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A Slice of Cool: Treskul Records and Café

Music, food, drinks, and coffee.

The music beckons.

It is from a bygone era. But whether because it’s hypnotic or it appeals to the heart and the hips, you’re drawn in.

The singer coos,

“Something inside starts to burn deep.

And my heart’s filled with fire.

Could it be that I’m very sentimental?

Or is this just the way love’s supposed to be?

I got a heat wave burning in my heart.”

The song is titled “Heat Wave,” and Motown singer Martha Reeves–who once led the most tuneful Vandellas–is like the Pied Piper of Hamlin reeling you into this most unobtrusive of shops.

Treskul Records and Café is located right between a bank and a computer store along Boni Avenue in Mandaluyong City. It’s far from the usual posh commercial centers or gimmick joints, but it happens to be one of the coolest places in a city where its denizens are constantly looking for the next hip hangout.

There’s nothing urbane about Treskul Records and Café, yet when you enter, your eyes are ablaze with wonder in this shop that, perhaps, time forgot.

The walls are adorned with framed posters and record jackets of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Kiss, and our very own Wally Gonzales, the Boyfriends, and others. There are massive movie posters: Transformers, The Usual Suspects, A Clockwork Orange, and Reservoir Dogs to name but a few. There are dozens of boom boxes in varying sizes. Turntables vintage and new. And racks and racks of vinyl records, compact discs, and cassettes. And there’s something like that giant penny in the fictional Bat Cave that looks out of place: a head of a velociraptor.

Shop owner and international DJ Arbie Bulaong laughs when the velociraptor is mentioned. “If you go to other bars, they usually have this deer or some exotic animal on the wall. Well, we don’t promote the hunting of animals so the dinosaur will have to do,” he chuckles about the huge Styrofoam prop of a Jurassic predator that he liberated from the garbage bin.

Like the rest of his curio shop-slash-café, everything can be considered a relic of the past. Yet everything yesteryear is cool again. Vinyl is back with a vengeance, as are cassettes. The only media forms that haven’t made a comeback are 8-track tapes and laserdiscs. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a comeback too,” Bulaong chuckles once more.

Treskul Records and Café is, first and foremost, a record shop.

Just as the lyrics of “Heatwave” describe, music grafted itself onto Bulaong’s soul at an early age. “Spinning records at class parties was something I wanted to do,” he recalled of his earliest ambitions. “I didn’t know it would be my life.”

Putting up a record shop was a pipe dream until he was able to lease the current property along Boni Avenue. “The plan was just to put up a record shop. But when we got this place in 2015, we thought we could maximize the space by putting up a café.”

“If I had put up this record store/café 20 years ago, it would have failed,” he says.

Today, Treskul is a popular place for audiophiles to dig, as well as to chill out and have some drinks (the tapsilog and nachos are by far the best-selling items in their menu, which is overseen by Bulaong’s mother and his girlfriend, Jenny). Rock stars like Ely Buendia, Diego Mapa, Diego Castillo, members of the Itchyworms, and a few other actors—whom Bulaong would like to keep anonymous so they can dig in peace—are frequent cratediggers. Music enthusiasts as far as the United States, Europe, and Japan also include Treskul as part of their itinerary. And occasionally, fellow spinners like DJ Newmark and Danny Krivit drop by to dig or to have impromptu jam sessions.

It was also recently the venue for indie rock band We Are Imaginary’s music video for “A Good Kind of Sad.” In mid-March, Treskul hosted the third Club 45 event, which brought sellers and fans of 7” records from all over in a sale that ended at 2AM.

The store arguably features the best curated selection of vintage records, rare 1990s albums (fewer records were pressed in this decade), Original Pilipino Music, and modern releases in the Philippines. It’s the only shop where you can find an eclectic selection on the racks at the same time: the first press of Ella Del Rosario’s one and only solo album; in demand New Wave group Friends Again’s Trapped & Unwrapped; shoegazer pioneers My Bloody Valentine; Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill; System of A Down’s Toxicity; hip hop group the Fugees’ acclaimed second release, The Score; 1960s Filipino-American group the Rockyfellers; rapper Nas; acid jazz band Brand New Heavies; and the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning film, Bohemian Rhapsody. In the singles bins are 7” records of the Ramones, Filipino-American Bay Area group Dakila, Britney Spears, and more.

Mind you, these are original first pressings and not the 180-gram reissues that many independent retailers have on their racks. How many shops in Manila have original first pressings of Nirvana’s Nevermind? Or soundtracks to the beloved anime shows Voltes V, Daimos, and Space Battleship Yamato? There is even a compact disc copy of Swing Out Sister’s hard-to-find album Private View.

“I personally purchase our selections (Arbie makes frequent digging trips to the USA and Japan or all over the Philippines in search of titles that music fans would want to get their hands on),” he says. “I always put myself in the shoes of the music fan: what would he like to hear and buy? The problem is, sometimes, I’d want to keep it rather than sell it. But over time, it gets easier to let go of records.”

When Treskul first opened shop, Arbie had to let go some of his prized OPM records, such LPs from jazz pianist Bong Penera and soul artist Joe Cruz and the Cruzettes. “When we first opened the shop, I had to put on the racks some really good titles from my personal collection to make our shop enticing to the music aficionado. I let go of a bunch of them at dirt cheap prices: P500 each. I thought that I’d get them back. Within two years, vinyl’s resurgence was in full swing. And the prices I sold them for are now ridiculous. I was able to get them back but at eight times the price!”

However, there is a constant supply of walk-ins who sell their collections either because they are letting them go or are in need of funds for emergencies. “One time, this person walked in with a bunch of records from Can (a late 1960s German experimental rock band). I thought it was cool that there were people here in Manila who listened to Can. And best of all, these records are worth thousands of Euros and I got them really cheap,” relates Bulaong.

The music that is dear to the disc jockey are R&B, Motown, and Northern Soul records, which he spins a lot in his shop. “The music resonates in me. I love it as a fan and as a collector.”

When he takes the floor to spin his records, it isn’t uncommon for a customer to come over and ask either for the titles of the song on deck or the option to purchase it outright. “As a music fan, it is gratifying to help someone either reconnect to their past or to pick it up as a hobby. After all, music is something to share and bond over.”

And the shop also attracts a lot of people who come over to take selfies, of which Arbie doesn’t mind.

Radio personality Nico Gumban says that Treskul “is the best place in Manila to find good coffee and endless music collection finds.”

Canadian tourist Dustin English was able to visit several years ago, and he gushes about his experience: “Easily one of the dopest spots in the city. We had an amazing time and the owner was a beauty. The food is most definitely on point as well. If you have any sort of love for music, check this place out.”

Arbie is definitely stoked about the reception Treskul Records and Café has gotten. He also has a recently opened shop in Ali X in Ali Mall, but without the café. “Maybe soon,” he opines.

“How cool is it that you get to do something that you love?” he asks. “It isn’t work. It’s my passion.”

Taking a sip from a coffee mug, the DJ sums up his shop with a nifty expression of praise by one visitor. “One of the best compliments I received is the shop isn’t pretentious. It’s cool without even trying. That makes my day.”

Arbie makes his way to the DJ’s booth and the revolution continues.

Rick Olivares has been writing professionally since he was in third year college. He has covered some of the world’s biggest football clubs across Europe and Asia, graffiti artists in London and Paris, traveled in a van and covered indie rock bands in New York all the way up to Philadelphia. The last thing on his bucket list is to reunite the Smiths.