Equaliser London

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Radek Cyman: Selling records in Poland

Radek Cyman is the face behind Cyman Records, a record shop for a country where an average LP costs as much as a day’s work. I meet him early on a Friday in his flat in the centre of Gdansk. He’s woken up not too long ago and makes us a coffee before we sit down in the living room.

There are a few stacks of records on the couch. They come every Thursday, usually a box or two, and will make their way across Poland on Monday. Cyman Records has no physical location and yet, hundreds of releases come in and out of this room every month.

“I have been buying records since I was 13”, says Radek, who is 24 now. “It was really hard to get the music I wanted. Some of the popular stuff is easy to get; Wojtek at Side One has great stock. But I still ended up ordering things from abroad, which gets really expensive and if you do it regularly, shipping kills you.”

“Założyłem po prostu grupę na fejsie, zaprosiłem kumpli, samo się jakoś rozeszło”

To save on shipping, he started to order things for him and his friends in bigger packages. Over time, as his circle grew, the packages have gotten bigger and more frequent.

Now, two years later – he sells as much as the biggest record shops in Poland. The boxes come, 100 records each, and they get split up by customer and get sent to 5 of his friends in different Polish cities. His brother in Warsaw, best friend in Poznań and more people in Kraków and Wrocław. Customers pick stuff up in person or get it sent to their homes.

Most of the orders come through a Facebook group, some come from the website and a couple from Discogs. People send a link over and Radek orders it to his place, using one of the shops or distributors in his network.

Ordering from Radek comes with an experience that most online shops don’t offer. He makes sure to get to know each customer and to keep things personal. This way, the shop grows organically, mostly through word of mouth. “Each record I sell I put in a plastic sleeve with a Cyman Records sticker on it. When somebody brings it to a club, people see it and ask ‘where did you get it from?’”

“Wolę od Radka, nie trzeba się bić o płyty, nie ma takiego ciśnienia”

I ask him about his customers. “It’s mostly DJs, obviously, but not exclusively”. Some people order music weekly, some get one or two records per month. While he doesn’t hold much stock himself, sometimes he orders some extras of things he particularly enjoys. A few people trust him with recommendations and buy whatever he happens to have, making him a tastemaker much like he would be when running a physical shop.

One of his regular customers is an older guy who gets around 20 records per month – loads of disco and some house. He used to DJ in the 90s, but now has a family and doesn’t so much anymore. “I send his orders to Sandra, who distributes in Poznań, he then picks it up from her and hides it around the house cause he’s worried his wife would be annoyed by how much he buys!”

“O kurwa, masz Soundstreama, biorę”

I grew up around Gdansk and I don’t recall record shops being a part of the city at all. You could find an odd LP at a charity shop or a larger collection at the famous Jarmark Dominikański, but that’s about it. Things are slowly changing now. Earlier this year, Radek a stand at Ulica Elektrykow in Gdansk, selling a few boxes of older music. An older guy came with his wife and went crazy when he saw a few Soundstream record. “This kinda shows me that a lot of people don’t know about me yet.”

The music that he stocks, primarily house and techno, is a tough sell for people who do not know what they’re looking for. Another time, he was soundtracking an all-day arts market happening at a pub in the Old Town of Gdansk. He took a box of older music with him, but had no luck selling a single record.

What’s next for Cyman Records, then? “I work from home and to be honest, it’s very tiring. I sit in front of a computer as my girlfriend leaves for work in the morning. When she’s back, I’ve barely moved! I’m on Facebook all day, but you know, it’s work – talking to clients, running the group.”

He already runs the shop and DJs around the country pretty much full time, whilst studying engineering and doing occasional freelance work. “We’re trying to save up some money to open up a space somewhere in Gdansk. A place to get a coffee, hang out, do some work and listen to some records. In the back we’d be running the whole operation just like we do now.”

He says there isn’t much of this in Gdansk (or Sopot and Gdynia, two cities right next to Gdansk that together form a larger Tricity) and it’s hard to disagree. “Not a club, not quite a pub, just a good space. I wish there was somewhere I could just come with my laptop during the day and work, for example.”

Radek is also one of the residents at Sfinks700 – a large club in Sopot with a long history of working with alternative music and the arts, previously ran by one of Poland’s most famous jazz musicians. While it isn’t as adventurous now, it’s still one of my favourite clubs and definitely the one that’s impacted my music taste the most.

To illustrate how it is to play in Poland, Radek brings up a story of what is now the #muzykadodomu category on his website, which literally translates to music to listen to at home. A few years back, he tried to book an artist who’s released on Opal Tapes and a few more similar labels, but when pitching it to the director of the club, he got laughed at – “this isn’t club music, this is music to listen to at home! Nobody’s gonna dance!”

It’s a pretty accurate depiction of how clubs in Poland operate. Very few are willing to take gambles and put people a little bit out of their comfort zone. You don’t see much risk-taking when going out here, except maybe in Warsaw, which everybody agrees is different. Poland is famous for its jazz scene, but I don’t recall hearing any jazz in a club until moving to England. But now, things are changing – a number of Polish labels and producers are putting out great records and receiving growing attention abroad. I ask if he’s seeing clubs liberate a bit more. “All this new stuff is excellent, but it hasn’t done much real impact in Poland yet. It’s mostly hype and while it may not seem that way, it’s still very underground.”

Cyman Records is a uniquely Polish operation. Radek started it because he wanted to buy records that nobody was selling here, so he imported them from Germany with a couple of friends. In its current shape, the shop solves a real problem for people who live here and have an address here; it brings the fans together and creates a community. Whether a physical space will or will not happen, it’s fantastic to see an operation this unique grow.