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Early afternoons are usually not the best time to stop by your local bar. Fluorescent lights give a harsh sheen to sticky floors, and the walls themselves seem hungover. But for DJs and avid record collectors, daytime is playtime when it comes to roaming conventional swap meets and wholesalers, as they fill the crates with bargain wax. Of course the thrill of the hunt would be nice if it came with a bit more ambiance than a drab industrial park or dense, outdoor bazaar crowds in sweat pants.
But for one Saturday a month, downtown Fullerton's Continental Room—already a cut above the average OC dive—dims the lights and opens its doors early to vinyl-record collectors who are out to swap, spin and search for a new turntable treasure.
"It started as an idea: There's nothing going on there during the day, and nothing like this is happening anywhere near [downtown Fullerton]," says Zach Nelson, Continental Room barkeep and one of the event's organizers. "Normally, we open at 2 p.m., but for the record swap, we open at noon. Cheap drinks and records all day long."
Nelson and Hector Waluyo, both vinyl aficionados, have organized the past two Continental Room record swaps and will host another this Saturday. So far, the event has occurred on different Saturdays of the month, but they are committing to the third Thursday of the month for future events.
Waluyo, already a Continental regular, took over booking the event from Continental Room sound engineer (and Death Hymn Number 9 guitarist) Troy Bootow. "Hector goes to all the record shows and knows all the guys and was able to get a pretty awesome selection together for the second swap," Nelson says. "We had about 12 vendors there, about 10,000 records—really, really awesome selection."
Waluyo has set out to fill the bar with the most comprehensive selection of vinyl Fullerton has seen this side of the cassette tape. "I've been buying records for 8 or 10 years, and out of the record shows I've been to, I'll contact the vendors that I've liked the most and let them know that I'm having a record show," he says. "They're down to try out a new crowd, especially in Orange County, because there aren't a lot of shows out here. . . . I've walked out each time with about 10 new records to listen to; there's always a new discovery there."
The swap's hassle-free, day-drinking vibe gets a boost from the rotating roster of DJs whom Waluyo brings to each event. "I DJ there, and I like to bring my friends over to play records, too. It's a cool experience for other DJs because they aren't constricted in what they have to play," Waluyo says. "You don't have a club promoter telling you, 'You can't play that; it's not dance-y enough for this crowd. You're going to scare people away.' It's fun to play whatever you want, share music with your friends, and have a good time."
Both Nelson and Waluyo have spent enough time pawing through record crates to recognize how special the swap's selection is. "As opposed to going to a record store, where one person or a small group of people are curating the selection, this is 10 or 12 different people who all bring their own curated collection," Nelson says. "One guy brings a bunch of jazz, a couple of guys bring a bunch of punk, some guys bring funk and soul, and one guy brings only reggae 45s—everything is there."
Assembling a variety of music styles and obscure album pressings are a shared passion of Nelson and Waluyo, who are both obsessed with finding what overlooked gems could be buried in someone's back bin. And as any vinyl disciple will tell you, owning records is a lot more satisfying than streaming, pirating or otherwise downloading songs. "Anybody who collects records will say there's something about actually holding the thing in your hand," Nelson says. "You're not just buying a file; you're buying a piece of art. . . . It's something real that you can enjoy while listening to the music."
For these collectors, the war is over—and digital lost. And at the Continental Room, the victors gather to divide their spoils.
"The format is simple," Waluyo says. "We've got records, we've got cheap drinks, we've got DJs, and occasionally we have barbecue, too. Even if you don't buy records, it's a really good time."