Now that we’ve shared some personal anecdotes forged at the record store, as told by musicians, we thought to ask some of our cratedigging local DJs about their own.
It’s no secret that DJs have been the ones keeping record stores and vinyl alive all this while — even before a vinyl resurgence of any sort, DJs from underground scenes were the ones still holding fort with piles of 12” singles and new discoveries with every visit.
RAH and MZA, both record store fiends themselves, share their own unforgettable experiences in different record stores — from finding a deeper appreciation for culturally-embedded samples to nabbing a long-elusive record.
Watch RAH, MZA, and Darren Dubwise perform at The Analog Vault’s fifth anniversary here.
Ok first of all, lemme just say that I don’t think there’s a record (yet) that eludes me – I recall really wanting Lata Ramsar’s The Greatest Name That Lives, and that’s still the only thing on my Discogs want list. And still so expensive.
I’m quite the lazy digger and would only really buy stuff when I’m travelling. Visiting record shops is always a trip, and something I always look forward to when travelling.
So two special moments that come to mind — the first was in Rotterdam’s Demonfuzz Records, highly recommended by Dutch friends (“it’s Madlib’s favourite record shop!”).
I really like Rotterdam, and this record shop is amazing — I must’ve spent hours there — picking out stuff, putting them back, chatting to the guys about stuff. Anyway, there’s this one record I got, it’s a Soul Jazz Brazilian comp, called Tropicalia. It’s a double LP and I was like “Ok, dope, am def getting this.”
Fast forward to a week later I was in Berlin and listening to the Tropicalia record and Jorge Ben’s “Take It Easy, My Brother Charles” comes on, and I’m like whaaaaaaat this is the OG sample from Drumagick’s “Easy Boom” — which I also have on vinyl, also a comp “Gilles Peterson WW2”, and how I discovered the track (great Brazilian D&B).
I think just being on a great holiday and listening to a Brazilian record in a hipster Airbnb in Berlin just elevated the experience for me.
The same week, still in Berlin, I went to another record store, a friend Nip who runs Potatoheadz Records (really good label, check it out) brought me there — I forgot what it’s called.
So looking through their 45s and was over the moon when I found Tilahun Gessesse’s Lanchi Biye on Philophon, another great OG sample from K’naan’s America feat Mos Def & Chali 2na. Two OG samples in one trip! I was ecstatic. Nobody could take me down. Invincible.
The record that had eluded me for a while was Alfa Mist’s Antiphon, a modern UK jazz classic, if I have to say.
I was close to picking up the second pressing in 2017 but hesitated somehow — ended up never getting that close again till one day in 2019, midday scrolling through Instagram and I happened upon The Analog Vault’s account posting it as a new arrival.
Immediately, I texted Nick asking to hold it and promptly headed to the store after work to pick it up. Victory in my hands, finally.
Record stores mean the world to me — from being just an emo The Smiths-loving poly student collecting records at Vinylicious Records till eventually working in the store. Eight years on since that fateful first shift as a record store clerk and I’m still in music retail pushing music culture.
There is truly nothing better than opening a new record or seeing a customer enjoy one of your recommendations. It’ll be a sad day if the only “record store” left was Amazon so I urge everyone to support your favourite independent record stores today.
As his sophomore album Kindred came out to the world last December, Intriguant had already established Uploading, a platform serving an underserved beat community — a place the musician once started from.
By roping in producers who have staked their claim on Soundcloud but have yet to hone their live craft, unifying them under one beat night — not unlike LA’s Low End Theory — Uploading has since become a retreat for emerging talent, and a treat for discerning ears.
The night has asserted itself amidst the diverse terrain of Singaporean dance music, and has continued online since the sudden standstill that the nightlife industry now faces.
Kindred is, in some ways, Intriguant’s own version of club music — beats permeating its crowded spaces with pervasive tone and atmosphere. That concept is flipped in Spirits, where propulsive four to the floor rhythms dominate an uninhabited dancefloor.
We speak to Intriguant about his upcoming album — which is out November 20th — pressing it on vinyl with TAV Records, working with familiar faces, and how Spirits ties itself to Kindred (if pairing the titles together doesn’t give it away already).
Hi Intriguant! How was the production process for Spirits like?
Thanks for having me! Currently, I find myself in a headspace where I’m inspired by the club sounds of dark basements and spaces but what interested me was what happens when these spaces are not in use and vacant in the day. Somehow, it carries a certain energy in the space and I feel that it transcends a vibe that is equivalent to a crowded venue.
In Spirits, I have been expanding on the four to the floor sound as well as experimenting with other genres of music. It’s definitely refreshing to try different things and learn new techniques along the way.
With the relatively quick turnaround between this album and last year’s Kindred, were any of the ideas present in Spirits explored in those sessions?
Spirits is unofficially part two of Kindred, hence the title. But I didn’t want to promote it that way because I believe that each body of work tells its own stories and evokes different emotions.
Kindred is inspired by the journey and process of going into an underground space. But Spirits brings you into the space — allowing you to be in an empty venue, to experience and absorb these energies.
Juan Yong’s artwork looks incredible! Tell us how it was put together.
Juan Yong is definitely one visual artist in Singapore to keep a lookout for. His ideas and skills to bring both Kindred and Spirits to life were impeccable.
With Spirits, we were looking at how we wanted to create the scenario of how spaces and venues are like when it’s not used and as seen in the day. Somehow, there is a certain energy that you can feel and how we can make it relatable.
In the artwork, we wanted to give it some context to the space — given it looked like the interior of a shophouse, where most underground parties and events happen in Singapore. It is kind of a tribute to these venues. You can already think of a few names.
We’re also seeing some featured artists again — tell us about working with HYU and Fzpz and how they got to fit within the larger scope of Spirits.
It was refreshing to work with featured artists again, especially when the production process has changed to a more dancefloor/four to the floor concept.
It was great to see Hyu do her own thing and being an artist in her own right. She was the first musician that I played alongside with me and believed in the music.
It was funny how “Wind” came about — I was very curious about how the Korean language has inspired dance music in recent times and, to me, it always has a percussive element to it. We started jamming and vibing over a beat and that was how “Wind” came about.
Working with Fzpz was so smooth and it was crazy to see how fast he could come up with ideas. Fzpz is definitely one of the most talented producers in Asia and beyond. I’m definitely looking forward to working with him again.
And not forgetting the homie, Calvin aka CJP aka Feston for always putting his touch on the guitar for the track “Hours”.
Spirits is coming out on vinyl through TAV Records, and this isn’t your first time pressing on the format. Tell us more about it!
Yes, I never expected this opportunity to happen again. Vinyl has always had a special place for me. As a vinyl collector and DJ, I have vinyl records that remind me of a certain time in my life when I first heard them. Some records are special for how they have inspired my musical taste and knowledge.
To have my own music to the vinyl format, it’s a humbling experience. Nothing beats enjoying music in its physical form.
How was the process this time around, with TAV involved?
First of all, I just want to say thank you to TAV for believing in the music. I am very grateful that they are taking this leap of faith with me on this album, and big ups to Leon and Nick for being on the PR and marketing side for Spirits. They have been instrumental throughout the whole process.
There have been reports of delays from vinyl pressing plants around the world. Did that affect your plans on getting Spirits out?
Yes, I have heard about those delays. Now that there’s COVID happening, I was extra worried about that. We started planning out the production for vinyl around June/July so that gave us a lead time of 3-4 months to make sure we got the artwork and masters.
To speed up the process, we got James from Phantom Limb, who is based in the UK, to have a check on the test presses of the record. In our current timeline, I feel that we are lucky that there were no delays yet and the vinyl records will come in time.
What is something you’ve learned about pressing vinyl?
From knowing the pressing weight — whether you’d like it to be 140-160g or a heavyweight 180g — to the type of sleeves and colour/print for the record.
Another lesson is the physical distribution of your product. [For debut album Recluse] I received the boxes of sealed vinyl records, and it hit me that the real work started then. How am I going to see all these records? So I went door to door to many record stores in Singapore. Even when I was travelling, I brought my records with me and went to stores to sell to them. I’m glad that those records are now sold out.
Uploading Now is your way of pushing new music from the region under the current circumstances. What captures your attention about a certain artist before deciding to bring them aboard?
Uploading is a platform that allowed me to play the role of a curator/programmer for an event. I started Uploading because I have been seeing so many producers and artists coming up and releasing music but there wasn’t much of a platform for them to perform.
For me, I’m always looking out for electronic music producers/beatmakers/artists that have an eclectic sound. With Uploading Now, I have gotten back a few familiar faces who will be playing some new music, as well as new artists that I have come across over the years.
Spirits will be out November 20th via TAV Records. Pre-order the album on vinyl here.
Intriguant will perform at The Analog Vault 5th Anniversary with .gif and Hanging Up The Moon on Saturday, October 10th. The event will be streamed on Singapore Community Radio at 3pm. More information can be found here.
The next edition of Uploading Now will take place on October 28th.
A name like The Analog Vault suggests an obscured zone of the rarest records, hidden to many and attainable to few.
In the game of vinyl records, where arbitrary prices of early pressings can limit the access of certain records to a distinct class of collectors (read: ludicrously rich ones), that may not be completely surprising.
However, it would be a supreme misjudgment of The Analog Vault. Since 2015, the store has served as a reliable refuge for a repository of vinyl records — spanning the worlds of jazz, soul, indie rock, hip-hop, electronic music, among other specialized genres.
While the store has had Nick Bong and Leon Wan holding fort as the store’s main faces and store managers — and hosts of our Analog Club podcast (previously AV Club) — the store’s genesis is owed to the ambitions of Sharon Seet, who established the store five years ago at a cozy unit, which now faces its current, much larger location.
Working in the finance industry by day, Seet first forged her love for the format while living in London during her early 20s.
“While I was meant to be focused on studying and working, most of my time was instead spent immersing in the amazing music scene and vinyl collecting culture,” she says, “particularly at the record stores where I learnt so much about different kinds of music.”
Having spent time in London with its particularly rich culture of record stores, steeped in decades of iconic music, Seet carried those memories back home — gradually nursing the idea of opening a store in Singapore that captures that same exuberance she felt flipping through endless racks of records. It was with Eugene Ow Yong, owner of Vinylicious Records, who contacted her about pursuing such a venture together.
A long-standing customer of his store, she seized the opportunity to try her hand at curation, zeroing in on the kind of music she adored. “I agreed to work with Eugene on starting The Analog Vault on the premise that I could forge it to become an establishment championing jazz, hip hop, soul, electronic, and world music,” she says.
As Sharon has continued to run the store without Eugene — “[he’s] no longer part of TAV, but we remain close friends till today!” — the selection offered at The Analog Vault has only grown to include more styles of music, with a substantial section dedicated to obscure Japanese titles.
At the root of the store’s curation, however, is an undying appreciation for jazz music.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to the casual customer entering its confines — boxsets of John Coltrane and Kamasi Washington albums are proudly displayed behind the counters, along with recent arrivals of the long-overdue Black Jazz Records reissues sitting comfortably on nearby shelves.
Sharon Seet, on running The Analog Vault all this while.
“While I enjoy music across a broad range of genres (and languages!), I have forged the deepest connection with the jazz genre particularly,” Seet says. She attributes it to a chance encounter listening to the 1963 self-titled album by Coltrane and Johnny Hartman on vinyl.
“It was a transcendental experience for me — listening to Hartman’s sexy baritone voice set against Coltrane’s poignant saxophone, in pure analog delight. I had stumbled onto one of the greatest albums in the jazz canon,” she recounts. “That experience alone had me hooked onto jazz and vinyl, and it is a love affair that has continued to this day.”
The album continues to be revered as a high point in the saxophonist’s career. But it also served as a gateway for Seet into a vast, almost unceasingly creative world of music that she considers “akin to a complex and engaging piece of intellectual artwork.”
The genre has also blossomed in recent years, thanks to an outpouring of newer musicians from concentrated scenes in the US, UK, Japan and Australia.
The store regularly brings in titles from these artists, including new releases by Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids, Nubya Garcia, Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange, Irreversible Entanglements, and even Jazz Sabbath, a tongue-in-cheek jazz project attempting the cavernous canon of Black Sabbath’s music.
As such, there have been several mainstay record labels that Sharon relies on for the kind of vinyl that belongs in TAV. Legacy names like Blue Note, Impulse!, Verve, Riverside, ECM Records, Columbia, Analogue Productions, along with newer ones like Brownswood Recordings, Mr. Bongo, International Anthem, 22a, Strut Records, !K7 are mainstays in the store’s catalogue.
Sourcing records from Europe, Japan, and the US, Seet makes it a priority to constantly devour new music through “record label websites, music review websites, Instagram pages, online vinyl stores, and Discogs”.
Reviews, sometimes found on Discogs, have been crucial to decide if an album’s vinyl pressing is adequate enough to be stocked in her store. The website maintains a database of over seven million vinyl records listed, each title armed with a comments section for users to pour effusive or critical reviews onto. “Good quality vinyl pressings are key,” she maintains.
Honing her analytical skills from years of collecting vinyl — and subsequently running The Analog Vault — led her, Nick, and Leon to establish TAV Records, an independent record label focusing on local and regional artists.
Beginning with the vinyl pressing of Fauxe’s Ikhlas, a collection of hip-hop beats playfully recontextualizing samples of old Singaporean and Malaysian music, it’s an extension of Seet’s mission to solidify the store as “one of Asia’s leading proponents of analog music culture and fine music.”
Just this year, amidst the perpetual pandemic, the label has put out .gif’s Hail Nothing in April, and are now preparing the release of Intriguant’s third album, Spirits.
While record sales of these titles have been made primarily through the store, Seet has used this outlet with Nick and Leon to build out a network of worldwide distribution, although that has proven to be no easy task. “Increasing our distribution continues to be a focus and challenge for us,” she admits.
The vinyl mock-up for Intriguant’s Spirits, which will be released on vinyl on November 20th.
The pandemic has been a considerable obstacle for the vinyl record industry — the annual Record Store Day holiday, where exclusive titles are pressed in limited quantities for ravenous customers, accommodated social distancing measures by splitting its list of releases into three consecutive monthly release dates.
Record pressing plants have faced temporary shutdowns, and the obfuscation clouding the fate of the US postal service has made future imports uncertain.
The Analog Vault, like many stores, have taken to selling their titles online to feed and nurture demand — their debut podcast episode, which you can stream below, explains further.
All of this, coupled with the uncertainty that comes with any independent business selling a niche product, results in a venture some would consider risky. For Sharon, she has her sights fixed on the long-term.
“Apart from financial sustainability, I also personally measure success for TAV in terms of customer happiness, employee meaningfulness, and how TAV can support, contribute to, and help grow the music ecosystem in Singapore,” she explains.
Like how The Analog Vault was shaped by her vivid memories of London record stores, her plans for TAV beyond 2020 is inspired by another cherished analog destination of hers: Japanese jazz kissaten, enduring old-school hideouts where music lovers congregate for listening sessions and fine alcohol. The ongoing photography project Tokyo Jazz Joints documents this domestic phenomenon in all its classy glory.
Ideally, what would this space look like? She imagines it “flanked by superlative audiophile analog systems, amazing whiskies, and a space for live jazz performances”. It is still a dream — made all the more distant with existing nightlife restrictions — but the lasting work of The Analog Vault makes a convincing case that there’s always room for spaces like these in Singapore.
Even if that New Yorker cartoon can ring true for some, it’s the memories and stories made around these slabs of wax that make the “expense and inconvenience” worth it.
The Analog Vault will be celebrating its 5th anniversary this Saturday, 10th October with live performances by Hanging Up The Moon, Intriguant, and .gif.
The event will be streamed on Singapore Community Radio at 3pm. More information can be found here.