Beyond the Underneath: Vinyl survival, Part 1

Graphic by Derin Savasan

The slogan “Save Uptown” has been around for a while — on the internet and on a flyer that a staff member handed to me when I was visiting a vinyl market last weekend.

Uptown Records is Shanghai’s first vinyl-only store. Recently, the landlord informed it that rent will more than double.

When I went to the vinyl market last weekend, I arrived late. Uptown Records and some other sections were already packing up. The owner of a vinyl store handed me a card with an address when I was browsing through boxes of genres. He said it’s quite difficult to find his store, but it shouldn’t be too far off. 

Interestingly, I didn’t recall any vinyl stores that are “easy” to find. The process of finding most of them is usually an exploration with trials and errors. Some of them are very small, some share space with other stores and some are just secretive. Perhaps the rent is cheaper that way, but I think covert locations also resonate well with the nature of vinyl records nowadays; they are niche and attract genuine music lovers.

I still remember the first time I found Uptown. I expected it to have a neon sign or logo somewhere, but the only above-ground cue was a small, faded sticker beside the dark, narrow entrance of an old apartment building’s garage. There are more turns and entrances inside the garage. When I finally stumbled upon the red door and the staircase that leads to the actual underground store, I was simultaneously charmed and awed by the location. To me, it’s fulfilling to find the “hidden parts” of Shanghai, but what’s even better is that the hidden location doesn’t affect its longevity. Uptown’s fervent supporters, as well as venerable reputation in both music and underground culture, have buttressed its existence.

I visited Uptown again after receiving the flyer. To my surprise, the vinyl section was entirely gone. Vintage clothes took over. The staff showed me a hand-drawn map of the vinyls’ temporary new location, inside a tiny single room bar with only three seats by the counter table. When I walked in, I instantly recognized the bartender. He’s a DJ I’ve seen constantly on posters, and he’s a vinyl lover too, I believe. Hearing a couple of people chatting about music and records was soothing and heartwarming. Despite a vinyl revival in recent years, classic vinyl records are still deemed obsolete in the mainstream, as modern technologies and the digital world sift them out. But they are still there, lining up quietly and unyieldingly, in boxes organized by genre, protected and loved by a small population of firm supporters. 

April marks the 10-year anniversary of Uptown Records, but due to the huge rise in rent they are facing a dilemma. Future concerts and activities are listed for fundraising on the flyer I was given. I hope it will protect its original location instead of going above ground — this underground area is filled with too many memories, stories and stickers on the walls.


COPYRIGHT 2021 THE TUFTS DAILY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.