Music connects the people. That is how I met JC, the owner of a record store in Bejing, who told me everything there is to know about his space called BLAKK and ECHO INC.
Upon travelling to the UK earlier this year to interview Kendrick Lamar I met JC, who had been sent there with the same assignment by the Chinese mag Modern Weekly. I have to admit that I seldom come across people from China, and since JC speaks English very well, we instantly connected over topics like sneakers, movies, food – and music.
In Manchester we found a bit of time to visit a couple of the local vinyl shops and it was then that JC – his actual name is Jiancui – told me that he runs his own record store in Beijing. I was intrigued and wanted to know all about the shop, but in the few hours we had together on that trip, I didn’t get the chance to ask him any more about it.
A while ago we reconnected over a contribution of mine for a feature in the iWeekly mag – where he is the Creative Director – and that led me back to inquire about his store. So I put together a few questions and JC was so kind to give some thorough answers which I hereby want to share. Someday I will visit the store, until then this will have to do.
First up, can you give some general info on your shop?
The name of the shop is BLAKK, it’s located in Jiaodaokou Beisantiao #43 in Beijing. Half of BLAKK is our vinyl selection which is called ECHO INC., and on the other side are our fashion collections. We don’t have any open online display, since we run the shop very “underground”. We are open every day from around 13:30 to 21:30 in the night.
What made you open a record shop in Beijing? How did it all start?
My partner Wang Kai had another record shop before called Strange Fruits until about four years ago, but it closed because the landlord wanted to sell the space. After that I opened BLAKK as a record shop and also a fashion/art space, then he moved in and we created the new name ECHO INC. for it. By now ECHO INC. is about dance music and electronic music, we work with many European electronic music labels.
What kind of records do you sell? New and/or used? Which musical styles?
New and used, it’s about half and half. We sell new imported releases of electronic music and some used Japanese records of jazz, rock and pop music.
You also sell clothes, shoes and magazines? How did that happen?
Our fashion collections are from local designers. We also sell some fashion and art magazines and books. We also did a pop-up with the German magazine 032c to show and sell some out of prints. BLAKK is all about art and fashion, we use this space to present our friends’ work.
Your shop has a very cool interior design – how did that come about?
The shop is very small and built in a HuTong – in the local language that means “tiny lane”. We set up an automatic sliding glass door with a one-way mirror, so when people walk into the HuTong they can’t tell what the black mirror on the wall is, but when they step forward the doors opens automatically. In the shop we have a zig-zag lights and tiles concept, set up by Neill McLean Gaddes from New Zealand. Neill designed the shop, he has focused on re-designs of HuTong buildings for many years.
How popular are vinyl records in China? Has their popularity changed in recent years?
Not so much. There are about five records shop in Beijing and Shanghai altogether. More and more people have started to buy turntables and records since 2014. People love to stream music and play vinyl – the first one is very convenient, the other is very cool for the customers.
What about the prices? Is vinyl expensive in China, compared to Europe?
It’s about 20 to 25 Euros for new records, used ones should be around 5 to 15 Euros. It’s not that expensive – in Beijing and Shanghai a cinema ticket for a Hollywood movie is about 15 Euros.
Can you say something about your typical customer?
50% are old diggers who bought CDs in the 90s and now buy records as a lifestyle thing. We sell a lot of dance music, so DJs make up about 30% of our regular customers. The rest are people looking for certain records in particular.
How many record shops are there in Beijing?
Only three record shops in Beijing are doing this seriously. Fruity Shop is about rock’n’roll music and motorcycle culture, the owner is Wang Kai’s old partner from Strange Fruits, sometimes we work on distribution together. Another one is Floso, which is run by a local DJ and producer called Liu Wei. The others only sell a few vinyls and do cafe and bar stuff for a living.
Do you record people in Beijing all know each other? Is there like a vinyl “scene”?
Yes, we do know each other in Beijing and Shanghai, it is a scene of totally different music lovers. With BLAKK and ECHO INC. we’re associated with dance music, many customers know about us from local dance clubs, we sell some touring DJs’ records and we invite DJs to play sessions in the shop. Some folk singers and rock music lovers visit Fruity Shop to dig for old stuff, and classic music fans go their own ways to find the sound they like. The scene in Beijing is quite good, even though there’s not too many people involved.
Can you tell any funny stories that happened in the shop?
There’s a lot of local musicians who visit our shop very often, but we only know a few of them, like the DJs and HipHop artists, since buying vinyl is part of their job. Once, the singer-songwriter Leah Dou visited our shop and bought lots of Japanese pop albums, but my partner and me didn’t know her at all – so later on, when we saw the picture she took at the shop and posted in social media, we said to each other: “So she is the daughter of (Chinese diva) Faye Wong?! Damn – we gave this rich kid 10% off the bill!”
Pictures courtesy of BLAKK and ECHO INC.