A SINGLE click, and the newly released album of your favorite band is already downloading. The process is swift, convenient, and virtual. While this has become the norm in today’s hyper digital era, one cannot help but miss the LP-listening-days when music entailed anticipation. To listen to LP music, one had to wait for the record’s release and arrival, clean the disc and finally, carefully place the record on the turner. While cumbersome, the slow-paced preparation only increased the anticipation and value of music. Listen up music aficionados, LPs are back in mode which means that it is time to visit LP bars to have the full experience of music listening.
Entering this musty bar situated in Sinchon, I was met with 12,000 stacks of LP records cluttering the wooden walls. The interior had decades worth of graffiti of friends promising to stay “friends forever,” couples confessing undying love, and song recommendations from regular bar-goers. Woodstock is one of the oldest LP bars in Seoul, having celebrated its 28th anniversary in January. The place has a wide age-range of customers and was tinged with a homely vibe thanks to its friendly owner. I was taken aback to see customers swaying to songs and dancing without fear of judgement. The speakers boomed out songs, decades old yet familiar due to their timeless brilliance. For instance, even to the younger generation like myself, songs such as “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zepplin and “Stayin’ Alive” by Bee Gees bring back childhood memories.
I would definitely advise customers to dine before visiting, as the dishes are light, bite-sized snacks rather than full course meals. While waiting for drinks, I casually chatted with the DJ who, incidentally, happened to be the owner of the snug bar. Moon Jin-woong, the proprietor, told me that Woodstock is an indispensable part of his life. The bar is a manifestation of Moon’s love for music, so much so that he quitted his job as an interior designer to build this music sanctuary. Talking to Moon, I couldn’t help but marvel at how his wish to share music ended up as an integral part of Sinchon’s history and identity.
Posters of iconic artists and actors were plastered on the wall as I descended the staircase leading into Guess Who, a bar situated in Sinsa-dong. Guess Who is a spacious and classy LP bar filled with soft leather sofas and rich wooden tables. On a typical week day, the bar is relaxed with only a few customers visiting after a stressful day at work. However, from Thursday to Saturday, the bar hosts weekly musical performances that attract passersby and add elegance to the bar.
Kim Young-chan, the owner and DJ of Guess Who, stated that this chic bar was established in hopes of introducing customers to diverse genres of music. As such, the music sessions are comprised of distinct genres such as tap dancing, jazz, pop, and rock. To request LP music, customers must ask for songs that were released before or around the early 90s. For songs that are more current, the DJ uses a digital streaming device as the LP records are not available. While the acoustic difference between the LP and the digital device is slight, with concentration, I was able to spot that the LP sounds blunter and are undeniably more "humane." Try out Guess Who if you are a lover of all musical genres and want to experience the charm of vinyl records.
Do not be fooled by the name of this shop as this is not a place that sells gop-chang**. Instead, it is an eccentric vinyl bar near Hongik University station, named after a Japanese rock band of the same name. Random trinkets like signposts, fairy lights, and vintage advertisements are plastered on the walls of this quaint shop from top to bottom. I took time to carefully appreciate the decor from posters of popular 80s bands, to six thick television sets stacked in a corner, leaving me the illusion of having stepped into the past. The DJ booth on the elevated platform gave me an unimpeded view of the DJ deftly handling the LP player in the old-fashioned way.
This bar focuses more on old school Korean pop than foreign songs. The hymns of Kim Kwang-seok, Jo Ha-mun, and Lee Sun-hee set the perfect mood for autumn. The proprietor himself is as quirky as the bar as he not only dislikes publicity but also loves every and anything analogue. Having asked for a chat with the owner multiple times, the waiter finally told me that the shop owner is a bit of a mystery man who sticks to thick cellular phones and dismisses technology such as e-mails and social media. To me, this eccentricity only seemed to add to the vintage and playful charm of the shop. The place is a definite go-to for those wanting to disconnect from the fast revolving digital life and savor rich analogue music.
The blast of the speaker thrummed against my eardrums as I entered Flash Back, situated in the hectic streets of Yeontral-Park. The walls were adorned with LP covers and magazines from the 1980s that feature gossips of Hollywood stars and Billboard’s hot 100 songs. A wide window overlooked the buzz of people looking for refuge on a sweltering August night. This new hip bar was filled to the brim with young bar-goers who want to chill out on a Friday night. The prices of drinks were reasonable, and side-dishes were not mandated. Not only that, but there was a wide variety of cocktails that are sometimes absent in older bars, such as the Manhattan and the Cosmopolitan.
While the bar has less LP records in comparison to older establishments, it makes up for this deficiency by playing current songs. Flash Back deals with Billboard nominated songs ranging from “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson, to the more recent “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish. Although the DJ accepts song requests, on Fridays and Saturdays, the songs are entirely up to the DJ to pick. Adhering to the theme of the shop, the song requests must not only be foreign pop-music but also be requested in English. This bar is perfect for people surfing for a place to have a quick drink with friends or for those seeking to listen to familiar pop music at a modern, vibrant, and aesthetically pleasing bar.
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Most pride ourselves in science and progress, looking back at analogue as an archaic past that we left for good. However, there is something magnetic that makes us gravitate towards analogue: human warmth. Indeed, the convenience of digital life is a trade-off for tangible human connection that leaves us isolated in a one-man island. LP records, a remnant of the analogue era, are ways to bridge human warmth into today’s hyper digital world. This September, unplug your air-pods and stroll into a LP bar to reconnect with the real world.
*LP: Short for Long Play records; Also known as vinyl records
**Gop-chang: A Korean dish made out of the small intestines of cattle or pig