In an era dominated by streaming services, music listeners are rekindling their love for physical music formats. Zim Ahmadi drops by Teenage Head Records to find out how things are going.
Face it: everything seems to be going digital. Who needs unwieldy records, cassettes and discs when music today is often several clicks or taps away? Thankfully, record stores like Teenage Head Records in Subang Jaya stand out as a beacon of hope to those vying for an experience deeper than the simple act of purchasing music. Radzi, owner of this fine establishment, shares his experiences in innovating through the times and preserving the incomparable culture that surrounds music ownership and its communities.
Hey Radzi, tell us a little bit about the history of Teenage Head Records?
Teenage Head started back in 2014, we decided we wanted to get away from the daily 9 - 5 grind, so we quit our job. We settled our debt and then moved to KL. Initially we wanted to just retire, but we decided we were too young and we had too much stuff in our head to retire.
What were you working as before you retired then?
It’s a boring yuppie job. A 9 – 5 boring yuppie job. Nothing interesting.
So this way back in 2014? But when exactly?
Yeah the shop opened a week or two before Record Store Day 2014, so every Record Store Day is actually our anniversary! When we first moved to KL, we first did a survey about record stores here. There wasn’t any back then. Of course there was Joe’s Mac in Amcorp Mall, but that was more to selling to The Beatles, Deep Purple & Led Zeppelin crowd. There weren’t any for the kids and the 30 year olds, and the 40 year olds; so we wanted to bring more indie stuff, more punk stuff, more hip stuff and newer bands. During the renovation, then Hard Graft opened and then Tandang was always there, and then Tandang also opened. All around the same time. 2014 was the year record stores came back to life.
One of the things we wanted to do was Record Store Day, because Malaysia never really celebrated it before 2014. Joe’s Mac had a banner and would sell CDs under like a Buy 1 Free 1. We wanted to do it for real, and something for Malaysian kids to call their own so when someone from the UK comes in and ask us whether we celebrate it, the kids have something to be proud about.
How did you get started in terms of the stock of records? What were the first batch of records you sold first?
When we first started out most of the stock are all mine that I’ve been collecting since I was young –CDs, vinyls, you name it. All of the used records were all mine. The new records were easier to get back then because you could just contact the distributors. And then as time goes by we buy in bulk, and we bought from radio stations and collectors. People also consign their own records here too, which adds to the shop’s flavours.
Managing a record store probably requires a high level of knowledge in music, so how did you get your first batch of employees?
Actually for the first few years, it was just me and the wife so when we had something on we had to close the shop. Eventually we realized that people wanted us to open all the time so we started to do Monday to Sunday because one of our regular customers told us that “Hey, I could work here”. The other two staff were the same too. From regular customers just hanging out here often and then they agreed to work here part time.
I bet a lot of people apply to work here!
Yeah! But the thing is working at a record store you need to have some level of knowledge. Even working in a bookstore you need to like books. It’s not like working at 7-Eleven, where you don’t have to like the stuff you’re selling. If you put someone who is not musically inclined behind the counter, it would look bad on the store.
They need to know music. Other than that, there really isn’t a criteria. It’s more of a vibe thing. You know when you know.
But by accident, you guys have your own specializations [in genres] right?
Of course! The good thing about the store is that I’m more into the Britpop, alternative, UK punk and the early punk stuff. Aziff is into the eclectic, free jazz, and kraut rock. Arrow is more into the general early 2000s alternative emo and hardcore and Cheng is more into pop. Each of us bring our own flavour into the shop, which is really good! The consignment also adds a lot of flavour too it! You know how they say, the shop is a reflection of its owner? If the owner likes metal, you’d have a lot of metal. So initially, it was just a shop of my own taste. But when people start consigning stuff, like a metal guy comes in and says he wants to consign his records, he adds a metal side to the shelves. And then you have the prog guy and the kraut rock, and suddenly the shop becomes more diverse. You can find almost everything.
None of this is planned? It just so happens that it gets diverse?
Everything will take shape by itself so I never try and dictate it too much. This applies during Record Store Day too, when people open their own table to sell their own records during the flea markets.
Can you tell us a little bit about your regular customers?
Well, we tend to attract the more 40 and below crowd due to the name of our store, but because of our classic rock section we do attract the 60 and below crowd too! We have practically a bit for everyone.
I always remember customers based on what they buy. A good example of this is one of my favourite band is this band from Manchester called The Fall. I guarantee there are only like 5 people in Malaysia who like The Fall. So when there was this one Chinese guy who came in and bought The Fall I was so surprised. I was expecting him to buy something usual like Coldplay.
*laughs* You could tell he liked Coldplay based on his face?
*laughs* I had to salute him, man. It’s seldom that you go through something like that. Another band is Guided By Voices. Whenever I see another person who likes them, I’d say “Where have you been all my life, man? You’re my soulmate” *laughs*. I mean, everybody listens to Radiohead, and fans of the Smiths are common, so when that happens to you, you remember it.
So why Teenage Head? Was that your favourite band?
It was actually my favourite album from a Singaporean band called Oddfellows. Back in the days, I listened to their first album called Teenage Head. It’s my favourite album of all time.
Actually this Teenage Head thingy when I was in my early 20s, I always had this thing for creating a Teenage Head Rock Club. This Teenage Head thing wasn’t new, it was something I’ve always wanted to do since I was in my 20s.
This record store is sort of like running a rock club now. I invite bands to come in to perform and what not. It’s great.
Do you prefer the era now, or the previous era were there were so many record stores but not all of them were quality?
The thing is back then, when I first started collecting music, there were not a lot of record stores, but they were really cheap. All of the early pricings for the punk stuff and the alternative stuff were cheap. But now, with all of these record stores coming up, such as Crossroads, I don’t find them as competition at all. I would see other stores as something that complements what we don’t have. You will never find two stores that are similar. All stores have their own strong points and advantages. The more stores that come up I’d be more than happy.
People always say “Is it because people don’t buy music because there aren’t enough stores, or is it the other way around?”. You see that when all of these big chains closing down like Rock Corner, so kids don’t even get to see what is the record store. But I always believe, the more, the merrier.
People have this bad conception of big chains like Rock Corner where the people who work don’t really understand what they’re selling. What do you think of stores like that?
Hence why back in the days when it comes to Tower Records or HMV – I don’t have anything against them – but if I don’t need to go there, I don’t. I always prefer a mom ‘n’ pop store. But sometimes you need to go there to get your Arrested Development DVD. *laughs*
I get intimidated with big stores because you feel like everyone is watching you. But in mom ‘n’ pop stores, you know the owner, and it doesn’t feel like a customer relationship. You feel like you’re hanging out with a friend.
What was your favourite record store growing up?
Definitely, Roxy Music in Singapore. That record store shaped the beginning of my music journey. It was THE record store. You could get local CDs as much as international CDs. The UK had a lot of great ones too like Rough Trade. Last time, how it went was that you go overseas and you visit their record stores, but now it’s not worth it to go overseas and buy new CDs from there, especially because we’d probably have it here and for cheaper!
How did you first establish your connection with Indonesian distributors?
Now it seems to be there’s this huge market for Indonesian music lovers in Malaysia like Mocca & Payung Teduh. So I asked myself “Why don’t I go to Bandung and see what I can do”. After the first trip of buying CDs, I would buy whole bulks, and then when I come back they would get sold out. Even when I buy huge bulks of them, every time they would sell out. Also, it keeps the interest of CDs going!
When I first started out, I didn’t want the store to be ‘vinyl only’. In Malaysia, vinyl is like RM120, but in Singapore it’s like 40 dollars. Even though it’s the same price, it seems cheaper in Singapore. I’m pretty sure that school kids and college kids can’t afford vinyls yet, so I always wanted the store to have everything so I have cassettes and CDs. It started out with one small box for CDs, but then I realize with Rock Corner closing, the people that are coming here won’t just be people who are looking for Radiohead’s OK Computer.
Let’s talk a little bit about music and get your opinion on the local music scene. You’ve got any favourite albums from the local scene?
From Malaysia? Jaggfuzzbeats, man! There’s also Elmu Hisab too, but they only release cassettes. Crack Guilty was an interesting record. Masdo coming up too! The problem with Malaysia is that we’re still stuck in the age of early 2000s like The Times, Butterfingers, OAG and Hujan. Man, I feel like it’s about time we move on, man. I think we should welcome in a new age, man. I mean, Butterfingers is my time! 17-year-old kids now should celebrate their own generation! Jaggfuzzbeats is a new band. They have a new sound. They’re fresh. They’re handsome. Their hair’s not grey. *laughs*
How does it feel like to be a physical store in a world where people are starting to prefer digital?
If you go through our Instagram (check it out, it’s at @teenageheadrecords. Very informative), I wrote ten reasons why physical record stores would always be better. Of course, in the end people are bound to buy online. Sometimes you can get cheap stuff online and I can’t deny that. I’ll go through Amazon and such and I’ll discover some good records.
Other times people would tell me they found a record online for RM128, and I would sell it here for RM120, so always check out your local stores first. Also would you rather give your money to an online store based somewhere else, or do you want to give that money to a local record store? And then money will get rolled around here? You get my point here? If you give your money to Amazon it doesn’t come back to us. I’ll get less, that means the coffee shop down the road gets less and the bands get less. It’s always healthier when money gets rolled around here, man.
Teenage Head Records is not just a record store since you guys also press records for local bands right?
Yeah! We have bands like Dirgahayu, Lara Hassan and the V, Popscene, Lust, Bittersweet and the last one was Plague for Happiness. Lots of bands. And there’s no rule or law to choose. It’s a ‘feel’ thing. Like how I like Jaggfuzzbeats now and I’ll ask them whether they wanna do a cassette.
How do you see the store evolving in the future?
I don’t want it to evolve. I want it to stay as it is but I want to get more staff and do more events. And, I don’t know, make more money I suppose *laughs*. I have no plans to make it a chain store or anything. It’s just about maintain this, but making it more accessible to everyone.