For The Record

This vinyl collector DJs wax and has even started up his own record label

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon

Nilsson Schmilsson is singing something about putting a lime in a coconut while Morris the Yorkie yaps and leaps up at The Way of Us. Looking around Rouleaux van der Merwe’s flat it quickly becomes clear that the most modern thing in here is a copy of The Lake. Everything else is a blast from the past.

There are GI Joe, Masters of the Universe and A-Team figurines, a lot of Tintin collectibles and a Donald Duck lamp that Rouleaux has had since he was five-years old. Inside the garage is a cherry red Ford Capri and the lounge is arranged around the record player, a Lenco L75, which is strong and sturdy and what the BBC used for all their programming. On either side of this are rows upon rows of records. Above the fireplace is a menagerie of ceramic dogs, which Rouleaux quickly dismisses with a wave of his hand as, “Mariët’s boerekitsch stuff.”

His stuff he’s far keener to discuss…

“This is the last song from Reservoir Dogs,” says Rouleaux, handing me the Schmilsson album cover. “I actually found two copies at a record shop and bought them both. This is the only good song on the album, though.”

Rouleaux started collecting vinyl around a decade ago when he picked up a Simon and Garfunkel record at a church fete and only realized after he’d got home that it was merely the music of Simon and Garfunkel performed by “some random doing bad cover versions.” And so Rouleaux learned to dig deeper, interact with the records more, do his research, and weekends spent scratching in bins quickly resulted in a burgeoning collection. Then Rouleaux got lucky when a collector lost his entire collection.

“There was this guy in Somerset West who had run away from his house due to… personal problems. He was my girlfriend’s parent’s neighbor and the debt collectors were on to him and started selling off his stuff. I bought about 80 records, all the 70s rock classics, like, Floyd, Sabbath, Zeppelin...”

These days Rouleaux doesn’t scratch in bins as much and would rather cherry-pick and order specific albums online. Putting on a bootleg version of The Upsetters Super Ape album he says that his latest obsession is reggae and dub.

“It’s about quality and not quantity now, and I’d rather buy specific records online using a site called Discogs. Otherwise I still frequent the various records shops in town like The Eye, Kandi Records, Revolution Records, Mabu Vinyl…”

Rouleaux is quick to say that he’s not a music snob and will also buy tapes and CDs just as frequently as he invests in wax.

“Some weird, obscure metal only gets released on tape. It’s kind of unlistenable, and the graphics are shocking, but there’s something about it... Also, tapes are cheap. About $5 and $2 shipping as opposed to $30 for a record. The exchange rate is killing us.”

Sometimes the exchange rate helps though, like when Rouleaux is shipping his own record label’s stuff overseas. Running Permanent Record from a front room with a big bay window, there are pizza boxes on the floor, which he uses to package and ship vinyl in, and Carlo Mombelli, Francois Van Coke and a rerelease of Valiant Swart’s Die Mystic Boer on display.

“When Wentzel started Roastin’ Records I got involved with the design side of things. I really wanted to release a record and did one for Wildernessking, falling in love with that romantic notion of doing my own label. I love getting involved with an artist’s process and have been working with Wildernessking for a while now. I’ll release their first 7” called Levitate at the end of March. It’s not cheap though, Carlo Mombelli was a R35 000 pressing run.”

Even working with Sony and helping them facilitate some of their catalogue onto vinyl - AKA did 500 copies, Zonke did 1000 – this still doesn’t make Rouleaux much money and he has to work a day job to fund the passion projects. Fortunately he’s quit agency life and now does contract work so that he can dedicate the time his vinyl habit requires.

“This is not a good business, not if you want to live off of it, but I like the challenge and the excitement. Most of the time it’s like a big black hole that you just keep throwing money into.”

Looking around the lounge there’s about 700 obsessively catalogued black holes. On one shelf from there’s rock and pop from A to Z. Then there’s a shelf dedicated to reggae and dub and an “OCD shelf” where Rouleaux is trying to complete full discographies of his favourite artists, which includes David Kramer, Neill Young, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden.

“I’ve been obsessing about The Blue Öyster Cult and have finally got all their studio albums and now all I need are the singles.”

Will you ever buy an album just for the cover art?

“Definitely. That’s what got me into Hawkwind. I’m also into versions, so I’ll often buy the same record more than once. Like this is the same record but if you look closely you’ll see that this one here has a silver foil. I’m also into side projects. If I ever see something else by someone in a band I know I’ll buy it before even listening.”

So what’s your most valuable record?

“The most prized is an A-Cads 7”, South African band who did a song called Road Runner. That’s on Discogs for just under six grand. I suppose it’s like the same as with books where a first edition or a special edition is a lot more valuable.”

And what advice do you have for other collectors?

“Brad Abrahams told me ‘collecting records is a marathon not a sprint.’ Which is something I’d learned first hand after buying a country compilation for R350 and then seven years later finding it in a bin for R10. So while I really want the new Bowie I’m not going to buy it right now because it’s R800. I’ll pick it up one day.”

In an age where we demand instant gratification, unlimited options and refuse to pay for something that we’ve grown used to streaming and downloading for free, collectors like Rouleaux have eschewed the norm for something more substantial. Vinyl is a meditative process where you don’t skip tracks, listen to the music as the artist intended you to and interact with the album in a tactile way. It’s not a disposable thing. It’s not something you leave to play in the background. It’s how you – to borrow a line from a now dead advert from a perhaps soon to be dead brick and mortar – listen with your soul.

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