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Crate-Digging for Audio Gold at the Second Hanoi Records Day

In September of this year, Quan Cam played host to VOC Record’s second Hanoi Records Day. Urbanist Hanoi met with the organizers and collectors to learn more about Vietnam’s growing culture of crate diggers.

The staircase leading to the market place is decorated with the names of classic rock bands.

VOC began with a record collection, its founder Minh said of his father’s love of analog music and how it was the catalyst for his business and passion for the medium: "I grew up with this, my father is a music producer and he started collecting records around the age of 14. He had joined the Vietnamese music academy, as he was one of the rare few that was exempt from the military. During those days in the north, music wasn’t really a big part of the culture, so he was getting into imported rock and roll like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, all of the classics. It wasn’t until 2008 that he was asked about his collections; even before the first record store opened, he had around 10,000 records, all imported from the US from the 1960s through to the 80s. This is how I got into records, I learnt English by reading the lyrics and descriptions of the albums inside the sleeves."

On arriving at the decision to create the store, Minh shared: "VOC Records exists to help this current Vietnamese generation have a deeper connection to music. We are curators, music enthusiasts and storytellers who believe that vinyl is the best medium available for enhancing this experience along with its long-lost ritual."

A counter with album players for shoppers to test out records.

The collective behind VOC grew up together; these vinyl enthusiasts share a love for crate-digging, passing on their fanaticism to younger Vietnamese crowds. Minh’s friends and colleagues grew into the passion with him, often going to his house after school, rifling through his father’s collection, and discovering music that wasn’t then popular in Vietnam. Most of the group went on to study abroad, some to Japan as exchange students.

A section showcasing musicians from the 60s.

"There are so many record stores in Tokyo and Osaka," Vũ, a vinyl collector and one of the team at VOC, said. "When I would enter these stores I was excited and wanted to explore them more. In this digital age people take advantage of how accessible music is, they don’t go through the process of searching, discovering and collecting it as you can with a record. It’s more personal than just looking at something on the internet."

There are currently five record stores in Hanoi, most without any presence online and usually catering to an older generation, offering records from famous Vietnamese musicians like Trịnh Công Sơn and Khánh Ly. VOC Records intends to fill a void in the market, making vinyl records and the culture surrounding them appealing to younger music enthusiasts. Through events like Hanoi Records Day, their social media channels and website debut, they hope to offer an alternative to online music streaming services and show how record-collecting can be a rewarding and affordable pastime. This is their second event, and there was a significantly larger turn-out than the first time. As the collective continues to expand, so does the interest in buying audio equipment and records.

Deep in the world of melodies.

The three-day event took over Quan Cam, an indie cafe and music venue inside the 60 Square complex, with rows of boxes filled with records to explore, separated by genre, era or country of origin; there were many interesting selections from South Korea and Japan. At a corner stood a listening station where customers could test out new records and organizers could demonstrate how to use record players. They also offered a mixtape-making service, and customers could make requests for music they wanted to see at future events by writing the artist’s or album’s name on a large blackboard. The entire layout was playful and engaging, offering something for everyone. With each purchase, a free bespoke poster featuring beloved artists like The Beatles, David Bowie or Ozzy Osbourne was available for shoppers.

There's also a blackboard where patrons could write down suggestions.

In Vietnam, there is currently a larger vinyl community and culture in the south, with more stores and events centered around it. Minh said, "Most of our online customers are in the south in Saigon; this makes me uncertain about opening a store here because it seems like the real interest is there, they have a lot more records too. We hope to expand and things may progress in the future, we’re still focused on rock 'n' roll and jazz and some Japanese pressed records, but I hope in the future to expand to other genres. A hobby like this is still considered quite an expensive interest here in Vietnam, but we want to show how it can be affordable, and once you get into it you, can’t go back from it."

On the prowl for some cool vintage records.

The larger turnout and passionate community around this culture proved that there is hope for its growth within Hanoi. Recently, The Bottle Shop, a bar that offers local craft beers in Tay Ho, has started hosting regular "Crate Diggers" events where attendees can showcase three tracks from their personal record collection and meet with other collectors in the city.

As the digital market continues to expand and develop, there has been a global resurgence of interest in analog mediums like film photography and vinyl records. This liberation from catered algorithms is appealing to a younger audience chiefly because it gives them a tangible connection to the culture they consume, a community to engage and share a collective passion with, and a sense of nostalgia for something away from digital content. It’s a welcome respite from the world of tomorrow.

Owning records can be a personal triumph for many.

"Do you know that feeling when you get a new toy when you’re a kid?" Minh asked. "I still get that feeling when I listen to a new record. Crate-digging is a whole different experience from listening to music through streaming services. When you buy a record you own that piece of music, but when you stream something you’re just renting it. [In] a culture that is constantly developing digitally, I do feel that we have reached a limit, that brings us back to needing a physical record in our hand to fully experience and enjoy our music."

To celebrate the launch of VOC Records' website, the team has offered Urbanist Hanoi readers a 10% discount on any purchase. Apply by entering URBANIST<3VOC into the discount code field when checking out.

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