Houses of Wax and other hits
Absolutely Kubrickian: We have seen the record store of the future and it is Space Hall in Berlin. It boasts futuristic interiors, dramatic lighting, a forest backdrop, as well as an extensive electronica catalogue. Lots of vinyl from the German label Ostgut Ton.
Houses of Wax and other hits
Igan D’Bayan (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2020 - 12:00am

Vinyl resurgence, my ass. We have been constantly bombarded with talks for the past four to five years about the supposed “renaissance” of vinyl records.

For many people, vinyl never really went away. Streaming (via Spotify or other platforms), though, is undoubtedly the main source of music nowadays in the age of senseless selfies, harebrained hashtags and online gratification. (I just could never get into Tidal because of my poor internet connection at home, which has reduced me to listening to a three-minute song in increments of three; oh, to live in Lag City.)

But spinning records has become — at least, for me — a dependable, ritualistic way of listening to anyone from Miles Davis to The Mars Volta. And it is a quiet joy to carefully, skillfully run one’s fingers on the grooves of LPs and realize those particular spirals and wiggles make up, say, Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On (from the band’s second album, which was masterfully cut on vinyl by Robert Ludwig — look for the initials “RL” on the dead wax) or the peaks, valleys and infinite guitars of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name (thanks, Poch, for the U2 concert tickets and Julius, Rio and April for the company). How David Bowie, Jeff Buckley and Soundgarden are forever etched in those records in our multiplying Ikea Expedit/Kallax cabinets. The house filling up with various LPs, box sets and 45s bought in physical stores (makes you wax ecstatic), via Discogs (delivers you wax, yes, but it is like perfunctorily ordering shoes) or trusted sellers (shout-out to Backspacer Records, Grey Market, Caloy Manila and Stereofiles Audio).

Digging for sought-after records, now, that’s a modern-day hunt for the holy grail. And if you are traveling abroad, that is the best way to go around the strange yet scenic, un-touristy spots in the city, going by bus, tram, subway or on foot. You can always do the Hop-On Hop-Off or Big Bus tours later on (“To your left was where Darth Hitler marched triumphantly with his Stormtroopers…”), but for specific shops unheralded even in Time Out, you must commute: convenient and reliable in most European cities, NYC, as well as Japan and Singapore, but absolutely hellish in Metro Manila. (Try booking a Grab car in December during rush hour or squeezing yourself along with your fellow lemmings in the MRT/LRT… how far we’ve come.) 



And worth it is the audio pilgrimage: the interior designs of record stores in Berlin or Amsterdam are a far cry from your usual bazaar-type boxes we see elsewhere. Yes, a lot of the establishments have the usual racks filled with omnipresent Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Band or Eric Carmen, but a particular piece of décor catches your eye or a labyrinthine basement invites you on a downward spiral to more records, discarded rarities and fresh epiphanies.

I and my vinyl-hunting cohort Avee (blessed by the Lord with so much patience for long, protracted digging, abbreviated lunches, and deft Google Mapping) once took a stroll from the awe-inspiring Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (a couple of years before it was gutted by fire) and came upon Crocodisc/Crocojazz in Rue des Écoles. When I saw the racks upon racks of German-, Holland- and E.U.-pressed LPs, I was like Ratatouille finding Joël Robuchon’s refrigerator. Stuffed crocodiles hang from the ceiling as if ready to devour your every euro — what with all those jazz and prog rock titles.

It is usually like going to a candy store — not just for the ears but also for the eyes. Monster Melodies in Rue des Déchargeurs has a cutout of “Transformer”-era Lou Reed, KISS toys and vintage receivers to go alongside its rare Salvador Dali LP (“Je Suis Fou De Dali”), The Specials’ debut, and Ennio Morricone’s A Fistful of Dollars OST with Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name. There are two kinds of people in the world: those with guns and those who dig. You dig?

The no-frills Superfly store in Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth is a treasure trove for ultra-rare Nigerian boogie and Venezuelan salsa, as well as countless crates of five-euro records (but, mama, that’s where the fun is — from Blinded by the Light). While Music Please in Rue Jean et Marie Moinon has the essentials (“London Calling,” “Horses,” “DSOTM,” etc.), as well as posters of ’70s flick (Coffy feat. Pam Grier), Beatles vinyl bags and a very friendly owner. After digging, it is best to get a quaff of Roquette Blanche craft beer by Demory Paris somewhere, anywhere. Or watch the moon hover over the Pyramide du Louvre. I’ll see you on the dark side of the mooooon.

One time in Berlin — while trying to locate a place called Hard Wax, which specializes in techno, reggae and dub — Avee and I journeyed through alleyways, side streets, somewhere strange and yet-to-be Google Mapped, and we entered (what we thought at the time to be) an abandoned apartment building. It was dark as hell. Who owns this store? Nosferatu? A Chinese tourist joined us in the search. We whipped out our mobile phones and turned on the flashlight. The walls and even the stairs were filled with graffiti. Anyone scrambled “Help,” perhaps? Our routine was eerily similar to found-footage movies set in insane asylums with zombies or a deranged killer on the loose (you know, like in every goddamn found-footage flick).

On the third floor, we entered a door and everything became normal again and everyone was grooving. The shop — inside an old factory in Berlin’s Kreuzberg quarter — looks fantastic. A welcome relief after scrambling, flailing in the dark (not unlike Martin Sheen as Willard in Apocalypse Now sitting down for a fancy dinner in the middle of looking for Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in the heart of wartime darkness).

CoreTex Records is a safe haven for lovers of the relaxing musical genres of punk, hardcore and metal. The place is an emporium of clothes, accessories, angry records and beautiful memories of anarchic gigs. It is the Cartimar of the German Republic, but much, much cleaner.  

If Venice has the “World’s Most Beautiful Bookshop” (which is the Liberia Acqua Alta), then Berlin has the most breathtaking house of wax. Space Hall in Zossener Strasse, as the name suggests, was designed like a space ship or hangar. If Stanley Kubrick reimagined a record store stacked with Beethoven and Strauss shellac, he would construct something like Space Hall with its cavernous and ambiently lit spaces, a backdrop of an old forest, and a battery of turntables for testing records. Nothing traditional at all about its interiors. Electronica blares incessantly. HAL the sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey would be enthralled. We bought nothing because we were so overwhelmed by the vibes of the place. 

One record store in Berlin reminds of Jorge Luis Borges’ infinite library: what with its stacks upon stacks of LPs and 12-inch singles (mostly not-so-common New Wave, alternative rock, Krautrock and Euro dance tracks) on the cheap. Impossible to go through all of them in a day. I spotted some Lotus Eaters, Mike Francis, Fra Lippo Lippi and When In Rome sleeves in the bargain bins. I can’t remember the name of the shop, though. Let’s call it “The Record Store With No Name.” (Sorry, vulture resellers.)

Vinyl-hunting in Amsterdam is an entire article in itself. One worth mentioning, for now, is Redlight Records, which was formerly a prostitution window in the heart of the Dutch capital’s most, um, interesting tourist spot. The De Wallen red light district used to be run by drug addicts and dealers, as well as sex workers in the ’80s, but now the area has been somewhat gentrified and is teeming with fashion studios, art galleries, cafés (including those with cannabis and space cakes on the menu) and popular shops such as Red Light Records, which is heavily stacked with jazz, funk, disco and electronic music titles. Oh, yeah, the red-light windows are still brightly, redly lit. Is that you, Roxanne?

Lots of things can happen while digging. In Berlin, a suspicious-looking fellow followed us all the way from West to East Germany (well, we were actually at the old border) while looking for a particular shop. In Budapest, we were once suspected of shoplifting in callous Kalóz Records. How do you shoplift 12-inch records, by the way? Stuff them into your pants? Pretend to be pregnant with ABBA? After hassling us and finding nothing amiss, the owner was apologetic, though, and offered free coffee and a hefty 30 percent discount on vinyl purchases. We might come back in the future — yeah, right — when pigs fly or when The Smiths reform. In our next stop in Vienna, the owner of a store called Rave Up Records handed us ice-old beer while we went digging. It’s the universe’s way of righting a wrong. And in Berlin, a shopkeeper gave us a Pinoy Rock compilation LP for free.

Ah, the hours we spent just poring over each rack and each bin, hoping to spot that elusive black circle. Encountering countless bootlegs we’ve only read about in magazines such as Long Live Vinyl and Record Collector; getting the much sought-after original pressing of a particular album by a particular band to satiate the particularly obsessive completist in me; simply enjoying the façade and interiors of those record stores, which we consider sonic museums and aural cathedrals; and, at the end of the day, looking for a bar to drink mugs of craft brew while sifting through the records. With Avee asking, “How many Elton, Yes, Genesis and Neil Young records do you really need?” — while eyeing my duplicates of “After the Gold Rush” (just the third, for crying out loud) and “Madman Across The Water” (well, the fifth).

Well, it is not just the thought of owning the record that excites me. It is the search, actually. That maddeningly, deliciously, infinite search. The most harmless of deliriums. May we all keep seeking.

Wait, there is a metaphor in there somewhere about life, love and all its crazy genres. I guess you just have to look between the grooves.

* * *

Special thanks to a few enablers who have helped me on my audio journey: Leonard “Because plaka is better” Co, Mong “Game over!” Pintolo, Wendell “My neighbors always listen to good music... whether they like it or not” Alinea, and Jason “Mine, Mine, All Mine” Chiongson. A nod to the members of the Clair Marlo, Diana Krall & “Hell Freezes Over” Audiophile Fan Club and — of course — “Efren” (asking for a friend), the cousin of Mr. Please Reserve Pending Inquiry.  


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