Oye Como Va

Dave Tinning profiles one of Prenzlauer Berg’s premier vinyl outlets….

Inside Oye Records, Berlin Lisa Kortenhorst
Image by Lisa Kortenhorst

Oye Records, nestled in a basement just off Prenzlauer Berg’s main drag Kastanienallee, has carved a unique little niche for itself in the capital. Originally catering for collectors of Latin, soul and funk records, Oye has since diversified to cover an impressive range of styles, from afrobeat to blip-hop to UK funky, and on to those Berlin club staples—house and techno.

Record stores are not always known for their approachability or even friendliness, which is where Oye stands out. Staffed by friendly music lovers with wide-ranging taste and in-depth knowledge, it has managed to maintain a loyal and diverse customer base.

Founder Lovis Willenberg, a local DJ of over twenty years, started Oye in 2002, after realizing his expensive record buying habits could be mitigated only by paying wholesale prices. This also, of course, guaranteed him the pick of the latest releases. After a short stint sharing a space in Tacheles, Willenberg found the right name (inspired by Tito Puente’s Oye Como Va, which roughly means ‘Listen To This’ in Spanish) and – eventually – the ideal location.

‘Even in 2002 it wasn’t easy to get a store in the Kastanienallee/Oderbergerstraße area, so I was very happy to get this funky space. I rented it as a basement in very poor condition. Much work was needed to make it what it is now—a real shop’.

In 2007, long time employees Tinko Rosht and Markus Lindner became partners in the store, having successfully assimilated new electronic genres in the racks, drawing heavily on their experiences from countless long nights moving dance floors in Berlin clubs.

Oye has succeeded in creating a space for DJs and music lovers of all persuasion to meet, hang out, share secret weapons and cross-pollinate each other’s record boxes. The basement space is made up of two rooms stuffed full of 12s and 7s, (and some CD racks) nicely laid out between new releases from Europe, the UK and the US, and older /second hand goods in the back room.

Image by Lisa Kortenhorst

If there’s no space at the five listening decks you can chill on the sofa, read the latest Wax Poetics, or chat to the staff at the counter. ‘Everybody should feel comfortable at Oye as we aren’t nerds,’ states Marcus Lindner. ‘No questions about music are stupid questions, because these days every customer is an expert in his or her genre thanks to blogs, websites, Facebook and MySpace. We want to be a place where music lovers, DJs, producers, promoters, bookers, et cetera, can hang around and meet people in the music scene face-to-face.’

Although Oye nowadays have an online shop, it’s always a much more fulfilling experience to head to the store in person. Pop in to pick up a flyer for one of the hundreds of club nights on offer (Oye is a great source of local knowledge for planning your lost weekend in Berlin party-land), and leave with three records that you didn’t previously know you couldn’t live without. In other words, the kind of experience you don’t get from buying online.

Encouragingly, the Oye formula seems to be working: sales have been climbing each year, 80% of them coming from vinyl. Digital downloads have had their affect, on some genres more than others, but as Lindner explains,’the ‘timeless’ music is still a big seller on vinyl, because music lovers and collectors want something in their hand—forever. Something you can touch and smell. Plus the quality on vinyl is much higher and customers respect the whole work behind a release – artwork, booklet – and don’t forget vinyl is still the best sound quality you can get!’

The current top selling genres at Oye reflect the recent resurgence of deep house and the explosion of disco re-edits over the past few years- both primarily vinyl based genres and catering to the more soulful / collector end of the dance music spectrum. Fittingly, May’s best selling 12-inch at Oye was Moodymann’s Ol’Dirty Vinyl, a tribute to the ‘black gold.’

For more information, check out the shop’s website.

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