For the love of vinyl records

Nitesh Gupta was only 10 years old when he first listened to a vinyl record. It was the late 80s, and the most common way to listen to music in the country was to tune into Radio Nepal. But Nitesh’s maternal uncle was one of the few people in the country who owned a vinyl record player.

The sight of the vinyl record in slow motion and the distinct sound produced by the turntable left Gupta fascinated by the technology. Three decades later, that fascination, says Gupta, hasn’t waned.

“The word vinyl means flexible plastic. Songs on vinyl records are literally etched into these soft plastic discs. When the pin or the needle hits the vinyl record, it is actually the scratch formed on the vinyl record that appears as music. Isn’t it fascinating to know? exclaims Gupta, who is now 48 years old and owns about 500 vinyl records.

In the last few years, vinyl’s popularity has seen a resurgence in several countries. In Nepal, the format, after losing out to more technologically advanced formats like CDs and digital recordings, is seeing renewed interest from audiophiles and vintage enthusiasts.

Gupta represents a small but growing number of Nepalese music lovers who prefer to listen to their music on vinyl records.

The growing popularity of vinyl records has also contributed to the birth of an ecosystem to support it. Wild Yak Records, a vinyl record label, has been selling Nepali vinyl records for four years. The label uses the original analog recording of the songs after remastering them for vinyl records.

According to Sushil Koirala, one of the co-founders of Wild Yak Records, the label’s clientele is spread across five countries: Nepal, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Switzerland.

Koirala, Kiran Byanjankar and Neeraj Gorkhaly are the three people behind Wild Yak Records. When the three listened to a vinyl record for the first time, they were won over and realized that no other medium offers the same listening experience. The trio’s shared love for vinyl led them to launch Wild Yak Records in 2018, and the label has been offering selected Nepalese songs on vinyl records ever since.

“Music on vinyl recordings sounds more real and authentic because you can hear the different instruments playing in parallel, without disturbing each other,” Koirala explains.

It was this distinct sonic experience offered by vinyl that attracted musician Sunny Mahat to the medium a year ago.

“I find a different gratification when I listen to vinyl records. Since these recordings have pops and pops as flaws, they are not for untrained ears,” says Mahat, 36.

There are other aspects of listening to vinyl records besides sound quality, Mahat says, that set the medium apart from others.

“Once vinyl recording is activated, there is no choice but to switch to another song. You have no choice but to listen to how the album is made.

Three years ago, Aishwarya Baidar, 23, a fashion blogger, started listening to vinyl records. Unlike Mahat, it was not the sound quality of vinyl records that attracted her to the world of vinyl records.

“I’ve always been interested in vintage items, and that interest led me to vinyl records,” says Baidar.

But pursuing this hobby of listening to vinyl records is easier said than done. Many vinyl record lovers often have to go to great lengths to continue their hobby.

“It’s an expensive hobby,” adds Koirala, “A single vinyl record from our label can cost you up to Rs 5,000. Since our country does not have a single vinyl pressing factory, we have to pressing records in the US or Europe depending on the type of project.As we serve a very small market, we only press a few hundred records, which increases the cost.

The cost of vinyl record players, which are not cheap, further add to the expense.

“When I decided to buy a vinyl record player, I started looking for one here in town, but the ones on sale no longer worked,” says Baidar.

This left him with no choice but to import one. So, last summer, she ordered a Victrola vinyl record player, and it cost her 20,000 rupees.

Another major challenge that vinyl record enthusiasts face is the lack of dedicated repair shops for vinyl record players in the country.

Five years ago, when the needle on Dinesh Man Sthapit’s vinyl record player broke, he scoured the city for a replacement but couldn’t find one. Sthapit started listening to vinyl records four decades ago, and twenty-five years ago he bought a set-up with a radio, turntable, cassette player and amplifier. It cost him Rs 18,000.

“After failing to find a replacement for my turntable needle, I had to order it from Singapore,” Sthapit explains. “Thirty years ago, spare parts for turntables were more readily available, and there were dedicated experienced mechanics as well. This is no longer the case.”

But despite the many challenges vinyl record enthusiasts face to sustain the hobby, the overall sonic experience a vinyl record provides is worth it, vinyl enthusiasts say.

“Over the past thirty years, I’ve listened to music in different mediums,” Sthapit explains. “And I can say with absolute certainty that when it comes to the listening experience, nothing comes closer to the experience offered by vinyl records.”

Jack L. Goldstein