known for its creative industry and thriving music scene. In the city, Idhar can find shops selling records like Unkl 347 and Quickening.

Idhar also ventured into some districts in Bandung, known as haunts for record collectors. And now that he already earns a living, each month he spends Rp 500,000 to buy up to three LP records.

In Bandung, new vinyl releases (yes some foreign artists still release their album on vinyl) are available for Rp 400,000, whereas used records can be purchased at Rp 20,000.

However, for rare albums, prices can skyrocket. A release of Indonesian legend Koes Plus—a perennial favorite among music fans is available at Rp 6 million. But today, even a new release is offered at a seriously inflated price. An online vendor in Bandung offered a 3-LP reissue of brit-rock legend Stone Roses’ self-titled album at Rp 1.6 million.

But Idhar’s most prized possession is one released by local artists called Injak Balik (Step Back). The LP is a compilation of music from several Indonesian independent bands released by a French label in 1997. The album is politically-charged and only 10 records can be found in Indonesia.

“Those 10 LP records were given to members of the band. I met one band member who went bankrupt and offered the record to me for Rp 70,000. Some people have made a bid for the album. They can pay up to Rp 3 million. But I won’t sell it,” he said.

Some of vendors who reaped the windfall from the booming LP market is Ipank Knapi. The thirty-year-old who runs his business from his parents’ home in Rawa Belong, South Jakarta has been selling records since 1999, but the market thrived only in the past couple of years.

One of indication is the increasing price of LPs.

“As CDs are getting cheaper, the prices of records are skyrocketing. I bought a Guns and Roses record for $12 years ago, now the price is $900,” Ipank said.

For his inventory, Ipank usually goes for mail order, online shops and eBay, using PayPal as his means of payment. This is not an easy venture for Ipank, as Indonesia is known as a haven for credit card fraud. Some of online stores overseas have refused to do business with Ipank.

“If they denied my orders I would ask for a reference from other vendors that I have worked with. For instance, an online store called Revelation refused to deal with Indonesian buyers, but after they got the reference, they contacted me and we’ve been doing business ever since,” he said.

Ipank had opened two shops in Slipi and Ragunan in South Jakarta, but both had been closed. For now, he does business in selling LPs of metal and underground music on Facebook. On Facebook, he can sell up to 30 copies quickly enough.

“I like underground music so I focus on selling the genre. But if I open a store one day, I will sell all kinds of music,” he said.


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