The Mostly Retro Guide to Buying Records in Beijing
Late last year I went to China, (this was right before my Japan trip) and it was awesome. And while you might not think it, the city was a great place to go record shopping.
Sure, it’s no Tokyo (nowhere is) but hidden within the labyrinthine streets and alleys of the massive metropolis are dozens of great stores that sell an amazing variety of LPs, CDs, DVDs and much more. While my trip to the city was rather brief, (and I was battling some bitterly cold weather) I tried my best to take as much of it in as possible, and I think I was able to check out a lot of the best stores the city had to offer. And as information on record stores in China can be pretty hard to come by, I thought I would share what I discovered here.
Much like my guide to Japan, I’m going to split this into several sections:
The first part is a basic introduction, offering some general tips about getting around the city.
The second is the meat of the guide, with my reviews of the record stores and other shopping areas of note that I went to during my trip.
Finally, the third part will be a glossary of links for more information on the city and record stores I couldn’t make it to.
I hope you all like it, and if anyone has some suggestions where people can get more information about buying records in Beijing, feel free to leave a comment!
Now let’s get to it.
Part 1 – Introduction/Basic Tips
It’s probably a bootleg
Seriously, that CD/DVD/game you want to buy? It’s a bootleg. It’s counterfeit. It’s fake.
That’s just how it is. With so many legal restrictions and censorship in China, a lot of stores have to sell bootlegs just to carry the products their customers want. Just keep it in mind when you’re picking up stuff. If it doesn’t bother you that’s fine, I just wouldn’t buy anything in China with the intent of selling it online later.
Get a guide/travel with friends
Beijing is crazy complicated and dense, making it incredibly easy to get lost. While I was there I had the advantage of friends who lived in the city to show me around. I am very grateful for all their help, because I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. If you don’t have any local friends, I strongly suggest hiring a tour guide, at least for your first few days, to help you navigate the city. Just do your research, pick one with good reviews, and you should be fine. Don’t hire one who is just advertising their services outside of a tourist trap.
Mind the traffic
Pedestrians NEVER have the right of way in China. Never.
Be careful. Seriously.
Mind the air
For real. That smog is no joke.
Go to the zoo.
Don’t go in the winter
I’m from Ohio and I live in Pittsburgh. I’m used to cold. I’m used to bitter, holy crap what happened to my toes cold, but I’ve never felt a cold like I did when I was in Beijing in December. It’s oppressive. Do yourself a favor and wait until the spring to go there, I hear it’s nice that time of year.
If you absolutely have to go to Beijing in December, do yourself a solid and stock up on long underwear. You’ll thank me later.
Go to a mall
In Japan it felt like I couldn’t turn a corner without running into a record store, in Beijing it was malls. The city seems to be flush with gigantic indoor malls and shopping centers. If you are of a size where you can buy clothes in China, make the most of it, every brand in the world is there. If you’re like me and 6’6” tall, well, a lot of the malls had cool coffee shops.
Seriously though, check at least one out, and marvel at how well the communist culture has embraced the most pure form of capitalism.
Part 2 – The Best Stores In Beijing (that I went to)
Li Pi Records
This is a great store, and easily the best store to buy vinyl in all of Beijing that I went to. Located in the heart of the 978 Art Zone, a massive art district that is also a must-visit while in Beijing, this cleverly named store (Li Pi….LP, get it!?) deals solely in vinyl. Most of their stock is of American and British artists, with a small but impressive selection of Japanese, Chinese and Korean music as well.
Since no Western or Japanese artist ever made LPs made specifically for the Chinese market (at least not to my knowledge), Li Pi pretty much deals exclusively in imports, mostly albums from America and Japan, with a diverse stock that encompasses a little bit of everything. I made my way to the store two times during my trip, and while there I picked up some awesome Primal Scream 12” singles, records by Ultravox, Dee-Lite and some Echo & The Bunnymen (a band I oddly found a lot of during my time in China).
While I was there I also found a nice inventory of soundtracks for both American and Chinese films, I picked up an amazing Korean compilation of Hong Kong film scores, and some other records I’d never find in the states.
If I had one complaint about Li Pi, it would be that its prices can be pretty unpredictable. Some records seemed to be priced to move, as low as five or six bucks American, while others were wildly overpriced, especially for the condition that they were in.
Still, if you want to buy LPs in Beijing, this is pretty much your safest bet. And like I said, it’s in the 978 Art Zone (near the South Gate), a place that you absolutely have to check out when you’re in Beijing, no matter what. Since you’ll already be there, you might pop in here to see what they have.
This is a very cute little record shop, although I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s little. Seriously, it’s small.
I could barely fit in it.
But while the store may be tiny, it’s packed to the ceiling with CDs from around the world, and in a rare instance for China, most of them appear to be legitimate and not bootlegs/counterfeits. The store mostly deals in newer music, but if you do some digging you should be able to find some good stuff from older acts as well. Also, despite their name, there’s nothing “Indie” about the place. No matter what kind of music you like you should check this place out. You can get an address and phone number here.
My Joint Records/69 Cafe
I don’t know a ton about the “indie” side of Chinese culture (most of my Chinese friends are electrical engineers and/or have MBAs), but if there is a “hipster” scene in Beijing, I’m willing to bet that this place is big with it.
From the looks of things it’s half cafe/live space and half record store, with most of their stock being cheaply made bootleg CDs. These probably won’t interest you, but what you should take notice of is their great selection of local music. The guy who was in charge the day I was there was way into Chinese noise rock, and he steered me to some pretty great bands (Carsick Cars, check them out!). The store also had a small but nice vinyl selection, where I snagged some more Ultravox and Echo And The Bunnymen (seriously, what gives with that?). A cute place, and if you speak enough Chinese to order some food or drinks while you’re there I would.
Also, nearby to My Joint Records was another music store. It literally had no name, but you can’t miss it; brightly lit, blaring music and filled with CDs both legit and bootlegged. This was also a great place to buy some local music, I scored all the Hang On The Box CDs while I was there, a great Chinese punk act with some riot-grrl influence.
Both stores are in the Nan Lou Gu Xiang area on a pedestrian road. I wish I could give you more information than that, but that area was dark, winding and incredibly confusing. If you can’t find them, the people at this next store may be able to help you locate it.
666 Rock Shop
A heavy metal store in the heart of Beijing. The second I heard about that I had to make the trip to find it. It’s fairly close to Indie Music, so if you can find that place, you should be able to make your way here. (For some added help, here are some directions).
One step into the store and it’s clear that their name isn’t bullshit. A life-size Crazy Eddie statue stands front and center to greet you when you enter, and the walls of the place are covered in metal CDs and apparel. Looking for a spiked collar and torn jean jacket during your time in China? Then you’re in luck.
As par for the course with most music stores in China, there weren’t a lot of LPs here, but they had a nice small selection that would make most metalheads happy. Their CD collection is killer though, with a great stock of metal genres and artists from around the world. I got Chinese speed metal here! Worth it for that alone.
Also, one of the employees is a metalhead from Minnesota, so if you need some English-speaking directions he can probably help you out with that.
Beijing Books Building
This is the biggest bookstore in all of Beijing, ergo it is the biggest book store you will ever see, and like most bookstores in America, they have most of an entire floor dedicated to CDs, DVD and Blu-Rays. Their CD selection was huge, but most of the stuff they had was by Chinese/Korean artists, so I didn’t spend much time there. Instead, I went crazy in the movie section.
While I was pretty sure that most of the CDs I saw here were legit copies (complete with government censored artwork), the legality of the DVDs was a bit more on the…let’s say “sketchy” side. I picked up pretty much every John Woo movie ever made here, and when I popped the discs in my DVD player I was happy to find that they somehow had every extra from every international release, including the Criterion copies! Funny that. I also grabbed DVDs for movies that haven’t been released anywhere on earth, including Disney’s Song Of The South. So if you’re looking for some stuff you certainly won’t be able to find in an American store, stop by here. This site has a good description and address of the store.
Part 3 – Helpful Sites
Like I said before, I only spent a few days in Beijing (and it was freaking COLD) so I didn’t get to explore the city to its fullest. Thankfully, there are some other guides out there that might help you out. I cannot vouch for the timeliness or accuracy of any of their suggestions though. From what I could tell, a lot of stores have a pretty fast turnover rate in China, so be sure to find out if a store actually exists before seeking it out.
Smart Beijing: Record Store Roundup
The best, and as of this writing, the most up-to-date, guide showing all the latest and greatest record stores that Beijing has to offer.
Time Out Beijing: Buying CDs and Vinyl
Another great guide to finding records stores in Beijing.
Rock In China
An overall great site for finding record stores in China, live venues, and information on Chinese metal bands. China has one hell of a metal scene!
And if you’re looking for help on transporting records or just general tips on buying music overseas, be sure to check out my guide to buying records in Japan too.