Crate digging at Kalóz Records in the Palace Quarter
On a classic bitterly cold but bright and sunny Budapest morning, I was strolling down Bródy Sándor utca in the Palace Quarter when I discovered Kalóz Records. I’m a reasonably obsessive crate-digger (a record collector), and as it was so cold, I went inside and got talking with owner Kristóf Kürti.
I’ve been getting more and more interested in Hungarian popular music. I can’t understand the words, and the music can be poorly recorded, but the quality of the musicianship and the inventiveness of the musicians often shine through.
It seems I’m not the only non-Hungarian music obsessive trying to get to grips with performers like the great Sarolta Zalatnay, Omega and Illés.
Ace Records, a U.K. label specializing in reissues and compilations, has released two excellent “She Came From Hungary” collections.
Andy Votel, the British Musician, DJ, record producer and co-founder of reissue label Finders Keepers, put out a compilation called “Well Hung” featuring, as the liner notes breathlessly put it, “22 stomping selections from the vaults of Eastern Europe’s best-kept secret, Hungaraton / Qualiton Records.”
Hungarian music has been sampled by U.S. hip-hop producers who have exhausted their own funk and soul for samples. Among many others, Americans DJ Spinna, DJ Format, and DJ Vadim have sampled Hungarian music. Kürti is proud that legendary hip-hop act the Beatnuts checked out his store when they were performing in Budapest.
A former sociologist and consultant, Kürti opened Kalóz (Hungarian for pirate) around four years ago. He’d built up a business selling records via Discogs, an enormous online music database and marketplace haunted by collectors like me. His success on the platform bankrolled the brick-and-mortar store. And for places like Kalóz, competition in Budapest is hotting up.
“There are around eight serious vinyl stores in Budapest. Two of these only opened in the past year. I know of two more being planned. Now vinyl has come back, there’s room for more,” Kürti tells me.
The Forty-Five website claims that, in 2020, “sales of vinyl were the highest since the glory days of the ’90s,” attributing this to online fan communities showing love for their favorite acts, trends such as Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” track becoming enormously popular on Tik-Tok, and what it calls the “psychology of the tangible purchase.”
Kürti and I concur on this last point. As he says, “Everything that interests me about music is in records. I love looking at the artwork. The sound of records is not flat, like when it’s digitized – different pressings sound different. Records exist in several editions with different sleeves and track order. Some might have inserts, others not. The sound on some might be great, on others it might be wack. Vinyl is a whole world in itself. It’s just nice to collect and care about.”
As someone old enough to remember when the only alternatives to vinyl were cassettes and eight-tracks, I agree with Kürti. Seeing a vinyl edition of an album like David Bowie’s 1974 “Diamond Dogs,” with its incredible gatefold artwork, transports me back in time before I’ve even heard a note of the music.
One thing The Forty-Five website doesn’t mention is that COVID also powered the 2020 wave of vinyl buying.
“People spent more time at home, so everything like reading books, playing board games and listening to records, grew,” Kürti says.
“Many people, like those who’d switched to CDs in the ’90s, came back to vinyl collecting. Also, teens and people in their early 20s who never bought a CD in their lives, started buying vinyl because it’s seen as cool.”
Kürti himself is a fan of pretty much every genre, but he’s especially interested in Hungarian music, not just from inside the borders but made by Hungarians in places as far away as the United States or Australia. In fact, the most valuable Hungarian record is, according to Kürti, actually Australian. An album by Hungarian rock band Syrius recorded for the Australian record label Spin can go for around EUR 2,000.
The second most valuable record by a Hungarian band was also recorded outside the country. Omega’s “Red Star” album, recorded in Great Britain and released on the U.K. label Decca, could fetch EUR 500, if in excellent condition.
Other valuable records by Hungarian artists include “Az ember tervez” LP by Tankcsapda (also around EUR 500), László Hortobágyi’s “Transreplica Meccano” and “Private Exits” by Tibor Szemző, which can go for EUR 200 a pop. These are highly experimental records, so be prepared if you’re going to invest in them.
But, given that most don’t buy records they can’t bear to listen to (actually, I do), where would Kürti suggest we start?
“I’d suggest Kati Kovács first LP from 1970, “Suttogva és Kiabálva,” the folky psychedelia of the second Hungária album, “Tűzveszélyes,” (1971), the unmistakable jazz-rock sound of Mini on the “Vissza a Városba” LP (1978), the underrated Zalatnay disco-funk album “Minden szó egy Dal” from 1978 and the only LP by Dr. Beat, who copied Depeche Mode in the 1980s, but well.”
Once a budding collector of Hungarian music has invested in these albums, it’s necessary to find something to play them. Easier than it sounds.
“People come into the store and they seem to be interested in records,” says Kürti, “but their first question is ‘Where can I buy a turntable?’ You could go to Media Markt but if you want a real vintage, analog player you need to scour Budapest’s vintage stores. There are very few of these, but luckily we do have one just a few steps away from our store.”
Kalóz Records is at Bródy Sándor utca 25 and www.recordstore.hu. The physical store is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 28, 2022.
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