Record Store Day is an annual event for music lovers across the globe to celebrate and appreciate the magic of vinyl. While vinyl records are still a fairly recent phenomenon in China (and not much of one at that), Beijing is home to a few dedicated record shops and avid collectors of vinyl taking matters into their own hands to pave the way for its resurgence in the city.
This weekend, the yearly happening is hitting the capital with a series of events taking place at Dada and fRUITYSHOP, featuring local acts DJ Watermelon, Boss Cuts, Beau and fRUITYGROUP (fRUITYZHENG and fRUITYBIGCHI). We chat with the organizers and supreme DJs behind the project to talk all things vinyl ahead of the massive occasion.
That's: When did you start collecting vinyl records? What drew you to it?
DJ Watermelon: I started collecting vinyl records in 1999. What drew me in the most was the music itself. Owning a vinyl record of my favorite [album] felt more exclusive and personal. The quality of sound was better too.
Boss Cuts: [I started] way back when I was a kid. I am an only child so I occupied myself by spending countless hours listening to my dad’s record collection. Great albums are like novels – they take you on a journey. Vinyl is not convenient or cheap, but it’s authentic and commands your attention. That is something that digital music, at least for me, has failed to achieve.
Beau: I started collecting vinyl maybe five years ago. Initially, a friend told me to get into vinyl, because we used to collect CDs. The sheer size of vinyl fascinates me, and the sound obviously.
fRUITYZHENG: I was not a vinyl guy in the beginning. Before 2001, most of my collection was on CDs and tapes. At that time, most Chinese people were more or less unfamiliar with vinyl so the price was relatively low. [That's] what drew me to buy them, but I soon found the true virtue of vinyl which is the high quality of [sound]. I dumped my CDs and tapes immediately.
fRUITYBIGCHI: I started collecting vinyl records in 2014. The first time I heard a vinyl record, it was very interesting and the album cover was so cool – I wanted to take it home.
Vinyl has made a huge comeback abroad in countries like the US but it’s still largely developing in China. What do you have to say about the current state of interest here?
DJ Watermelon: There isn't much of a comeback [here] as China does not have much of a history of analog media. It's good that young [generations] have become interested in vinyl, thanks to the influence from abroad but it's only the beginning for vinyl culture in China.
Boss Cuts: Whenever I DJ, people are always intrigued about the turntables and my collection of records. (So much so that they spill their drinks all over them.) The vinyl market is still quite niche, but [more and more] international and local bands sell [their] records at shows here. Last year, Twink from the UK sold a bunch of records after his show at DDC and recently, local band Sino Hearts did a vinyl album launch at School Bar. Nevin, who runs Genjing Records, usually carries around a suitcase full of records to livehouses like Temple, School Bar and Fruityspace and people will have a dig through. Vinyl records – everything from the artwork and the liner notes to the record itself – have an allure.
Beau: Well, in China, unlike the US, vinyl was not part of our daily lives. Back then only few people experienced it. Now it’s more of a trendy thing, and whether it will grow remains to be seen...
What do you hope to see continue to happen or change?
Boss Cuts: There are a few record plants in China but the process of getting vinyl pressed is very complex. One local band who had their album pressed in China told me it took more than two years. Given the fragility of bands and the rapid change of musical trends, this protracted process holds back the bands, the culture and the vinyl industry.
"Great albums are like novels – they take you on a journey. Vinyl is not convenient or cheap, but it’s authentic and commands your attention."
Club culture is also impacted here, with vinyl DJs committing to the craft. What are some of the pros and cons with vinyl DJing? What is it like working with vinyl in club environments?
DJ Watermelon: DJing with vinyl is a basic skill that I think every DJ should have. It provides sound with more personality and [it's] a lot of fun for the DJ. But the downside is that they are very heavy to carry around.
Boss Cuts: I run a night called Mish Mash Soul! at Temple Bar in Gulou and I’ve had everything go wrong: records breaking, needles skipping, mysterious feedback, the mixer not sending signal to the sound desk, other DJs trashing my turntables and over-enthusiastic dancers smashing them over. Turntables and records are more fragile than they seem. But when it all works, people dance until the sun comes through the skylight.
Beau: The good thing is that you don’t have to worry [about] your computer crashing. And the bad thing? It’s heavy! And you constantly need to buy more vinyl to feed the greed.
fRUITYZHENG: I love playing vinyl in clubs. Sharing those rhythms that I’ve listened to hundreds of times in a public space with hundreds [of] strangers and watching them shake their heads and hips [along to] my mixes, I simply feel happy about it. However, it demands hours [and] hours [of] practice – selecting and rearranging the right songs, pitch, beat-matching, finding the cue points. Also, you have to deal with the needle skipping [and] other unexpected problems.
fRUITYBIGCHI: It's very hard to be a real vinyl DJ, but the process is a pleasure.
What was your first record? Your most prized record?
DJ Watermelon: My first record was Elvis Presley’s single ‘Love Me Tender.' The most prized one is a special single called ‘Mass.' It was produced by YMO for a Pierre Cardin show in 1981.
Boss Cuts: The first record that I bought with my own money was the debut [self-titled album] by the Australian band Crowded House. My dad’s records were all from the 60s and 70s, so when I finally had the chance to buy a record of my own I wanted something modern. Although I was not into the style of music, I was taken by Neil Finn’s songwriting. My most prized record is a first UK pressing of Rubber Soul by the Beatles. This was the record that inspired Brian Wilson to create the Beach Boy's Pet Sounds which, in turn, inspired the Beatles to do Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was a major turning point in pop music, so owning a first pressing is like being a part of that history.
Beau: I can’t remember specifically, but I think it was a Beatles record... My most prized record is Marcus Belgrave’s Gemini II.
fRUITYZHENG: The first album I bought was Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats. I didn’t even have a turntable back then. The original version of The Sounds of Liberation’s New Horizons is my most precious record.
fRUITYBIGCHI: My first album was Buddy Guy's Bring Em In. My most precious is one by Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers.
What are some exciting releases that will be in stock this year?
fRUITYBIGCHI: There are a lot of great records coming out this year. Here are some I am looking forward to: Gong's Live in Paris: Bataclan 1973 and Twink's Think Pink.
fRUITYZHENG: There are more and more exciting releases in store every month... You'll [always] find big surprises [at our shop].
Tell us more about the events that will be taking place on Record Store Day 2019.
DJ Watermelon: It’s a big party for all vinyl lovers, so many stores will prepare a lot of new releases for that day. I’ll be at fRUITYSHOP sharing some of my personal collections together with my DJ friends.
Boss Cuts: This year at fRUITYSHOP we will have some of Beijing’s top vinyl collectors performing, as well as open decks – so anyone can bring their records along and play. We also have local brewery Tiny Beer supplying beer. Record Store Day is a chance for DJs and music lovers to get together outside of the usual drunken late-night livehouse or club scene. To have a thriving music scene a city needs an ecosystem of record stores, community radio stations, bands and DJs. Beijing already has a strong focus on bands, so my aim is to help raise the profile of record stores and vinyl DJs.
Beau: This is my first time performing on Record Store Day, I’m just excited to be part of it!
fRUITYBIGCHI: fRUITYSHOP will have many new records available. I hope everyone can enjoy this day.
Anything else you’d like to add?
DJ Watermelon: I wish more and more people would have a better understanding of vinyl culture.
Beau: Collect records and have fun!
fRUITYBIGCHI: I am just very proud to be a vinyl collector in China.
Record Store Day 2019 Events:
[Cover image via Pexels]