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Diggin’ for records is an addiction, there’s no doubt in that. I’m sure we can all remember the first record we ever found, that jolt of excitement and the consequential thirst for more. Subsequently, we find ourselves searching high and low for new spots, untouched by rivals and fellow enthusiasts. To go into a fresh location when you’ve been marauding the same spots for years is a real thrill. Logic dictates, that the best place to find new spots, is... in new countries? Sure, it’s a long way to go, but diggin’ abroad is well worth the mileage. It feels like the first time all over again. You may even see some sights whilst you look for records?
Recently, I travelled to Venice and Budapest. I was keen to check out the local music scene and maybe snag me a few black circles. I found heaps of record shops and diggin’ spots and met some captivating people along the way. My search, however, was not easy. There were highs and lows and ups and downs a plenty. I wanted to put together a list of tips for my fellow wax loving degenerates, to help take your obsession to the next level.
This one seems obvious, right? Your time is limited. The clock is always ticking and there’s landmarks to see, places to visit, galleries to enjoy, many drinks to be had.
Do yourself a favour and make a list. Look up the best record shops on Google, then print screen the locations and street maps that are displayed. Have one map that’s zoomed in, so you can see the streets around the store, and one that’s zoomed out. That way, you’ll have a rough idea if you’re close, based on the landmarks you can see. Keep it on your phone so you can take a look when you’re wondering about and see if you’re close to a spot. Don’t be obsessive, just have it lightly bouncing around in the back of your mind. When you’re out and about, you might notice that there’s a diggin’ spot near somewhere you’re visiting. Do what you gotta do, then make your move. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. Be patient and have faith that you’ll get your chance.
This worked well when I was in Venice. We checked out the infamous Venetian book store Libreria Acqua Alta, and I can safely say it was one of the most charming places I’ve ever been. I heard there were records, but I was more interested in the store itself. Venice is infamous for flooding, so this store takes eccentric measures to protect their product. Mostly, by storing them in all things waterproof. There must have been around ten thousand books, all stored in bath tubs, boats, sinks and buckets. It was an awesome place to see and I know full well I wouldn’t have found it if I wasn’t on the hunt for records. OK, I admit, the records were overpriced and sucked. That didn’t matter though, we found the coolest bookstore in the world.
I’ve always found that the best shops in the world are the ones with old owners who don’t believe in the internet. These places are absolute goldmines for records and if you manage to find them, you’ll be in heaven.
In Budapest, we were walking to Liberty Bridge and we saw a sign. It didn’t translate to English, but I saw the illustration of a record and pleaded that we had a look. It was a small detour, and my understanding travel partner reluctantly agreed. When we arrived my heart sunk. The place was shut. The signs on the store were littered with graffiti and it appeared to have not been open for years. I was a little confused as to why they were advertising on the street, so I made a mental note not to forget this place. We carried on to Liberty Bridge and had a cold beer that the snow turned to ice in our hands. The beer was well enjoyed, but I just couldn’t shrug the feeling that I’d missed an opportunity.
A few days later, we were in a similar area. To my joy I saw the shop was open. Oldies CD Lemezudvar was a treasure trove. The layout inside was a linear homage to the progression of audio. Vintage hi-fi’s, gramophone players and TV’s from the 60’s made for a real treat for the eyes. Audio history was stacked high and majestically leered over my shoulder as I searched for almost an hour. I got chatting to the owner, and he stated that he was pretty much retired, only opening now and then at his leisure. How very European.
I ended up snagging three Kraftwerk records, all pressed on German labels. I also bagged myself a superb re-press of Catapilla’s Changes. Not bad for what was about $30. Smug with my haul, I was glad I went back.
Chatting with locals helps a lot. However, these conversations rely heavily upon timing and tact. I’d just spent money in Oldies CD Lemezudvar, so the owner was more than happy to give me some tips on the local vinyl scene. Obviously, it’s best not to go into a record shop and ask where to buy cheap records. You’ll probably get shown the door and be lucky to avoid a slap.
My conversation with the owner of Oldies CD Lemezudvar led me to the next vintage market in Budapest. We timed it perfectly, as the market was on the day after we visited the shop. It was only once a week, so we were happy to have found that out.
The market itself was superb. There was loads of awesome local food, lots of vintage clothing for sale and yes, records. I found a box that looked good and got stuck in. Most of it was rubbish, but I had fun looking and eventually found myself a playable first pressing of Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones. Not bad for about $5. What I loved about this market was how unique it was. It wasn’t drowned in tourists updating their Facebook status’ about what an awesome time they were having, and it was almost exclusively populated by locals. We felt blessed to have found it. Had I not been searching for records and had we not chatted to that shop owner, we never would have found that market, nor would I have got to eat that damn fine local sausage and sauerkraut. I can still taste it now.
This one’s short and sweet. Don’t be that guy/girl. Everyone’s been on an awesome trip with friends. If you haven’t, be aware, you’ve got one friend that’s going to blow all their money on the first day. You won’t know who they are until they do it. After this, they’ll just eat crisps and sulk for the remainder of the trip. Don’t get carried away.
Have a budget set aside for luxuries like records and stick to it like glue. When I was in Oldies in Budapest, I could have blown my entire holiday budget on records, but I didn’t. I had a set amount to splurge, and stuck to it. It’s hard, there’s no question that it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment and blow your proverbial load. Especially when there is so much there that you have been looking for. You gotta be strong. You also have to think…
This is a biggie. Buying records abroad is a pretty thoughtless act. What is there to it? You just buy the records, right? No. Wrong. This is what I did, and I really didn’t think it through. It’s a great deal more challenging than you think. Always have logistics in mind.
Firstly, I had a backpack. Where can you store records safely in a backpack? Nowhere, that’s where. Consequently, I had to travel around 4,000 miles literally holding a bag of vinyl like a new-born baby. I had to get on a crammed bus for 45 minutes, to then get on a tram, which took me to the train that would take me to the airport. All this, whilst swaddling a bag of records. Then you have to go through airport security, then sit in the departure lounge, then board a plane and make the return journey home. Vinyl is a notoriously temperamental format, and you’ll have to work damn hard not to do any serious damage to it during transit. Even if you pack it in a stiff suitcase, there’s no guarantee it won’t warp or the sleeves won’t bend. Also, they weigh a lot! Make sure you don’t have to throw away clothes to meet your weight limit.
It was a logistical nightmare and there were moments where I felt a fool. I kept asking myself, ‘why’!? Well, when I got home and span Computer World, it all made sense to me. To have three Kraftwerk albums on German labels, a mint copy of Catapillas Changes and first press of Let It Bleed, all for less than $35? Forget the logistics, forget the pain, it was worth it. However, it doesn’t have to be as hard for you as it was for me. Follow these tips, and you should have the vinyl vacation you always dreamed of, minus the pain.
Luke Pybus is a freelance writer and vinyl obsessive from Cardiff, Wales. Usually found shoulder deep in a box of records, or with a hot coffee writing about them.