It’s been a real thrill to witness vinyl records come back to life around the world. In the west, the vinyl revival saw an increase in record sales and gramophone refurbishments, and the introduction of modern record players to the market, which slowly but surely, made its way to Egypt.
Being the nostalgic species we are, it is only natural to return to tangible material following a prolonged digital invasion in the music and arts industries. Vinyl records were replaced by the compact disk in the 80s and 90s, and it wasn’t long before CDs were substituted with digital and streaming services. Until about 2007, when a growing interest in record collection resurfaced, and major record labels removed restrictions on vinyl production within the decade, allowing a fascination with records and record shops to return in full effect.
Now, being musicians and enthusiasts on our side of the planet, it was only possible to dig up a few hidden gems at the odd vintage electronics store, which may have a few busted old record players or gramophones, and a few dozen old records. It was only possible if you travelled abroad and brought back a treasured album or two, or asked a travelling friend to do you the favour. So imagine the shock of walking down the streets of Cairo and seeing a fully realised record shop right there! With locals hanging around, chatting at the storefront or inside discovering albums on a record player like it’s 1976 LA.
Retrograde store, located in 6A Ismail Mohamed Street, Zamalek, is a hub for all things retro. They have quite the collection of second hand and vintage records from classic orchestra to rock ‘n’ roll to spoken-word poetry and audiobooks. They specialise in stereo and film equipment, typewriters, rare books, classic comics and art, and they also have a clothes and accessories section! It seems like the sky is the limit to what they have to offer.
Despite it now being an established enterprise, it all started with one single gutsy vision. “Three years ago I rented a flat upstairs from an empty storefront,” says Clint Alexander, founder of Retrograde Boutique Store.
“I had about 50 records and 100 books and my artwork, which was part of why I started this endeavour, and I convinced the landlord to let me sell them at the storefront. It was an organic grass-roots, and for the first year or so, I put all the sales profits into searching out and growing the collection”.
Alexander also stressed the importance of a demand for these items; finding like-minded people and a creative community hungry for these cultural artefacts was all the inspiration and encouragement needed to offer these services in an organised and thoughtful manner. The fascination of it all was quite contagious.
“It’s ironic that I’m not much of a collector myself, and most of our customers are. I enjoy the hunt for the items and offering them to people who will cherish them. Now I listen to the LPs, occasionally take a book for myself, or shoot a few rolls of film on one of the cameras before it’s sold”.
Retrograde is also a platform for acoustic nights, free art talks, lectures, and poetry readings. They welcome customers to contribute with their own collections of books, records or music, and art equipment, and choose what fits the store best.
“So although we aren’t getting rich, it’s a passion project, and like I said earlier, it’s really satisfying to be offering this service for the people who appreciate the arts. And we’ll continue to be creative!” shares Alexander, whose motto screams “never a failure in imagination”.