Holly and I are in the midst of a week-long visit to Asia, specifically Seoul and Osaka. And of course a vacation isn’t a vacation without some record shopping (♠). I’ve done some digging in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hong Kong in the past, but both these cities are new to me so I was pretty excited to see what I could find.
Seoul isn’t particularly known for having a strong vinyl culture, and throughout our first full day in the city I was thwarted at almost every turn. In the morning we failed to find an underground shopping mall I’d read about that was supposed to include some second hand vinyl sellers, another store totally eluded us, and a third apparently didn’t open until 2:30PM which did us no good since we were leaving that part of town at 1:30PM to attend a baseball game. (♥) Fortunately the planets aligned in the early evening and I managed to track down the used vinyl Promised Land located in the Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center, which turned out to be about two blocks from our hotel in Myeong-dong.
I learned of this hidden gem from a young Bulgarian female metalhead and blogger named Velina, who publishes the cool blog My Rock Mixtapes. We missed it the first time because I thought it was in the Myeong-dong Underground Shopping Center… but a check back to Velina’s blog pointed me in the right direction. You’re looking for the subway entrance near the Shinsegae department store. There are a bunch of these underground shopping centers, some that are part of the subway terminals and others, like Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center (below), that are simply little malls under the city streets. The quality of these centers varies wildly, and the one at Hoehyeon appears to specialize heavily in coin/stamp dealers and little used vinyl shops. I didn’t actually count them all, and some were closed during my visit because it was Sunday, but best guess is there are at least half a dozen record shops down there.
I’m not much of a foreign pressing guy in that I’m not going out of my way to get an obscure pressing of something I already have. Unfortunately for me that’s a lot of what was on offer down in Hoehyeon, as well as an absolute ton of old classical records. But there was still plenty to keep me occupied for around 90 minutes, and honesty I could have spent way more time there had I wanted to really dig through the 1980s and 90s South Korean artists. I’d done some research in advance, but to be honest the country isn’t well known for producing a lot of the kind of thing I’m interested in like punk and metal, so there wasn’t a ton here for me. Plus the dealers were clearly aware of the going rates on Discogs, so I didn’t see any major bargains on vintage South Korean artists. Thankfully, however, the stuff I was interested in was in great shape and I came away with a few interesting purchases.
Some of the shops have signs, others don’t, making it a bit hard to give you the full specifics. Also, most of them have their inventory spilling outside their shops in fairly well-ordered bins, the shops themselves being quite small – seemingly every turn of a corner yielded more stacked shelves in front of stores. The one major down-side is that many dealers had their wares in cube shelving with the spines facing out making for a more challenging digging environment, especially when you’re looking for South Korean releases and like me can’t read the Korean on the spines. I could have easily spent half a day down there digging, even ignoring the huge swaths of classical vinyl that many stores seemed to specialize in.
My first stop was the tiny but well organized Coda which offered more traditional flipping bins. I stated with the rock/metal section and found a few interesting bootlegs, but then my eyes fell upon the South Korean section so I switched my focus. I had a small list of punk and metal bands to look for and it didn’t take me long to find my first one – Asiana’s 1990 metal debut Out On the Street. I also found some bands there that looked promising, and fortunately Holly and I decided to rent our own secure mobile internet hotspot so I was able to look stuff up online using my phone. I eventually settled on another metal debut, Sinawe’s 1986 Heavy Metal Sinawe. Both records were immaculate, though the Asiana jacket had a bit of wear. Prices weren’t cheap – $40-50 US apiece, but that’s in line with Discogs pricing when you factor in shipping, so I pulled the trigger.
After that I popped next door to LP Love, a slightly larger space with a similar selection and prices. LP Love was also well laid out for digging, though I didn’t find anything the excited me and I was trying not to overcommit too early before I got to see the other shops (♣). LP The Disk had a nice assortment of SK metal and hard rock pressings, but that wasn’t my objective. Another seller, smack dab in the middle of the shopping area, had a massive wall of shelving full of bargain priced LPs at 5,000 wan each – about $5. I didn’t spend much time here though as I was still on the hunt for more SK artists and these were mostly just SK pressings.
I found a few more items at Pastel Records, ironically on some of those spine-out shelves because I saw some English writing – Black Syndrome. I couldn’t find much about the band online, but the one song clip I came across (“Rock the Speed”) sounded pretty great so I picked up their 1988 debut Fatal Attraction and their third On the Blue Street.
One last tip. If you’re interested in K Pop there are tons of kiosk-like shops offering up insane amounts of merchandise. CDs, however, proved harder to find (I was trying to pick some up for a friend’s son). However, we tracked down a joint called Music Korea that had tons of the stuff, so if that’s you’re jam, that’s where you’ll want to go.
We had a great time visiting South Korea. While the vinyl scene isn’t as substantial as that of say Japan, there’s some good history here and the releases I picked up from the 1980s and 90s all appear to be of good quality. If you find yourself in town, you’ll definitely have the opportunity to pick up a few records with just a bit of effort.
(♥) Many shops don’t open until early afternoon, and quite a few are closed on Mondays, which also sucks.
(♠) Nor is it a vacation without us trying to track down the best local burger and some local wine and/or beers.
(♣) But don’t feel too bad for LP Love. On our last day in Seoul we realized we had more local currency on hand than we needed, a situation I rectified by picking up a copy of Crash’s 1994 album Endless Supply of Pain from LP Love.