Discovering Shanghai via Its Vinyl Stores
Not only have I been figuring out how to buy vinyl on Taobao.com, I also decided that in a city as big as Shanghai, there had to be some interesting record shops I could discover. Again, the mentality is that maybe I can find interesting releases here easier than I could in Europe or North America. But actually going out and finding local record shops was also a good way to go exploring the city. I'm a huge proponent of public transportation, so this was also a great excuse to just ride around the metro. Shanghai is full of so many enormous malls and chain stores that seeking out some hole-in-the-wall, locally owned stores just really appealed to me.
Admittedly, I first started searching online, entering "Shanghai record shop" and "Shanghai vinyl store" into Google. I got a few articles, but most of them were from about two years ago or so. Realizing how quickly the city is changing, I didn't expect all of them to still be around since it seems like two years here is an eternity. Taking this article as my main point of reference along with this blog entry and this discussion on discogs.com,I mapped out six record shops I wanted to visit, all of which were on the Puxi side of the city. (As an aside, one of the reasons why I'm writing this is to have updated information about these places out there.)
Based purely on location, I decided to first visit the so-called "lamp fixtures market store" because the nearest metro station is also on the 7 line, which is the closest line to where I live. I found the market and the place where the shop supposedly was, but it looked closed. Disappointed, I left and went to check out Uptown Records. Similarly, I found the building where it was, but it too was not open. I wasn't sure if it was right or not because the entrance is beneath a residence building and it looks like you'll get murdered (see third image below for reference). At that point, I wasn't about to trek out to the other stores only to end up feeling like I wasted a whole day in case they weren't open. This was last Tuesday afternoon, and Uptown Records supposedly opened at 2. I was there at around 2:30 in the afternoon, so I figured it must've just been a fluke. Dejected, I went home and left the other shops for another day.
Determined to figure out if these two stores actually were still open, I searched the internet for contact information and wrote them in English and Google-translated Chinese. The lamp fixtures market one wrote back saying he was still open. I knew Uptown was still open because when I was there and trying to figure out if I was the right place, I asked an old lady outside the building if she knew the store. All I could understand was that the day I visited, either the store wasn't open or was opening later.
Having evidence that the lamp fixtures market store is actually still in business, I went again midday on a Wednesday (the day before yesterday). And bingo, the place is indeed still in operation and actually called Vinyl Villa. (Note to anyone who is actually looking to find these place, I've detailed how to find the shops that are still open at the bottom of this article.) It's definitely not a touristy part of town and it's not a place that you would normally stumble across walking around since it's on the second floor of an actual lamp fixture market. If you look at the image below, that's what the complex looks like where Vinyl Villa is housed. The store isn't huge, but there is a good selection of vinyl to look through -- classic rock, jazz, funk/soul, hip-hop, and a small selection of punk. It looked like everything is secondhand and a mixed bag of Japanese, British, and American releases. I mostly took a look through the rock section and found that there was a lot of Elton John, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, and Journey. Even so, I was surprised to find copies of Happy Meals Vol. 1 (a compilation with Nerf Herder on it which made me nostalgic for high school), Voodoo Glow Skulls' The Band Geek Mafia, and some Potshot records.
It took me awhile to file through all of the rock bins. While I did, the music that the owner, Frank, played was seriously the most varied playlist. What I remember: something from Rammstein, Louis Armstrong's cover of "La Vie En Rose," "Carry on My Wayward Son" from Kansas, and "Ramblin' Man" from the Allman Brothers Band. I talked to him a little and commented about his taste in music; he told me he likes a lot of different genres but will never play punk or folk. While I was in the shop, I noticed he was taking pictures of the records and uploading them to his Taobao shop, which is probably how he gets the majority of his business. I wound up getting a Japanese copy of a Paul McCartney record as well as an American release of something from The Cars, both for 30 RMB each ($4.85/3.89€). As other websites commented, Frank speaks English fluently and he was so kind enough to tell me he would email me when the next shipment of records would arrive. I will obviously be going back.
I also decided to try finding Uptown Records again since I knew it was also open. Going on a Friday afternoon, I sought out the random location, finding the little entrance with the sign pointing to the store (see image below) and feeling confident it would be open. I confirmed my initial guess where the entrance was since there was a sign noting that the owner would be back at 3:30 p.m. though it was already closer to 4 p.m. The entrance feels like it's the door to Narnia or something because it's in such a random place; but one thing to note is that there aren't any zoning laws in China separating commercial and residential areas, which is why an arrangement like this is possible. Figuring I didn't feel like coming back again to find it closed again, I decided to wait. Watching all the people go in to the entrance from the street (again, see this image below), I saw a girl about my age go in and not come back out. I thought she might be the person running the store and I was right.
Uptown Records actually takes up the whole basement of the residence building, so it's quite large. The actual space for records takes up about two rooms, which they show on their website. It's a cool store to browse through the bins since there's a mix of old and new records. I was curious about some of the 7" records, so I asked the girl, Sophia, what her favorites were. She asked me what I liked (punk, garage rock, indie rock), and kindly let me play some of them on the record player hooked up in the store. I was the only person there, so I luckily wasn't annoying anyone. The selection there is really varied, ranging from classic rock to indie rock and punk, as well as house, electro, hip-hop, and pop. They also have some old Chinese records, which I didn't look through, though they did look interesting.
Generally, it looked like Uptown also hosts events and has a bar area, neither of which were open when I was there. They also sell some secondhand women's clothing that looked really funky, as well as books in Chinese. Like I said, it's quite a big place, but it's not all just vinyl. The new 7" records from local Chinese bands all cost 50 RMB ($8/6.50€), and full-length LPs had a range from about 60 RMB to 200 RMB. To give you an idea, I picked up a an original stereo copy of The Beatles' Something New for 120 RMB ($19.40/15.57€). So even when you go in to the building and feel like you're going to be murdered, you're actually in the correct place. Here's a picture of the entrance so you know what to look for:
In addition to Vinyl Villa and Uptown, I tried finding Movie Star based on the blog entry. It was pretty out of the way on metro line 9 and about a twenty-minute walk from the stop. This area of Shanghai is definitely not where tourists or expats hang out. All of the residential buildings are low-rise buildings, but not the beautiful old ones you find in the French Concession. There aren't any high-rises like in Pudong and the feel of the city there is what I imagine it to feel like in a less developed city here in China. Lastly, you don't want to be walking around with headphones on because you will be run over. Unfortunately, as cool as it sounded on that blog I found, Movie Star is no longer. The complex of buildings is now four restaurants (one of which is closed), one supermarket, and one massage place:
I also checked out Kook Music since a lot of the articles I found online had mentioned that it was a pretty cool place. However, that too is unfortunately closed and has now been converted to a real estate agent. I checked out the entry on Dianping(Chinese equivalent of Yelp) to see if I was in the right place, and though I didn't get a snapshot of the place, it's definitely not there anymore when I compared the two. Moreover, I tried the website that's in the Dianping photo and the domain seems to be available to buy.
I didn't check out the last store, 2046 Music Record Store, based on the fact that it I read it only sells CDs and DVDs now. Thinking about how technology here is so up to speed, I don't even know if it's still open and didn't feel like trudging out there to have it closed.
So to sum it all up, it seems that Vinyl Villa and Uptown Records were the only stores that are still open and selling records that I could find. There was another one I tried to find near the Changshu Road station, but it looked closed and I noticed it was in an area that was mostly for classical music; neighboring stores were all selling cellos, violins, and other classical music instruments. I figured that that probably didn't actually have what I was looking for. Even if only two out of the six shops I wanted to check out are open, I got to discover corners of the city that I would never otherwise visit. I also got to know the metro a little better, and that will always come in use. In the meantime, I'll continue visiting both Vinyl Villa and Uptown, and keep looking on Taobao.com for other records.
Getting to Vinyl Villa (link is to their Weibo account, which is in Chinese)
58 Yejiazhai Road, 2F, near Changshou Road
Take the metro line 7 to Chang Shou Road (长寿路). Take exit 1 at the station if it's open (it wasn't when I was there), and just keep walking straight out of that exit along Changshou Road (长寿路). If not, take exit 7, cross the wide avenue in front of you, turn left, and keep walking straight along Changshou Road (长寿路). When you get to Yejiazhai Road (叶家宅路), turn right. You'll see the whole lights fixture market on the right side. There are multiple entrances. If you go into any of them, there will be a first row of stalls that's parallel to the street. When I looked, there only seemed to be one staircase here, so walk up the staircase. If you look at the image above, I think the staircase is roughly where the big 2 in black and yellow is. At the top of the staircase, you'll see a bunch of TVs and fridges for sale and Vinyl Villa is on the left. It's hard to miss. If it's not open, you'll know you've found it if the gate is down but you'll see some vinyl records hanging outside it.
Getting to Uptown Records
115 Pingwu Road, basement, near Xingfu Road
Take the metro line 11 or 10 to Jiaotong University (交通大学) and take exit 6. Turn left when you come out of the station and walk along Huashan Road (华山路). Take the first left after the park, which is Pingwu Road (平武路). Number 115 is actually a residential building, but there's a small entrance way next to where the residents go in with small sign letting you know you're in the right place (see image above). It might look completely wrong since there's a bunch of parking spaces and other stuff, but you're in the correct place. Walk down the ramp, hang a left, and then the door to Uptown Records is a red iron door next to a small staircase on your left. If you've walked to the end of the corridor, you've gone too far. If the store is open, the door is open and a light is on. If Uptown is closed, the light won't be on and you might not see the red door because it's kind of dark. See picture above for what the door looks like. Walk down the stairs to the bottom, go through the bunker-like door, and then the rooms with the records is on the left. You'll hear the music.