The digital age, with its plethora of streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and YouTube Music, seemed poised to herald the end of vinyl records. With Hong Kong’s former record behemoths, Hong Kong Records and HMV, shutting down their retail spaces in 2018, many predicted the sunset of the vinyl era. However, the hum of turntables and the unmistakable charm of analog sound never truly faded away.
Defying expectations, vinyl records have been making a remarkable comeback in Hong Kong, cherished in local indie music stores and treasured by dedicated collectors. It isn’t just a localized phenomenon. According to Luminate, a US-based entertainment analytics firm, there has been a surge in vinyl sales by 21.7% in the first half of 2023 compared to the same time frame in 2022. This growth has been consistent for an astonishing 17 years.
Vinyl, with its meticulous maintenance requirements, stands in stark contrast to digital formats. Records, varying between 0.9mm and 2.2mm in thickness, demand vertical storage to prevent warping, protection from extreme temperatures and humidity (particularly challenging in Hong Kong’s climate), and careful handling to avoid scratches. Regular usage also naturally degrades the sound quality. Pair this with the investment needed for a high-quality turntable system, and one might wonder why there’s a rekindled interest in vinyl.
The co-owner of White Noise Records in Sham Shui Po, Gary Ieong, provides some insight. For the modern generation of music aficionados, vinyl and even cassette tapes represent a novel auditory experience. “Vinyl offers a unique sound, allowing younger listeners a fresh way to engage with music,” says Ieong. His store, established in 2004, stands as one of the city’s longstanding sources for genres spanning indie pop, rock, jazz, funk, soul, and more, with a special emphasis on Japanese collections.
Diehard collector, James Tang, who boasts a staggering collection of over 20,000 records, compares the allure of vinyl to savoring red wine. “It’s akin to relishing the distinct flavor of a specific year of wine,” he explains. “Just as each year of wine has its unique taste, each vinyl captures the essence of its recording year, which technology can’t replicate.”
Furthermore, venues like the recently inaugurated Melody: House of Food and Music in Sai Ying Pun add another dimension to the vinyl experience. Beyond a record store, it encompasses a cocktail bar lounge, restaurant, and garden, supported by a vast vinyl collection. According to Johnny Hiller, the founder and music director, vinyl offers a sound much warmer and more authentic than digital streaming. “Owning vinyl has intrinsic value,” Hiller points out, “it’s akin to owning art, a definitive act of cultural preservation.”
There’s an undeniable allure in holding a tangible piece of music, in the experience of immersing oneself in an album’s entirety, and in the ritual of collecting. It offers depth, appreciation, and a profound connection to music. For many, the joy of visiting a record store, sifting through albums, and engaging with fellow enthusiasts remains unparalleled. It’s an experience that transcends technology, uniting generations in their shared love for music.