August 1, 2022
KATHMANDU – Nitesh Gupta was only 10 when he first listened to a vinyl record. It was in the late 80s, and the most common way to listen to music in the country was by tuning to Radio Nepal. But Nitesh’s maternal uncle was one of the few people in the country that owned a vinyl record player.
The sight of the slow-moving vinyl record and the distinct sound the turntable produced left Gupta fascinated by the technology. Three decades later, that fascination, says Gupta, has not waned.
“The word vinyl means soft plastic. The songs on the vinyl records are literally engraved in those soft plastic discs. The moment the pin or the needle hits the vinyl recording, it is actually the scratch formed on the vinyl recording that comes in the form of music. Isn’t that fascinating to know?” exclaims Gupta, who is now 48 and possesses around 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 ones like CDs and digital recordings, is witnessing renewed interest from audiophiles and vintage enthusiasts.
Gupta represents a small but growing number of Nepali music lovers who prefer to listen to their music on vinyl records.
The growing popularity of vinyl records has also helped birth an ecosystem to support it. Wild Yak Records, a vinyl recording label, has been selling Nepali vinyl records for the last four years. The label uses the original analogue song recording 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 US, the UK, Australia, and Switzerland.
Koirala, Kiran Byanjankar, and Neeraj Gorkhaly are the three people behind Wild Yak Records. When the three first listened to a vinyl record, they were hooked and realised that no other medium offers the same listening experience. The trio’s shared love for vinyl led them to start Wild Yak Records in 2018, and the label has since been making select Nepali songs available on vinyl records.
“The music on vinyl recordings feels more real and authentic because you can hear the different instruments play parallelly, without disrupting one another,” says Koirala.
It was this distinct sound experience vinyl offered 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 some pops and crackles as flaws, these are not for untrained ears,” says 36-year-old Mahat.
There are other aspects of listening to vinyl records besides the sound quality, says Mahat, that set the medium apart from the rest.
“Once the vinyl recording is on, there’s no option like changing and listening to a different song. You have no choice but to listen to how the album is designed.”
Three years ago, 23-year-old Aishwarya Baidar, a fashion blogger, started listening to vinyl records. Unlike Mahat, it was not the sound quality of vinyl records that drew her into the world of vinyl records.
“I have always been interested in vintage items, and this 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 enthusiasts often have to go to great lengths to continue with their hobby.
“It’s an expensive hobby,” adds Koirala, “Just one vinyl record from our label can set you back by as much as Rs 5,000. Since our country does not have a single vinyl pressing plant, we have to press records either in the US or Europe based on the type of project. Since we cater to a very small market, we only press a few hundred records, which adds to the cost.”
Further adding to the expenses is the cost of vinyl record players, which do not come cheap.
“When I first decided to buy a vinyl record player, I started looking for one here in the city, but those on sale were no longer working,” says Baidar.
This left her with no option but to import one. So last summer, she ordered a Victrola branded vinyl record player, and it set her back by Rs 20,000.
Another major challenge vinyl record enthusiasts have to deal with is the lack of dedicated repair shops for vinyl record players in the country.
Five years ago, when Dinesh Man Sthapit’s vinyl record player’s needle 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 setup with a radio, turntable, cassette player, and amplifier. It cost him Rs 18,000.
“After failing to find a replacement for my turntable’s needle, I had to order it from Singapore,” says Sthapit. “Around thirty years ago, turntable spare parts were more easily available, and there were dedicated experienced mechanics as well. This is no longer the case.”
But despite the many challenges vinyl record enthusiasts have to face to maintain the hobby, the overall sound experience that a vinyl record offers makes it all worth it, say vinyl enthusiasts.
“For the last thirty years, I have listened to music on various mediums,” says Sthapit. “And I can say with absolute surety that when it comes to the listening experience, nothing comes as close to the experience offered by vinyl records.”