LONDON | The way we consume music has changed considerably over the past few years. High speed internet and the ability to legally and affordably download or stream almost anything we want to listen to has resulted in many record stores closing down. Bucking this trend away from purchasing music on a physical medium however has been vinyl. Vinyls comeback was kicked off by the archetypal hipster, who wanted to collect vinyl for its vintage value and the perceived notion of authenticity. There was also Record Store Day which started in 2008, which promoted limited edition “Record Store Day” vinyl releases as a way of drawing attention towards independent record stores.
Last year, in the USA, vinyl sales were up 32% year on year, and at their highest level since 1988. In 2016 this shows no sign of abating. Whether it’s authenticity, cool factor, nostalgia, the desire to own something tangible or an appreciation of the warm sound that only vinyl can provide, there’s no question that vinyl is back. Whatever medium you like to get your music on, there no doubt that there’s something special about heading into an independent record store and browsing through the shelves, talking to the staff, listening to a range of things you haven’t heard before, and walking away with a new piece of music from an artist you didn’t know about when you walked into the store.
When I lived in London, I’d visit an independent record store once a month to discover and buy something new. It wasn’t just about the discovery of the music too, but the knowledge that I was supporting an independent, local business. We’ve seen the same thing with books where after massive closures of independent book stores in the 1990s and 2000s, a comeback is occurring. Small, independent and real is on trend at the moment and hopefully it’s a mindset that remains. I was back in London in May this year thanks to Cathay Pacific and there wasn’t a chance I was going to visit without stopping by some of my favourite independent record stores. Here’s my list of London’s best independent record stores, the ones you should definitely visit if you want to discover some great music while supporting local business.
What’s your favourite independent record store in London? Share your gems with everyone in the comments section below.
Rough Trade West
Rough Trade West or simply “Rough Trade” as it was known when it opened is the original Rough Trade store. It opened in 1976 and is where the Rough Trade record label was founded in 1978, signing artists such as The Smiths, The Strokes, Arcade Fire and The Libertines over the years. Compared to Rough Trade East (the largest record store in the UK) and Rough Trade NYC (the largest record store in New York City) Rough Trade West is tiny however this doesn’t mean that there’s any shortage of interesting music to discover. There are 2 listening stations playing whatever the staff think is interesting at the time as well as a nice selection of mostly underground and alternative music, categorised by era and genre.
Staff are knowledgeable, and always happy to chat about music and answer any questions you might have. For those looking for rare and second hand vinyl, head down the stairs to the basement level.
Rough Trade West
130 Talbot Road
London W11 1JA
Rough Trade East
Rough Trade East opened in a former Stella Artois brewery in 2007 and takes the Rough Trade ethos of shortening the distance between artists and audiences, and faithfully representing the creativity and the artistic talent of the music they sell, to the next level. It’s the largest record store in the UK and contains not only a vast selection of CDs and vinyl spanning every genre and sub genre you could imagine. Every item, vinyl and CD, has a written description to encourage browsing and discovery and there is even music for sale from artists that haven’t yet signed record deals.
The cabinets in the store are all movable which allows the space to become a gig venue that can hold up to 200 people. Gigs that occur here are mostly free and open to anyone who wants a ticket – the only trouble is getting one as they go fast.
To top it all off, Rough Trade East also contains a free trade cafe and a chill out area with sofas, desks and Macs. It’s a social, vibrant place that you can easily spend hours in.
Rough Trade East
Old Truman Brewery
91 Brick Lane
London E1 6QL
Lionvibes is the worlds biggest retailer of original press reggae vinyl and one of London’s newest independent record stores, having opened early this year. It’s history however goes back well beyond this. The store started as a market stall in the late 1990s at Brixton’s art market and then went online only while also starting a record label in Kingston, Jamaica. Owner Matt regularly files between Jamaica and the UK, seeking out vintage vinyl and new music which ensures that Lionvibes is one of the best places to find reggae music in the world. Just keep in mind that the store only stocks reggae vinyl. If that’s what you are after, you’ll love it but for other genres of music or CDs, look elsewhere.
98 Granville Arcade
London SW9 8PS
Honest Jon’s was established in 1974 and is still one of London’s best independent record stores. A variety of music is available, but the focus is on jazz, blues, reggae, dance, soul, folk and outernational. The compilation section is particularly interested for someone looking to discover something new – there are a range of compilations of old music which tend to tell a story about a particular movement or moment in time. It’s where history, music and culture collide and the staff love the talk about music and share their knowledge and passion. You’ll be hard pressed to leave Honest Jon’s without a CD or vinyl record in your hands.
There’s also an Honest Jon’s record label, which is run in conjunction with Damon Albarn and releases a wide variety of music, including compilations featuring music from various archives that has been forgotten by most and international artists whose music is hard to find outside of their homeland.
278 Portobello Road
London W10 5TE
Kristina Records specialises in new and second hand vinyl spanning across an impressive array of genres. It’s a clear, bright, minimalist store aimed at those who know what they are looking for, with records categorised by artists, labels and sounds but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Owners Jack, Jason and James have a real passion for what they are doing and will happily guide you towards something you’ll enjoy. Just remember that it’s vinyl only.
For those who do have a deeper knowledge of music, Kristina is one of those places where you might just find that rare piece of vinyl that you never thought you’d own. There is some seriously rare stuff to be found in the racks.
44 Stoke Newington Road
London N16 7XJ
Phonica Records specialises in dance and electronic music and has an impressive array of genres and sub genres amongst its selection on CDs and vinyl. It’s a casual, relaxed space with friendly staff that rewards browsing with so much interesting stuff on offer every time you visit.
Phonica is a bit of a meet up space for DJs and producers too, many of whom visit to talk music and search out that rare piece of vinyl that even they haven’t been able to find. Phonica also run their own in-house record label to put out some of the music that they love and occasionally hold gigs and events inside the store.
51 Poland Street
London W1F 7LZ
Rye Wax is located in the basement of Peckham’s multi-use arts venue the Bussey Building / CLF Art Café. Where it differs from a lot of other records stores is that it offers a lot more than music. As well as being a record store, Rye Wax also sells comics, prints, books, pastries and coffee and is also a small venue space and bar. My first visit here was to check out the records and the next thing you know I was enjoying a craft beer while watching a DJ play some fantastic deep house music. Back to the records, and there’s a focus on up-to-the-minute dance vinyl along with a large second hand collection of albums, oddities and rarities.
As with many of the other places on this list, Rye Wax is the kind of places that you end up spending more time at than you anticipated – listening to music, talking to staff and just enjoying yourself.
The Basement, The CLF Art Cafe
133 Rye Lane
London SE15 4ST
All Ages Records
All Ages Records is a Camden favourite that proudly advertises itself as “London’s Only Independent Punk Record Shop”. In line with this there’s a focus on punk, ska, hardcore, alternative metal and all kinds of similar genres and sub genres. It’s full of guitar heavy music from the 1970s onwards on CD and vinyl and, surprisingly, cassette. If you’re into the music that All Ages specialises in then it’s also the place to visit to find rare, out of print, and hard to find records. There’s also badges, bags, books and t-shirts and the link for those who want something more than than the fantastic music on offer.
All Ages Records
27A Pratt Street
London NW1 0BG
Sounds Of The Universe
Sounds Of The Universe is located directly below the offices of its sister record label Soul Jazz records, which all you really need to know about the kind of music you’re going to find here. Soul Jazz’s own fantastic compilations span soul, Latin, hip-hop and jazz and similar but more obscure genres and there are the famous re-releases from Jamaica’s Studio One label. On top of this, Soul Jazz also release some really interesting books about things relevant to the label’s interests. The categorisation of music is a combination of helpful and fun too. Yes there’s a section for disco music, but there’s also a section for “disco not disco”.
The ground floor is home to new vinyl and CDs from the Soul Jazz label and many other labels too while the basement contains rare and second hand vinyl. The store also is a community hub of sorts and hosts a range of film-screenings and in-store events to help promote the work of local and lesser known artists and film-makers.
Go in, have a listen to some music on one of the many listening stations and discover something new.
Sounds Of The Universe
7 Broadwick Street
London W1F 0DA
Flashback Records opened in Islington in 1997 and in the almost 20 years its been around has expanded to Crouch End and, most recently, Shoreditch. They pride themselves on their service and wide range of vinyl and CDs. It’s the kind of place you can visit no matter your age, style or taste in music and you won’t be judged or faced with attitude. Regardless of whether your taste and questions are obscure or mainstream, there’s always someone there happy to help.
Choice wise it’s all about quality stock at fair prices. That’s what they say on the website and thankfully this plays out in reality in store. While it’s not the place to go for the rarest of rare records, there’s a lot of variety here and more than enough obscure stuff to satisfy almost anyone.
All in all Flashback is a great place to browse and discover, and as a bonus there are also a number of in-store gigs held throughout the year, mostly at the Islington store.
50 Essex Road
London N1 8LR
144 Crouch Hill
London N8 9DX
131 Bethnal Green Road
London E2 7DJ
Named after the Velvet Underground/Joy Division song, Sister Ray is one of the most centrally located record stores in London and carries and extensive selection of new and second hand vinyl and CDs. Almost every genre of music you can think of can be found here, with a definite indie/alternative focus. Staff recommendations are on display all over the shop, and all of the staff have a very impressive knowledge about what’s being sold here and music in general.
There’s also a vinyl only branch called Sister Ray Ace at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch which has loads of listening stations – it’s worth checking out if you’re in the area.
75 Berwick Street
London W1F 8TG
Vinyl Pimp in Hackney do things a little different than the rest. They sell CDs and vinyl on behalf of individual collectors DJs and companies. They even sell vinyl on behalf of popular DJs like Gilles Peterson, Aaron Liberator and Mike Lennon. The 12 foot high “Great Wall of Vinyl” can be quite intimidating when you first walk in and wonder “how am I going to find anything?” but thankfully there’s a computer with the full catalogue on hand for customers to use, and staff who know their stuff. It’s a different browsing experience than you’re used to, but it works. Genre wise it’s not really about guitar focused music here – most of the music spans hip-hop, soul, jazz, drum n bass, dance, house, electronic and the like.
Vinyl Pimp also have events and pop-ups in store and also run their own events around town every now and then, including a residency at NT’s in London Fields.
14 Felstead Street
London E9 5LT
…and because I couldn’t have checked out my favourite record stores again if Cathay Pacific hadn’t flown me over to London, I’ve agreed to include this little spiel in the article for them.
Cathay Pacific has over 70 flights a week to Hong Kong from six major Australian cities, offering a choice of flying in economy, premium economy or business class. Cathay has at four flights daily from Sydney, three flights daily from Melbourne, 11 flights a week from Brisbane, four flights weekly from both Cairns and Adelaide, and ten flights weekly from Perth.) From its Hong Kong hub, the airline offers five daily flights to London. From 2 September 2016, Cathay Pacific will launch a four-times-weekly service to Gatwick (LGW) operated with A350 aircraft, bringing it to a total of 39 flights a week between Hong Kong and London – more than any other carrier. In addition to serving London, Cathay Pacific also offers a four-times-weekly service between Hong Kong and Manchester in the United Kingdom.