Put your records on.

Even though he has never been musically trained and doesn’t play any instrument, Teo Chee Keong (or CK as he’s known to friends) seems inexplicably drawn to music. There were the salad days of listening to Rediffusion in his mother’s kitchen; his father’s cassette tapes that were near to being worn out from constant play. “Boney M and ABBA... the disco stuff, you know?” CK specifies.

Eventually, like the revolutions of a vinyl on a record player, it all comes back full circle with his vinyl obsession starting in 2012, rather late in life, CK admits. Accompanying a friend to Zenn Audio Electronics, CK saw Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind. Even without a turntable, CK was besotted with the band and the album cover. So he bought it. It was priced at SG$70, a pretty penny in those days. “But I love it so much,” CK enthuses. With his prize in hand, CK felt that he had found the Holy Grail but he would not know how fragile a vinyl would be. Leaving Nevermind in his car for a day resulted in the disc getting heat warped. “I had to get it flattened again,” CK laughs. 

A set-up for music.

Nevermind may have started the collection but securing a turntable less than a year later to listen to it was the catalyst. “Once I had the means to play a record, I started buying more. I was still staying with my mother and every day, there would be records delivered to my house.”

His vinyl collection didn’t stop growing. In 2013, while holding on to his day job, CK opened a record store with Eugene Ow Yong called Vinylicious. The store was the first local record store to introduce Record Store Day in Singapore. In some way, this invigorated the vinyl-collecting culture in the country.

His vinyl collection is how CK reconnects to key moments in his life when he’d listen to the radio. “I’d listen to Casey Kasem’s America Top 40 on Redifussion religiously. Whenever I play his records now, Casey’s voice would come on and I’m back to my teenage years.”

“During my teens, I’d be in my parents’ kitchen listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 on Rediffusion. I was fortunate to get copies of the vinyl that were sent to the station to be played. These vinyls are interesting because they are only pressed on one side as they are meant for the radio stations. The stations would have two players so one of them would be playing side one and side two will be on the other player ready to be played once side one is finished.”
“This is the band that my family and I love. My wife and I watched the band seven times whenever they played in Singapore. This record is our favourite because when my wife was giving birth, this was playing in the delivery room. We both think it’s kind of cool, the idea that our son was born listening to Mayday."

It is a formidable form of time travel. For many, a scent or a photograph can unlock a flood of memories. For people like CK, who have a stronger auditory sense, a piece of music can transport them to the moment when they first listened to it.

Aside from a live show, when it comes to the listening experience, the vinyl medium presents more dynamism. Analogue music gives a richer sound; there’s a warmth to it. “CDs and Spotify can’t create that experience. Vinyl does,” CK says.

In his Punggol flat, an entire room is set aside for his record collection. High ceilings made it possible for CK to install custom-made shelves (the design was cribbed from someone else’s collection that CK once came across). The cost of the furnishing? In the ballpark of SG$18,000.

Fully stacked, there is a system to his catalogue. One section houses music from the ’80s. Next to it are his jazz records—one that’s instrumental, another that features vocalists. Another part features genres like funk and soul and classic rock. Yet another is segmented into either the ’90s or the 2000s... it’s a complex directory that only CK knows how to navigate through.

“I’m a big Prince fan. A week before he was supposed to release this album in 1987, Prince decided to recall all copies because he thought it was a bad omen. Only a lucky few managed to get the album. What I got is the reissue that was released in 1994. It’s not as expensive as the original 1987 version but it’s still worth something.”
“I used to listen to Chris Ho on Rediffusion all the time. He’s my inspiration. When he passed away, his estate sold his music collection. What’s interesting about his collection is that he’d keep any newspaper clipping about the artist and the music. When you buy his collection, it’s like keeping a part of his legacy."

Some collectors are adamant about only acquiring original pressings but CK is non-plussed. “If I have SG$1,000 and if I’ve to get either one SG$1,000 record or several hundreds of records that are reissues or not rare, I’ll get those.”

He does have some grail items and many of them are precious in his sight. His record obsession has infected his son as well. “He’s musically inclined,” CK says. “He even introduced a few musicians to me like Eminem and Måneskin. He saw [the latter] in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2021,” CK says with pride.

It’s a collection that’s still growing. CK ponders if he should start selling some of them soon. So, what happens when his vinyl collection is no more?

“This was the first vinyl I got. It was at Zenn Audio Electronics. I was there with a friend and I saw the album with the original German pressing. It was expensive, about SGD70, but now it’s worth about SGD300.”
“For a MoFi (Mobile Fidelity) One Step record, steps in the plating process are reduced to minimise surface noise, which means better audio. I didn’t get it when it first came out and I saw this at Analog Vault and I convinced Sharon [the owner] to sell it to me. I got it for SGD1,200 and I still haven’t unsealed it yet.”

“You mean when I don’t have it with me?”

He looks sad for a moment as though the image of empty shelves in a high-ceilinged room is triggering.

“When I grow older and nearing the end, I can accept the fact that I can’t take it with me. But if for some reason, my collection were to go missing or disappear, I think I might fall into depression.”

Photography: Jaya Khidir
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Photography Assistant: Danial Mirza