On Our Radar

Meet the Singaporean Couple Selling Records and Rubbish for a Sustainable Life

From flipping tracks under pressure to turning trash into treasure, this power couple teaches us the secrets to staying grounded.
12 March 2020, 10:10am
Vice, Vinyl Heavy, Goni Room, Afiq Ayub, Soufi A'aliyah, Vinyl, Analog, Collectors, Records, Rubbish, Sustainability, Singapore, Karung Guni, Guitar, Midwife
Photos courtesy of Afiq and Soufi

It’s not often that you meet young people who have found a way to live their truths by seamlessly integrating their personal and professional lives. But Soufi A’aliyah and Afiq Ayub seem to have discovered the secret formula. As the Singaporean couple behind record shop and party collective Vinyl Heavy and second-hand lifestyle store Goni Room, they embody an honest and unpretentious way of life that’s rare in a seemingly extravagant city.

It all started with the simple notion of investing more effort in their passions: “He [Afiq] was always telling me about these ideas that he had and I said, ‘dude how can you have so many great ideas and not do anything about them?’ So we just did it. He started sewing pockets on tote bags, then silkscreening t-shirts, and all of a sudden it just blew up. We didn’t expect the reaction at all, it was just a passion project and we thought it was a fun activity to do as a couple.”

Born out of Afiq’s vinyl collecting hobby and Soufi’s background in design, Vinyl Heavy has since become a familiar name in underground music scenes across Singapore and Malaysia. From humble beginnings selling records and merch at pop-up events, the couple now also organises parties, collaborates with regional artists, and gets behind the console to share funky and psychedelic sounds from the Malay archipelago and beyond.

The diversity of their endeavours seems almost second nature, as both of them have always been dedicated to exploring a wide range of skills. Afiq first started out as a flight attendant, then barber, but now works at a climbing gym and plays guitar in a punk band. Similarly, Soufi is a design student who became deeply interested in healing practices and wants to become a birth doula in the future.

Their more recent venture Goni Room is a tribute to karung guni, the nostalgic figure of the door-to-door rag-and-bone man who collects unwanted items from Singaporean housing estates, and resells them at recycling units and flea markets. From tableware to used furniture, they source second-hand items, give them a clean new lease of life, and release their rehabilitated bric-a-brac back into the wild through an Instagram store.

“We want to share this so people understand that sometimes there is value in trash. We wanted to think about sentimental value and who can relate to these items the way we can."

In an ever-evolving Singaporean landscape, Soufi and Afiq stand out with their desire to build a truly simple and sustainable life. Bringing the beauty and purpose of old traditions to newer generations, their warmth and openness keep their feet planted firmly on planet earth.

What it all comes down to for the pair is not great ambition, but the desire to do something honest and heartfelt.

“Vinyl Heavy and Goni Room are dedications to ourselves. They allow us to live the life we want to live. Yeah, we have full-time jobs now and then, but to do something that represents who we really are, who we want to be, and what we want to nurture — that’s important.”

We believe that…

Afiq Ayub: All has been won, all has been lost. There is nothing left for us to save.

Soufi A’aliyah: I believe that I have a voice I can use to help the marginalised, and the people who don’t have the same privilege that I do. With the privilege that I have, what is my excuse to be doing nothing? How can I be sitting down and sipping martinis while people are out there suffering? Yeah, I can sip martinis, but let me also plan out how I can help other people enjoy this the way I’m enjoying it. In a perfect world, everything’s good, but we don’t live in that world — we live in chaos. I guess I’m at that stage where I’m not ready to accept that everything is just gonna be as it is.

AA: The thing is, a lot of the times, you can’t change people so easily. But you can change yourself and through that, you’ll attract people to you. That’s the basis of changing the world; you can’t change the world unless you change yourself first.

Our friends say we are…

AA+SA: Hippies.

But we like to think we are…

SA: Everyone. I’m a reflection of everyone. Even when I don’t like someone, and I’m like, “fuck that guy,” I am that guy.

AA: I have a hard time defining myself. I go through phases in life where I just crash and get reborn, and I become different, and then I feel like shit again, and it’s just a cycle. I wish I could be more forgiving and surrender myself, but I’m only human. So yeah, maybe I am only human.

We've been working on…

AA+SA: A bunch of things. A spoon carving workshop, but that’s taking time because we’re being extra hard on ourselves to do it right. We’re working on throwing more parties and events and getting more performers outside of Singapore. We’re trying to blur the lines between countries around the region and get all the subcultures from different countries together. Getting back to the roots of this part of the world and Southeast Asia. There are so many western influences, but I think it’s time we start coming into it on our own.

We are inspired by…

SA**:** The state of the world. There’s so much going on in the world, how can I not be engaged with it?

AA**:** Nothing. I am inspired by nothing. Not trying, not learning, not thinking. It’s OK for me to lie down and clear my mind. It’s not that nothing inspires me, I’m inspired by nothingness and nonexistence. I like to just sit around and spectate, not engage.

SA: But I love to engage ah.

AA: Sometimes people get annoyed at that though. If they ask me something that I don’t know the answer too, I’ll just tell them I don’t know, and they get annoyed and ask, “Well what do you know?” And then I reply, “I know nothing.”

Recently we've been really into…

AA: Really heavy guitar choruses. I love Conan Mockasin, Mac Demarco, I love that they don’t give a fuck. They’re really blunt and unpolished and I’m so into that. Back in the day, when this all started, so many people used to want to be perfect, and polished. I think now in a response to all this chaos, you’re finally seeing some people who don’t give a fuck. I just joined a punk band for the first time since polytechnic and I think I finally understand the hardcore scene — it’s all about the release. I play the guitar for them and it’s quite liberating, just not giving a fuck.

SA: Seeing women reclaiming their power, especially in art. There’s this dance club called LA City Municipal Dance Squad, and it’s just a bunch of girls who don’t really know how to dance conventionally, but they don’t give a fuck and they just dance, it’s super primal and innate and you can tell they don’t really care how they look. It’s just about the release and that’s what makes it so authentic. That’s something I’ve been really into and I wish I had my own studio where I could do the same with other girls in Singapore. I fucking love dancing and I wanna have that energy here, like, fuck caring about people, let’s just fucking dance and let go of all the appearances, judgements, and expectations, and just be crazy.

You can usually find us at…

AA+SA: Geylang, the studio, parks, streams, rivers, the beach. We love being around nature. We don’t have a lot of time now but we still try to spend a lot of time being around nature. Even if it’s going to the park, sometimes we’ll just sit down and blank our minds and try to be in the moment. Just not doing anything, not even talking to each other sometimes. Wondering in our own ways.

On bad days, we…

SA: Fight, be sad. I go to therapy. That helps. It really puts me in a different state of mind. I’ve been through some traumatic stuff and going to therapy helps me come back to the present, instead of being pulled down by my past, or worried about my future.

AA: On bad days, I try very hard. I’m trying for the people around me. On bad days I'm usually caught up in myself. I’m quite a loner, I like to go solo a lot. Even at parties I used to be a wet blanket, and even butt heads with people a couple of times. I used to get angry and question why they were there having a good time, and what it meant, it was very existential. That’s me on bad days. I gotta lower myself down, not be so cocky and judgmental, and open myself up to people.

We live for…

SA**:** People. I feel so attached to everything, every person, and whatever I'm doing. I feel like my main purpose is to be there for people. I want to give myself and my energy to other people so they can fucking grow. In a way that’s how I grow too. Even if it gets exhausting, I just want people to know that they're not alone and that I can be that person for them.

AA: I live to be a part of that. My late grandparents really inspired me. Their life together really helped me understand how and why they survived through everything. Because they accepted each other and helped each other out. After my grandma passed away, my grandfather was just crying out for her for two years before he passed away as well. It was sad but I was happy for him because he was finally with the only person he could really relate to. I love my grandfather, and I would want to be as carefree as he was when he was with my grandma.

In five years, we will be…

SA: I’ll be living in a place where I can be self-sufficient. Give birth on my own, have a community where we are all helping each other out and living a freer life. Then again in five years, I can be where I am now and that’s fine as well.

AA: In five years I want to be a dad. I want to remember what it’s like to be someone who doesn’t give a fuck. Sometimes I enjoy sitting down with my cat and just chilling, cause they don’t give a fuck. I love to hang out with little kids because they don’t give a fuck. Everybody else gives a fuck but I just want to be with people that don’t give a fuck. I’m not sure what type of father I’m going to be, but I know that I want to see life and the world through the eyes of someone that doesn’t give a fuck.

SA: I want to be a parent too, and I think to build on that, it’s allowing children the space to be who they are, without us telling them what to do. That’s when they can really live up to that potential because I’m not telling them what to do. Our parents were always trying to shape us and push us in a certain direction which is why we’ve become so defiant. It’ll be interesting to see someone fully formed without anybody pushing them in any direction.