Beijing Record Store Roundup
Where to score your CDs and vinyls, metal memorabilia and eccentric collectibles for this year's Record Store Day.
Tomorrow (April 20) is Record Store Day, a holiday invented by a handful shopkeeps bemoaning the loss of community, tactility, and intimacy involved in record buying, the whole social aspect of it. Basically protesting the internet. Since launching in 2007, Record Store Day has been celebrated by a growing number of international shops and labels on the third Saturday of every April. DJ Sacco — who runs Shanghai vinyl spot Uptown Records — has a roundup of some of the most interesting Record Store Day releases here.
RSD isn't really a thing in China, though Genjing Records chief Nevin Domer is trying to make it happen with a series of events in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Australia, coinciding with two new 7" releases. But Beijing is not without its record stores, and below you can find exactly where to go this Saturday to give a much needed injection of hope to the stalwart brick & mortar music mavens among us.
Most of the shop owners had never even heard of Record Store Day but I told them, so now they're all expecting you.
Blueline has been proselytizing music of the more progressive and avant-garde variety for well over ten years. It's widely considered the best by those who've traveled a bit further down the musical rabbit hole than most, and by musicians. Plenty of Beijing's sonic tastemakers got their own first tastes at Blueline.
Specialties: Blueline's selection veers toward the more experimental, dark, and weird side of "alternative." They've got plenty of goth and industrial and post-punk stuff: Death in June, Bauhaus, Einstürzende Neubauten, Swans, etc. Hmm… so that's where all these bands have been getting it. Blueline also carries plenty of other psych/prog/jazz/noise/misc discs. Mostly CDs but they have a pretty impressively curated selection of vinyl re-issues. The domestic selection is actually pretty thin, though when I was there they had a few Buddha Machines and the most recent Hedgehog record. Plus that classic Zuoxiao Zuzhou poster.
Staff pick: Blueline founder Fu Xiong wasn't in the store when I went. The staffer on hand said he'd come in after 4pm, and she herself wasn't particularly psyched on participating in this article. But I'll just go ahead and predict that Fu Xiong would have recommended this Laibach primer. His MSN screen name is "LAIBACH71@hotmailcom":
Our pick: Ruins - Live in Guangzhou. Japanese drums + bass noise duo Ruins was one of the first international experimental rock bands to tour through China. I didn't know this CD existed but now I can approximate the experience for 20rmb. Cool.
Getting there: Blueline is at #2-26 Xinjiekou Wai Dajie, just south of the north 3rd ring road. From the big third ring overpass (Beitaiping Qiao), go to the southeast corner and continue east for about 50 meters. Map here.
Another vet in the game, Free Sound has been slinging tunes since 2002. Their flagship location is in Ping'anli, but they opened a second store in 798 a few years ago.
Specialties: Free Sound stocks your standard Modern Sky/Maybe Mars fare, plus plenty of older Chinese rock and metal and folk. They also have some Lao Shanghai-style LPs, like this Bai Guang 12" (380rmb):
Though they stock some biggies of Western rock, Free Sound's focus is very much on the Chinese scene. They have the most extensive cassette selection in Beijing, even though they don't sell tape players. They do have a pretty sweet reel-to-reel, though.
Staff Pick: Free Sound co-founder Hu Jing recommends some folk tunes from Nileke Xiao Zhen and Zhao Xiao Lei.
Our Pick: If you're trying to pick up any new Chinese indie or folk releases, give Free Sound the business. That's their bread and butter.
Getting there: Free Sound is #40 Di'anmen Xi Dajie, at the southeast corner of the intersection with Ping'anli Dajie. Right by the Ping'anli stop on subway line 4 & 6. Map here. Their 798 post is #5 of the D Block, just north of UCCA.
Rockland is a little one-room affair tucked away in the alleys around Houhai. They'll celebrate their 10th anniversary on May 1 of this year. When I went for this article it was closed, so I called owner Xiao Zhan, who said he was in Qingdao. But he emailed me these photos:
Specialties: It's called Rockland. They sell rock. Lots of Western rock. Late '60s/early '70s Brit-pop and Dylan-esque folk and stuff like that. Also a lot of Chinese rock.
Staff picks: Xiao Zhan emailed in to recommend PK14's Subjam debut, Go Up the Stairs and Turn Left, Another Season In Hell by The Nutcrackers, You Can Listen, You Can Talk by Carsick Cars, and Party Is Over, Pornostar by Snapline. Keeping it local.
Our picks: Rockland is famous for their in-house pirated CD comps. Look for the unmarked brown cardboard packaging, featuring selections of Chinese and Western indie bands randomly curated by Xiao Zhan. A 2-CD set will run you 15rmb.
Getting there: It's really stuck back there in the hutongs, at #2 Nan Guan Fang. Check the map here. Basically you go to the Yinding bridge (the one that separates Houhai from Qianhai), and continue south on Yindingqiao Hutong until it dead ends into Nan Guan Fang. Rockland is in between Hutong Pizza and this bar called T-7, which apparently sells dreadlocks:
Xiao Zhan is also a co-founder of 69 Cafe on Nanluoguxiang, which is a small cafe/bar with a focus on unplugged live shows.
They also have some vintage vinyls for sale, courtesy of My Joint distro. Find them at #109 Nanluoguxiang, just south of the intersection with Mao'er Hutong. Map here.
Indie Music at Gulou is the new kid on the block. We already gave them plenty of ink. Read our profile of the store and co-founder Guo Cheng here.
Specialties: All the local favorites, plus plenty of international rock and post-rock CDs and vinyl.
Staff picks: Guo Cheng gave us the rundown in the last article, but one of the most unique items he recommends is this Rolling Stones USB keychain:
Our picks: Indie Music also functions as a labor-of-love label for a select few artists, including excellent Mongolian folk group Ajinai. Ask about their in-house productions.
Getting there: Indie Music is at 17 Gulou Xi Dajie, right across the street from the Drum Tower. Map here.
666 is that metal store on Gulou Dong Dajie with the awesome devil sign:
They originally opened across the street from Nanluoguxiang in 2006 but got priced out and now occupy a little hole in the wall in a small alley off the south side of the street, just west of Temple Bar and Dada.
Specialties: METAL. Metal CDs, metal vinyl, metal zines, metal live concert VHS's, metal wall clocks, metal iPhone covers, metal t-shirts, a life-size statue of the Maiden zombie hoisting a spear-tipped British flag, etc.
Staff picks: Proprietor Lin Zheng recommends the 12" vinyl version of Sky Lake by Ritual Day, "the best black metal band from China."
Our picks: I saw Jiangxi's Be Persecuted in Beijing in 2010 and they fuckin' ripped. If you're not into the music at least cop their tea cup:
Getting there: The address is #230-4 Gulou Dong Dajie. It's in a little no-name alley closer to the west end of the street, south side. Map here.
Strange Fruit started off as a music-themed whiskey bar, but last March expanded its operations to include a huge selection of secondhand vinyl. Only vinyl, pretty much, and higher-shelf whiskeys at 50rmb a glass. Vinyl-side boss Wang Kai says he gets most of the stock from friends in Guangzhou, which, according to crate-digging lore, is a treasure trove of discarded wax from all over the world just waiting for snobs and nerds and DJs to rescue from being repurposed into industrial slag. You can find some good deals at Strange Fruit, but Wang Kai is pretty knowledgeable about what's in his stacks, so don't expect to make any legendary scores. Just be happy that Beijing has a vinyl store at all. Strange Fruit also sells two models of Numark record player: the battery-powered PT-01 USB (1,200rmb) and the more robust TTUSB (1,600rmb).
Specialties: Vinyl. A healthy mix of jazz, rock, punk, electronica, folk, and more. And whiskey.
Staff picks: Wang Kai digs through the stacks for a few minutes…
…and comes out with Eric Dolphy's 1964 Blue Note debut, Out to Lunch! What a head.
Our picks: "Hey dude, check out this sick Japan-press one-off Velvet Underground single of a fifteen-minute jam recorded in a Harlem brothel where Lou Reed used to score Quaaludes." BOOM. You've just been analog-rickrolled.
Getting there: Strange Fruit in 33 is located at #33 Qian Liang Hutong (get it, like 33rpm). You can take subway line 5 or 6 to Dongsi and rock north on Dongsi Bei Dajie for two blocks, then turn left on Qian Liang. It's at the end of the alley on the north side. Map here.
There you have it. Get out there and grip some tunes.