Dubai: Step aside, Spotify; why some Gen-Zers are opting for vinyl records over music streaming

One store in Dubai sells about 700 vinyl records every month, with the youngest customer being just 6 years old

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Tamanna Sajeed

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Vinyl records kept at Metal East Records Store in Dubai (KT Photos: Shihab)
Vinyl records kept at Metal East Records Store in Dubai (KT Photos: Shihab)

Published: Mon 25 Dec 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 25 Dec 2023, 3:13 PM

Some of the Gen Z and millennials in the UAE are turning away from the ease of streaming their favourite songs to cherishing the tunes via vinyl records.

“It’s for the experience,” said Saif Sami, explaining why he collects vinyl records. “It’s nice to have some tangibility to music.”

Between him and his brother Samir, the 27-year-old Emirati owns around 60 records, joining a growing number of young people who are going old school when it comes to music.

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Part Saif's vinyl collection
Part Saif's vinyl collection

According to the founder of UAE record fair Vinyl Souk DXB, the practice is getting “more and more prominent because vinyl is becoming trendy”.

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“As music streaming services become the norm, more young people are looking to vinyl to find something different to listen to. They have become more inclined to dig through crates of records to find one that speaks to them,” said Jayesh Veralkar.

“It's great way to break those AI-based algorithms which are feeding you the same recommendations based on metadata,” the 40-year-old Indian expat said. “I’m not saying that vinyl will overtake digital formats, but they’re here to stay.”

An inherited legacy

According to Veralkar, many young record collectors inherit the habit from their parents. This was certainly the case for Sami, whose father’s extensive collection included everything from George Michael to Bollywood records.

Saif Sami
Saif Sami

Sami picked up the habit around 2010, when he was gifted a vinyl of Metallica’s album Master of Puppets. Then on, he would pick up a record or two every time he went to a store, slowly growing his collection.

“Me and my brother alone, we have everything from the Beatles, to the Beach Boys to Elvis,” he said.

Sami and his brother sometimes question whether they have too many records. But then they remember seeing family homes with walls of overflowing shelves of vinyl.

“We’re probably not the worst,” he said. “But we’re in the middle of the road for collectors.”

Vintage vibes

“I genuinely enjoy using the record player on weekends, when I’m cleaning the room or I’m enjoying a tarot-reading session with my friend online,” said Wajih El Bizri, a Lebanese expat in Dubai.

Wajih El Bizri with a vinyl
Wajih El Bizri with a vinyl

“It’s always nice letting it play in the background,” the 26-year-old said. He started collecting records around three years ago and now he has 20 of them. El Bizri mostly collects albums that have impacted his life, focusing on songs with lyrics that connects with him.

“Born This Way by Lady Gaga was one of the most inspirational albums that I’ve had in my life. She speaks a lot about accepting your identity and it holds a very special place in my heart,” El Bizri said.

“I didn’t have anybody to talk to while growing up. Just listening to that record used to make me feel less lonely.”

Apart from the deep meaning that it holds to him, El Bizri also enjoys displaying his records. “I enjoy the art covers. There’s something very peaceful and iconic about just seeing them up on your wall,” he said. “I think it comes from a sentimental place.”

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He also likes the ‘vintage vibe’ of records, and often tends to play records that match the mood. Lebanese singer Fairuz is a favourite, as he grew up listening to her songs on an old record player in his home in Beirut.

“Vinyls just have a nostalgic feeling,” said El Bizri. “And nostalgia is my favourite feeling.”

Costs of buying, maintaining records

Moutasem Kabbani at his store
Moutasem Kabbani at his store

The youngest customer at Metal East Records store, according to owner Moutasem Kabbani, is six years old. The little boy would drag his father around the store, giving him recommendations as to what records were worth buying. When Kabbani let him choose some music to play in the store, he asked for Guns N’ Roses.

“He’s like the most interesting kid I’ve met in my life,” laughed the 39-year-old Syrian expat.

Kabbani’s Barsha store opened in September this year. According to him, the demand for records has been sizeable, with his store selling about 700 records a month. Kabbani sources most of his stock from official local distributors for major labels like Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. He also liaises directly with international independent labels to source records for more niche genres, such as alternative or heavy metal.

“I got them from France, Germany, from labels like Nuclear Blast, Season of Mist and Napalm Records.”

The price of a single vinyl starts from Dh25 for a used record, Dh99 for a new international record and Dh145 for an Arabic record. However, vintage, first pressing or special edition vinyls can cost more. At Dh2,000, the most expensive item at Metal East is a Guns N’ Roses boxset.

The cost of vinyl record players start from Dh300
The cost of vinyl record players start from Dh300

Another investment that collectors often make is a good quality record player. These can range from Dh300 to Dh700 for an average set and over Dh16,000 for the higher-end ones. Record players that are specially artist-branded could cost more.

Kabbani also suggested that both collectors and casual listeners buy a vinyl cleaning set to maintain their records, which comes at about Dh70. Records should also be given a once-over with an anti-static brush every time they are played. The iconic crackly vinyl sound isn’t supposed to be there when properly maintained, as a record should sound smooth.

“Putting on a record should ideally be a calm and purposeful process,” Kabbani said.

“Sit quietly alone in your room. Once you do that, put on the LP and start playing the music. Your focus will shift from all this stress to one thing. You can consider it meditation.”


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