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03/24/14 Arbie Won of Tres Kuleros Records & Dry Goods

As music continues to become more accessible and pilfered, the vinyl recording becomes increasingly hallowed. Having noticed the resurgence of the archaic medium in recent years, DJ and producer Arbie Won put up an actual storefront after more than a decade of collecting records and selling them online. “There’s a big demand for records,” says Won, who with a couple cousins put up Tres Kuleros Records & Dry Goods a year and a half ago. “Actually nowadays, mas-mabenta ang turntables sa amin than records, which means a lot of people are getting into it for the first time. For a lot of them, it’s their first time to hold a piece of vinyl.”

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Located in an unassuming low-rise among the auto repair hubs of Boni Avenue, Tres Kuleros looks like a makeshift home studio brimming with mostly second-hand records that span everything from Japanese jazz to Kenny Rogers. Taking up the other half of its second floor space is a clutter of old recording equipment, turntables, and circa-’80s issues of Rolling Stone. Dim lighting and a pleather futon encourage both stoner lounging and an immersive listening experience.

            NOUS chats with the main kulero (a Mexican cowboy, according to Won) about herding ears toward quality recordings and the breadth of OPM we haven’t explored yet.

Why do you think led to the increasing appreciation of vinyl in the past few years?

Una kasi, the media. [Vinyl is] perceived as something cool. Beyond that, I think pagiging in commune again with the music.  You take it out of the packaging, you look at the packaging, then you’re forced to listen—to focus—on the music. ‘Di tulad ng iPod, you just play it, leave it in the background, wash the dishes, do something else. You even skip tracks. Vinyl is also like comics, collectible din. If it’s a good title, guaranteed it’s gonna be something of value in the future.

Do you ask your customers about the reason they got into vinyl? 

Hindi naman. I let them do their own digging. But I give them tips, like it’s not necessarily the titles you should be looking for always. Maganda rin mag-experiment ng mga artists na hindi mo kilala so [you should have a] sense of discovery din when you’re digging for records.

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You’ve also been DJing for a while now.

Semi-regular. We hold nights sa M Café on Thursday, playing all vinyl, 45s. Me and my cousin have been DJing since the early ‘90s. That’s in the States pa, in San Francisco. Then we came back here in the mid-‘90s. We became part of this group called Urban Flow. Hip-hop group siya in the ‘90s. Then through DJing, we started collecting records. Through collecting records, we discovered other genres of music na hindi namin alam nun. Dati kasi, hip-hop, rock lang. So we got into soul, we got into a lot of classic jazz. And then lately, mga OPM. Kasi ang dami palang OPM na hindi sumikat sa radio pero ang gaganda.

Yeah, looking through here, we discovered some Philippine surf music from the ‘60s. Who’d have thought?

Yeah. The Electromaniacs. We found that from a random collection.

What other treasure have you come across recently?  

Big surprises? I guess mga local 45 singles we never heard of like this group called Boy Adan & The Grandeurs. Some singles from The Howlers—‘70s soul group siya based in Olongapo. They would play for the US servicemen. And they released a couple of singles only available on 45s. So yung mga ganung instances na, wow, may ganito pala. Kasi alam naman natin yung Juan de la Cruz, the usual OPM na sumikat nung ‘70s. But we barely scratched the surface. And most of them are in 45 singles kasi the way they’d do it back then, they’d release their music in 45s and ‘pag sumikat, then you make an album. A lot of those groups parang one-off lang eh. Nakalimutan. So we go out digging and see those records.

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Do you find yourself sticking to classics or playing the newer stuff but on vinyl? 

Ako balanced eh. Sabi nila kasi na parang walang bagong music na maganda. But I don’t believe that. You just have to look deeper. Kasi nowadays they don’t really play the good stuff on the radio, so hahanapin ko talaga. But there’s a lot of new music coming out. And not just the stuff on the radio. Sa mga blogs and Internet, maraming unheard na hindi binibigyan ng plays.

Do you get local artists coming into the store?

A lot of bands. Sometimes ‘di nila feel yung indie rock. Nagsawa na sila. So they trade new records and get old ones.

Any plans for the store?

Right now, we’re not really making a lot of money. This is more of a passion, collecting records. Right now, I think okay pa naman. It sustains itself and every week, may mga bagong faces na nag-cocollect. When we opened, akala namin the usual faces lang ang makikita namin but it’s actually the opposite.

What’s the last thing you listened to on vinyl?

Last night lang. Someone brought in a record. It’s Junior—a 1981 album, modern soul boogie. I heard the song before pero ‘di ko alam na siya yung artist.

Tres Kuleros is located at 641 Boni Avenue, Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila

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