July 3, 2014 12:00 am JST

Indonesia's vinyl revival

MARCEL THEE, Contributing writer

JAKARTA -- Indonesian music fans are returning to records, driven by a mix of hipster revivalism and nostalgia. The surge of interest in a format that had been abandoned to collectors has fueled the launch of new record labels and been a boon to retailers and distributors.

     Last September, Stockroom Recordings quickly sold all 300 copies it pressed of the new single from rock band Seringai through preorders, even though the record was priced at 150,000 rupiah ($12.5) and one of the two songs on the record was already available as a free download. Generally, CDs by domestic artists sell for 25,000 rupiah to 50,000 rupiah.

     In a similar episode, a reissue of a minialbum by rap group Homicide sold out in less than an hour. Bandung-based label Grimloc Records, whose owner Herry Sutresna was in the band, pocketed more than 150,000 rupiah from each of the 300 records it sold at 250,000 rupiah a pop. "Had we known that it would sell out that fast, we would have pressed 500 copies," Sutresna said.

     Other recent releases have sold at even higher prices. Last year's debut album by alternative rock band Pandai Besi sold for 450,000 rupiah, while the latest album by garage rockers The S.I.G.I.T was priced at 400,000 rupiah. This in a country where the average monthly income is around 2 million rupiah.

     "CDs and cassettes are simply not fulfilling enough," said Zaka Sandra Novian, a 22-year-old college graduate who has spent "incalculable" millions of rupiah on records. "I love music."

     Artist Harlan Boer simply prioritizes. "I feel fulfilled whenever I walk past my (record) collection at home," Boer said. "I forgo a lot of other pleasures. I barely ever eat out or hang out at cafes."

     Indonesia's vinyl revival started about a decade ago, according to Denny Sakrie, a veteran music journalist and collector. Indonesian bands picked up on the interest local music fans showed toward new and reissued foreign records and the hip image of record stores depicted in Hollywood movies such as "High Fidelity." Blogs and social media brought together scattered music fans into an online community, giving labels and bands a platform to promote themselves.

     The hand-numbered pressings of many local record releases draw in customers who are afraid of missing out. Repressings are not common. "That exclusivity makes it trendy," Sakrie said.

     Vinyl labels typically spend almost nothing on promotion, relying on word of mouth through social media. However, most have their records pressed in North America, as there is no longer a local record-pressing plant.

     Releasing records is "a way to stand out in a scene inundated with conventional labels," said Adi Renaldi of Sonic Funeral Records. "That sense of 'coolness' that vinyl has is probably one of the biggest reasons we do this."

Offline pleasures

Though many new labels rely heavily on online sales, their growth has nonetheless spurred openings of bricks-and-mortar record stores. Newcomer Monka Magic in Jakarta is now one of the country's biggest stores focused exclusively on records. Owner Mayo Ramandho sells an average of 400 to 500 records a month, earning a profit of 80,000 rupiah to 120,000 rupiah each.

     "You do the math," Ramandho said proudly. "Vinyl offers a variety of sensations. It sounds better. Vinyl smells better than a download."

     Agus Susanto quit his job at a bank when he realized he was making more money selling records from his own collection via Facebook. He opened Warung Musik in the basement of the Blok M Square mall in Jakarta. Warung's success prompted several other stores to join it in the basement.

     Many of these stores' customers are looking for older records. Both "oldies" from the 1960s and 1970s, such as albums by pop-rock band Koes Plus, and more recent releases such as the second album of retro-pop band White Shoes & The Couples Company, now sell for 1 million rupiah secondhand.

     The interest in records has started to catch the attention of major labels and distributors. Sony Music Entertainment Indonesia in 2012 released a limited edition "best of" compilation for its successful punk act Superman Is Dead, priced at 400,000 rupiah. Demajors, a large distributor, is setting up a vinyl division and planning releases from White Shoes & The Couples Company and others.

Marcel Thee is a Jakarta-based musician and writer. He releases his music on vinyl and other formats.