Sun, 13 Feb 2000

Vinyl very much alive on Menteng's Jl. Surabaya

By Chris Brummit

JAKARTA (JP): On the lookout for a 1968 Japanese harmonica compilation? Or perhaps just up for complimenting your existing set of early Minangkabau guitar-pop records? If yes, then browse your way down Jl. Surabaya in Menteng, Central Jakarta, and bring home these and other equally exotic stuff besides.

After the shops selling antiques, which the street is famous for, have petered out and made way for ones selling bags, there are six or so that deal in records, quite possibly the only places in Indonesia which do so.

"People come here from as far away as Surakarta and Medan to look for records. They are mostly DJs, students, foreigners and old-time collectors. Maybe a few other places sell vinyl, but they are not specialists like us," said owner Haris, while cueing up a T Rex 7" single in the corner of one such pleasantly chaotic shack.

For the post-vinyl generation, an attachment to records may appear old-fashioned and even slightly dumb. CD's are portable, indestructible and, according to those who care about these things, their sound reproduction is incomparably better.

So be it. These people have never spent an adolescent Saturday morning in the aisles of their local record store (note: not a Virgin megastore), counting out their money for a 7" single and an album, and sat on the bus home reading the sleeve notes in anticipation. They have never gently dropped the needle in to the groove, heard the crackle and watched as it starts its journey around the disc to the center or had to get up and give the record player a gentle nudge when the needle gets stuck.

Amir Nasution, a record trader on Jl. Surabaya since 1965, understands this attraction. "I have a decent Rolling Stones and Beatles collection at home. Pretty much complete. A bit of Genesis. I wouldn't sell them no matter how much money was offered to me.

"People these days just follow the trends. One day cassettes, the next laser discs, CDs then VCDs," he laments, before stating categorically, "I am a record man".

He smiles when recounting the time Lulu, a pint-sized British singer from the 1960s, paid a visit to his store some years ago. "She was doing a show at the Mandarin or somewhere. She came in and I gave her some of her own records to sign, which she did." These records are now, too, safely at home. "I then, like a fool, offered her some Bee Gees records, not realizing at the time that of course she used to be married to one of them." This anecdote was confirmed by more than one trader on the street, (though details of her marital status have not been).

The cataloging systems in all of the shops are almost as primitive as the Irianese masks that spill out of the neighboring ones. A quick flick through one box in Haris's shack unearthed the following gems: an enticing (Dutch?) record, with a half- dressed pony-tailed girl on the cover entitled 13 hits aan de spits 4; Union City Recording's classic dance tune I'm comin' Hardcore; a red vinyl Chinese pressing of a Four Tops "soviner" (sic) greatest hits from 1967 and an album by the Croatian Song and Dance Ensemble. Prospective buyers would be wise to set aside an afternoon or two.

Indonesian stabs at 1960s pop and other more indigenous and regional forms of popular and classical music are well represented. Haris reserves his highest prices for dangdut and keroncong records, most of which are sold to Betawi people. Depending on the age and the singer, these are the most expensive records on the street, selling for upwards of Rp 30,000.

Hame and Fauzi's spacious shop is the place to go for "lagu tripping" or house music. DJs hang out here on the lookout for something for the weekend, while nodding their heads knowingly to the beats. Slightly alarmingly perhaps, the records here are cleaned with water and a rag, "to make them shiny", and then washed with regular shampoo.

In common with most of the shacks, they also sell turntables, amplifiers and speakers for about Rp 200,000 each depending on the make, etc. Though if your current tape recorder/CD player has a line out socket, then you can simply buy a turntable and plug it in. Needles can also be bought and/or repaired.

It should also be mentioned here that most of the shacks have bowed to the demands of the time and now sell secondhand CDs for about Rp 20,000 and cassettes (Rp 7,000) as well, with a similar mix of the unusual and the bizarre.

Back to records, prices start at about Rp 10,000. And this makes for another delight of shopping on the street. Records are collectible and people pay a lot of money for the ones they want. (Offers above US$50 only please for my Jl. Surabaya-sourced 1954 This is Glen Miller double 7" gatefold sleeve in mint condition.) If you know what you are looking for, quick profits abound.

So, if you are hoping to get into the import-export business, forget the Dutch clocks, the stone Buddhas and other such antique or not-so-antique bits and pieces that line the street. Get your hands on some rare records instead.