This is a guest post written by Matt Lindley. Matt is a London-based music listener and analogue synth fan. He likes physical formats, free-improvisation and folk. You can find him on Twitter @MattELindley.
I don’t often write about music so I thought it would be an interesting topic by someone who does!
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London is still a great place for buying secondhand vinyl, despite the closure of many record shops, including On the Beat in Soho, where the owner has just put the entire store on eBay. The shops that are thriving tend to be the ones that really understand the needs of the average record buyer these days.
The typical London vinyl addict possibly isn’t looking for a first edition Led Zeppelin VI or Dark Side of the Moon LP anymore. They’re after something more obscure, like a lost New Zealand post-punk classic or a Norwegian black metal LP. The shops that cater to their needs by offering a carefully-curated selection of hard-to-find titles and the in-store aesthetics to match will probably live forever.
A visit to a local record shop will always offer much more than buying used vinyl on eBay. It is a place to discover new music, meet like-minded people and try before you buy in a way that you can’t do online. I am sure that music fans will continue to support their local record shops, as long as they believe in them. Anyway, here are five London record shops that are getting it right.
44 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 7XJ
Photo from Kristina Records website
Kristina Records only opened two and a half years ago – after the supposed death of the high street record store – which goes to show that if you sell the right kind of music to the right people, you will be successful. The shop takes up a small, well-designed space in Dalston (reminding me of Record Grouch in Brooklyn) and mainly sells underground music of all varieties (Minimal Techno, Noise, 80s Industrial, Free-Jazz, American Primitive). The stock is split 60/40 between secondhand and new vinyl and has been well-curated and categorised. It is definitely my favourite place in London for avant-garde and experimental sounds now that Second Layer has closed down.
ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Goblin Buio Omega Soundtrack LP (AMS) £26
278 Portobello Road, London W10 5TE
Photo: Honest Jons by flickr_b3rn
Honest Jon’s is a long-standing Notting Hill record shop that specialises in soul, jazz and reggae. It opened in 1974 and offers lovingly reissued global classics alongside a treasure trove of secondhand gems. The Honest Jon’s record label was established in 2001 in collaboration with regular customer and Blur frontman Damon Albarn. It was formed partly out of necessity, as the opportunities to travel to the US, Brazil and Africa to buy rare records became less and less viable. The label issues brilliant, pioneering dance music. For this reason alone, not to mention the great selection of used titles, you should check out this Ladbroke Grove legend.
ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Brokenhearted Dragonflies Insect Electronica From Southeast Asia (Sublime Frequencies) £17.99
SOUNDS OF THE UNIVERSE
7 Broadwick Street, Soho, London W1F 0DA
Photo: Sounds of the Universe by David Jones 大卫 琼斯
Sounds of the Universe is my favourite record shop in Soho, specialising in reggae, dub, Brazilian Tropicalia, African funk and other global sounds. Upstairs is devoted to brand new vinyl and CDs while, in true record shop fashion, the downstairs basement is bulging with original vinyl. What makes it worth visiting is the passionate, knowledgeable staff and their dedication to unearthing the best sounds from around the world. Sounds of the Universe is also home to Soul Jazz Records, who have released some amazing crate-digging compilations of dancehall, acid house and German experimental rock over the years.
ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Gregory Isaacs Showcase original LP (Taxi) £25
50 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 8LR
Photo: Flashback by Eric Huang
Flashback in Islington has been operating since 1997 and has always been about secondhand stock. But since the music industry started to press most new releases on vinyl, they now sell brand new titles as well. New vinyl and CDs can be found upstairs, but the used vinyl in the basement is really where it’s at. This is the place to find lost classics leaning heavily towards the rock/punk/alternative end of the spectrum (my favourite) at reasonable prices. Whether you are after an everyday playing copy of a grunge classic or an £800 pristine first pressing of Shirley Collins’ Sweet England, Flashback should have something for you. This and Haggle Vinyl make Islington a great place to live for record hounds.
ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Flaming Lips Clouds Taste Metallic LP (original US green vinyl) £30
348 Camberwell New Road, London SE5 0RW
Photo: Rat Records, Camberwell by Ewan Munro
Trading since 1998, Rat Records sells a extensive range of secondhand reggae, soul, punk and classic rock to Camberwell’s eclectic local community. Owner Tom Fisher has been dealing in records for 24 years and seriously knows his stuff. For example, in his record buying time, he has discovered the only vinyl acetate pressing of a collaboration between Mick Jagger and John Lennon. What I like about Rat Records is the fact that they put out fresh stock every Saturday morning, so you can get there early and be sure to bag a bargain. The LPs are rarely priced at more than £8, so you will probably find something below list price, too.
Record Store Day is an annual event taking place in record shops across the UK every April. Many London record shops participate by offering exclusive vinyl-only releases and putting on in-store gigs and events. Also, if you are visiting the capital from out of town and are looking for accommodation, I’d recommend checking out HotelClub.