Record Shopping in Bangalore

This is my 14th (15th? 16th?) visit to India. I’ve really lost count. Work dominates most of these trips, but I always try to experience something new each time. I try to see some new sights, or try new food, or in the case of this weekend, try my hand at crate digging for records.

Most online searches came up dry for physical storefronts. There are a handful in Delhi, a few in Mumbai, but virtually none in Bangalore. But my friend Chris unearthed an address buried in a newsgroup and I knew I had to find it:

#64, 1st Floor,
Balaji Silk Complex, Avenue Road, Bangalore
Phone: 09342410288

A hotel car drove us in a direction of the city I’ve never explored. A few minutes into the drive, the driver asked if I had any local Indian friends. Yes, friends and colleagues, but no one with us at the moment. The driver continued: “This address is on a road I cannot drive.” Apparently the neighborhood can only be reached by foot; the area thickly settled with shops. We found Avenue Road and it was indeed bananatown. Narrow winding streets that splintered into even narrower alleys. Shops and shopkeepers lined the streets, but no street signs or landmarks to help us.

Luckily I had jotted down the record shop phone number and our driver made the call. We ended up parking on the outskirts and the shop owner came to meet us. A ten minute walk through alleys and tunnels and up several flights of stairs, we arrived in a dark antique store.

Record Player

The walls and floor were crammed with old wooden furniture, musical instruments and several cabinets filled with metal toys and knick-knacks from decades ago. In the middle of the floor, piled several feet high, were stacks of old dusty records – a terrible way to store your vinyl, by the way. I immediately started flipping through the stacks, choking on dust clouds as I sorted through film soundtracks and traditional devotional records in several Indian languages: Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, and Tamil.

I set some aside based on two crude methods: above average vinyl and sleeve condition, and quality of the cover art. I’m a music fanatic but I was definitely out of my league and had no clue what any of this sounded like. But one of the first finds ended up being my favorite of the day: Jaani Dushman, the soundtrack for an Indian horror film from 1979. You can watch clips of it on YouTube. How could I pass up a cover so genius! Perhaps Finders Keepers needs to repress and re-release it?

Jaani Dushman LP

After a few minutes of digging, the shop owner asked if I’d like to see more. “I have thousands more upstairs.” His assistant took me another flight up and unlocked a heavy-padlocked steel door. The room was darker than the main shop. A small walkway parted a roomful of more antique furniture leading to the far back of the attic. At the end of the room were shelves and shelves of old records.

Records in Bangalore

See more photos of the record shelves on Flickr

After a couple minutes it was clear there was no organizational pattern going on here. It was also quite clear there would be no way I could look at every record. I learned later that the shop frequently sees record collectors and DJs primarily from Japan and Russia. Visitors come equipped with their own portable turntable and headphones and make a day of it. The shop owner would supply them with breakfast, lunch and dinner. There was no working turntable at the store, which was a shame, so I proceeded on instinct alone. It was daunting but I started flipping through stack after stack pulling out some nice looking gems.

Mard LPM.S. Subbulakshmi LPNagina LPSholay LP

Suhaag LPNafrat Ki Aandhi LPDevotional Music LPTelugu LP

See all of the LP covers on Flickr

I had to be careful. Some of the sleeves were quite fragile. Also I had to beware of the vinyl itself. The collection was in such disarray that many sleeves had the wrong album inside or were missing a record altogether — such was the case with this Kraftwerk LP. The owner let me take the cover for free though.

Kraftwerk - The Man-Machine LP

An hour disappeared in an instant. Before I knew it I was carrying an armful of dust-covered records back down to the main shop. The owner as well as our driver helped me to weed out the good from the bad knowing I have a penchant for whimsical album covers and upbeat Indian dance film scores. I whittled my pile of 50 or so records down to a barely manageable 30. I knew I’d have a lot of work ahead of me cleaning sleeves and vinyl, but I went with it. We negotiated a price for the whole lot, including some old comics from the 1970s found in yet another backroom.

Comics from India

See all of the comic books on Flickr

All in all it was an experience I’ll never forget. For record shopping, it was right up there with my visit to Hard Wax in Berlin. I have some serious record cleaning to do when I return home. I need to buy some fresh sleeves too. I’m hoping to find a few hidden gems among the lot. I’ll do some previewing to pick out highlights, but then expect an Indian listening party soon. You’re all invited.

See all of the LP covers on Flickr


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