UAE vinyl collectors tell how they 'love the process of discovery'

With Record Store Day on Saturday, enthusiasts speak about their collections

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To appreciate the way the vinyl record market is booming, look no further than the growth of Dubai’s Raw Music Store.

Launched online in 2019 with nearly 5,000 records, the shop moved to a brick-and-mortar location in DIFC two years later.

To accommodate an increasing demand from UAE record collectors, the store is relocating again, to its biggest premises yet, in Al Quoz.

The Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms on vinyl at Raw Music Store, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Opening on Saturday in celebration of Record Store Day on April 22, the airy warehouse will be stocked with 7,000 new and vintage records.

Tunisian manager and co-founder Yassine Hakimi says the expansion echoes the fortunes of the international market.

“Vinyl record collecting and purchases have been on the rise everywhere over the past few years and that has partly moved many of us to open up businesses to accommodate it,” he tells The National.

“But I have to say that it remains a very niche business and it's all about passion.

“Ultimately, it relies on the support of the vinyl-collecting community; when it comes to Dubai it is a very healthy one.”

While no local data regarding vinyl sales is currently available, global sales figures suggest the vinyl revival is more than a fad.

According to a March report from the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl record sales in 2022 jumped by 20 per cent to $1.2 billion and surpassed CD sales for the first time since 1988.

It is a similar tale on the other side of the Atlantic in the UK with vinyl records making up more than 50 per cent of total sales of the top 100 titles in 2022, according to the British Phonographic Industry.

The fact that copies of the latest albums from Taylor Swift and Harry Styles are big sellers prove vinyl collecting is not simply an exercise in nostalgia.

Record collector Sulaiman Khamis Alalawi loves the imperfection in analogue recordings. Chris Whiteoak / The National

For collector Sulaiman Khamis Alalawi is the latest in a series of hobbies, including collecting high-end audio gadgets.

“I began collecting about three years ago and I now have nearly 100 records, from jazz fusion to blues, soul and funk,” he says.

“What I love about it is that it is a process of discovery.

“I love the sound of analogue and how it can sound so perfect and at times also have its own little imperfections. It's a totally different listening experience.”

Emirati chef Faisal Naser combines his passions for records and food at his restaurant Lento. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Emirati chef Faisal Naser finds the process of coming home and playing his favourite vinyl albums, such as 1991’s The Low End Theory by hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, as much needed respite from the hustle and bustle of his Abu Dhabi and Dubai branches of boutique burger restaurant Lento.

“I started collecting in 2013 because I wanted to get back to drawing again and I thought having a turntable would be like meditation for me. So I bought one, and the records came after,” Naser says.

“The attention you give to the songs while listening from a turntable is totally different. You appreciate each sound, rhyme, and bar.

“You don’t have the ease of flicking between songs and albums like on music streaming so you simply love the music you already have even more.”

 DJ Frezidante who uses vinyl records in his sets. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

And when it comes to DJing exclusively with vinyl records, Giorgio Mardinian says the experience is even more in the moment.

“It is definitely more spontaneous because, unlike the digital format, where you can format your track lists in advance, DJing with vinyl makes you physically hand pick the music that comes next,” says the Dubai resident, who performs under the stage name DJ Frezidante.

“Doing it manually is more fun for me because of the challenge. I feel more present, I am not just a robot pressing buttons.”

Naser echoes that sentiment: “Listening to vinyl records is like eating at a fine dining restaurant, in that you go there with full attention to enjoy the meal and the story behind each dish.

“With vinyl, you are listening to the story of each song being told.”

Updated: April 21, 2023, 6:02 PM