Behind the Scenes: The Record Store Owner

In this series, Flux will interview a variety of individuals who each have different points of contact with the music industry, to shine a light on those who work quietly in the shadows and rarely receive any acknowledgment for the vital role they play in electronic music.

In our digital age, the physical world still matters.  According to reports there has been a 35% rise in vinyl sales and a resurgence of the near-forgotten cassette in 2015, and the resilience of the CD remains strong.  Yes, in a world where physical distance is cherished and immediacy is instant, there is still a market for the physical form of music. The prospect of crate digging for rares, showing up to Best Buy on release day, participating in the celebratory nature of Record Store Day, unfurling the artwork, pushing the CD into your car slot, laying the vinyl on the turntable—there is still a demanded intimacy with music than cannot be achieved with a mouse click and a numerical input of data.

In order to try to get a variety of perspectives and different voices heard about music and the industry from outside of the usual same-old onslaught of journalists and producers, we interviewed Eric Man Hon Luk, founder of the London vinyl reseller Vinyl Pimp. Since 2007, Vinyl Pimp has been the best vinyl resell agent in the UK – they are dedicated to helping individual collectors, DJs and companies. They are the number 1 seller on Discogs marketplace and assure every item will be sold at the current market price.

Hi Hon, how’s it going? Thanks for speaking to us.

Very well, thanks. The pleasure is all mine.

What was the first record you ever bought? Do you remember the first record you ever heard?

I must have been about 8 years old, the brother of my mum’s best friend in Hong Kong used to have all the gadgets – laser discs, projector, surround sound system etc., sure enough he had some canton pop on vinyl! However, I didn’t buy my first ever record until the year 2000 – it was “As a Child I Could Walk on the Ceiling” by Delta.

What got you into music so deeply that you made it such a big part of your life?

My friend asked me to join them for a weekly Friday night event @ Camden Palace in 2000. I took the red pill.

Hon 1

In a industry where the future is uncertain, why did you decide to open a record store? Did you feel it was a risk?

Summer 2012, having traded vinyl on Discogs for 7 years, our operation began to overtake the warehouse space I was living in and it was affecting the relationships with my housemates. A shopfront in the same building became available so it was a move-out of instinct rather than of careful strategic planning. I didn’t want to move 10 tonnes of stock too far.

How have things changed from when you started until where you are now? What do you find to be your everyday struggles running a record store?

Not a lot has changed – we try to buy in desirable stuff before other shops get them ready as quickly as we can. The main struggle of running a second hand shop is finding the right collection, since every collector/DJ is going to tell you their collection is “near mint, unplayed and loads of rare stuff”, which is not entirely true.

In an ideal world, do you have any preference as to whether people engage in music on the internet or in a physical store?

I was using online chatrooms in 1996 on my 56k dial-up, but I still prefer engaging with friends over food and drinks! But people do what they need to do – it’s not up to me and I understand both camps’ arguments!

What have you noticed to be the biggest changes in terms of the popularity of certain genres? Have there been any constants?

In dance music, as long as humans do not evolve away from being warm-blooded heart-beating animals, a solid 4×4 beat at around 120-135 BPM is going to remain the foundation of the most popular dance music. Everything else will get its 5 years of joy before losing out again to 4×4. D ‘n B and dubstep had a good fight against this trend but ultimately lost.

Hon 2

Do you find yourself having to adapt or do you focus on consistently applying the same standards irrespective of trends?

We grade our vinyl conservatively and ship stuff out quickly – this seems to be a winning formula for an online setup. Adding little things like writing “do not bend” messages in the buyer’s local language works well – buyers know we are in this for the love.

Quite a lot of publicity was given to your discovery of a 24,000 record stash in a warehouse last year. How did that come about?

A regular gave me a heads-up one Friday afternoon in June of last year. I drove up to Essex the next day to meet the owner – a kind man who was very active within the rave scene in the late 80s and early 90s. He had a plan to open a record store in 1996 but he got distracted by the birth of his first son, so the records had to be put aside. 20 years later, I gave it a 5 minute inspection and made my offer to take them all home.

What record most excited you that was found in that discovery? Have you sold a lot of them now or did you keep a chunk of them back?

During my first visit, one of the first records I pulled out was a sealed copy of Transmat#001, but then there were more copies behind it. We must have sold over half of them in the last few months. However, we are just opening the last 30-40 boxes this week!

Are you reactive to changes in public tastes with what you stock and promote, or proactive in pushing people towards what you perceive to be innovative music that challenges the status quo?

Most of our stock is from pre 2005 – you don’t have to push them like new vinyl as their status are established. Once in a while a famous DJ could pick out an obscure bargain bin record and turn it into the next Discogs sensation.

Where will vinyl records be in the far future? Does the physical form have a place in the future or do you think this resurgence is temporary?

The furthest away man-made object in space, Voyager, has a vinyl attached to it with details about who and where we are. So even if all vinyl on earth are to be binned, there is always hope an alien lifeform will keep the trend going. For now, vinyl is here to stay.