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Vinyl finds its groove once more
By Nie Xin

WHEN digital media gained the majority of the market in recorded music industry during the late 1980s, many people predicted the imminent extinction of vinyl records.

Up until then vinyl - an analog sound storage medium consisting of a disc with a spiral groove played by a needle - had been the primary medium for music reproduction during most of the 20th century.

However, vinyl didn't vanish and made something of a comeback around five years ago. Now it is most certainly back, not just for professional musicians or fans of retro-style formats, but for a wide audience - ranging from young people to ordinary consumers - attracted by vinyl's charms.

Vinyl fans claim analogue captures the original sound of a recording better than digital formats.

Mo Mo, a well-known Chinese music critic, is also famous for his CD and vinyl collections. Mo, who is in his 30s, is now displaying some of his beloved vinyl as part of an ongoing exhibition, "Black LP Is Going On."

The month-long show at the Jinqiao Commercial Center in the Pudong New Area and Jiatinghui Life-hub in suburban Jiading District brings together more than 800 LPs from collectors and stores - with 200 displayed in Jinqiao and 600 at Jiatinghui.

One of the highlights of Mo's collection on show is a 1965 Japanese pressing of The Beatles album "Help!" which he found last year in a vinyl store in Hong Kong.

"This first edition feels very precious," says Mo.

Mo says he doesn't listen to his LPs at home to avoid scratching, but other vinyl fans, while equally passionate, are less precious about their collections.

Hu Qing, 29, started buying records in 2007, when studying in London. There she would browse market stalls selling second-hand LPs and became interested in the culture. Hu returned to Shanghai last year and now works for an international company but continues collecting vinyl, mostly through the Internet.

"I usually buy cheap LPs for around 20 yuan (US$3.17), old or new. I just follow my interest in pop and folk music for daily listening," she says.

Some Asian pop stars also show their fondness for LPs by issuing vinyl editions of their releases, including Singaporean Wayne Lim and Taiwanese Jam Hsian.

Hu says vinyl gives a truer sound. The first step of creating a digital recording is to take off sound above a frequency of 20,000Hz and below 20Hz as these cannot be heard by human ears, says Hu.

"But many details of the sound are lost in this process. Vinyl retains these, which is one of its charms," explains Hu.

There are many stores in Shanghai where shoppers can find new and second-hand records, while many other discs languish unplayed on shelves or in boxes in homes across the city.

Shen Yuxiang, 61, has old records at home but has not listened to them for years since he moved on to digital formats. His collection predominantly features records he bought in the 1980s, mostly popular Cantonese songs and albums by Teresa Teng. Teng died in 1995, but her music remains popular with Asian audiences.

Shen was a big fan of pop music from Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1980s, considering it "the golden age of Chinese pop music."

"Although, unfortunately, I've now lost my record player after moving home several times, I still keep those old LPs, not because of their value but for the memories," Shen says.

In China, the first gramophone records were manufactured in Shanghai by EMI, which had a base in the city more than 100 years ago. The company was located in a small red villa - widely known by the Chinese name Xiao Hong Lou - on today's Hengshan Road. The building is now home to a Western restaurant.

Recordings such as Mei Lanfang's Peking Opera "Drunken Concubine," Chen Gexin's "Rose, Rose, I Love You" and "The Butterfly Lovers," written by Chen's son Chen Gang, were made in the villa.

"This is something the city should take pride in as it is an important part of haipai (Shanghai style) culture," says famous musician and composer Chen Gang.

Chen remembers the era when people listened to old gramophone records - 78s - which could only contain four to five minutes of music. Therefore, at 25 minutes, "The Butterfly Lovers" required five discs, explains Chen.

Despite these limitations, Chen looks back fondly on 78s. "When I think of gramophone records, the zi ga zi ga sound the needle made on the record always comes to mind," Chen recalls. "This is my memory of the golden era of Shanghai's music industry."

Exhibition "Black LP Is Going On"

Date: Through October 21

Venue: Jinqiao Commercial Center, 3611 Zhangyang Rd, Pudong

             Jiatinghui life-hub, 1055 Moyu Rd S, Jiading District

Website: http://vinylrecords.jinqiaojinqiao.com/hjzj.php

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164