Ok, first thing first. Clearly London’s vinyl scene is right up there with anyones – it’s probably one of the Top 3 Vinyl Shopping Cities In The World©®™∞, so it would be quite easy for me to act like a nouveau riche (♠) guy (♣) at a bachelor party, make it rain, and fill my entire DJ bag full of vinyl during our four days here. But we’re headed to Reykjavik later not his trip for our 10th Iceland Airwaves, and after missing the festival in 2018 for the first time in a decade I have some unfinished business in the city’s record stores, so I need to save some room. That being said, we made it a point of at least hitting up a bunch of London’s record stores, and I wanted to share a bit of that with you in case you find yourself here.
Stores are listed in the order in which we visited them, at least to the best of my memory, so no ranking is implied.
Music and Video Exchange
38 Notting Hill Gate, Kensignton
Our first stop, so it would have taken something pretty epic to get me to buy anything. Plus it was raining a bit. That being said, I was quite tempted. The inventory leaned heavily towards used and there were some very interesting titles in the punk/new wave/industrial sections. I was tempted to roll the vinyl dice on a couple of unknowns, but showed some restrain. The prices looked quite reasonable. Had they just opened with that inventory in Seattle, I would have probably walked out of there having spent $300 or more. If I still have space on our last day, I’ll be heading back out here for sure.
Rough Trade West
130 Talbot Road, Notting Hill
Rough Trade is, of course, well, Rough Trade. It’s an institution. The Rough Trade East store (see below) seems to get most of the attention due to its size and live space, but make no mistake – if you’re looking for used vinyl, get your ass over to Rough Trade West. We barely spent any time at all on the main floor, which is given over to new releases, and instead went straight to the basement used vinyl nirvana. Is there a ton in the basement? No. is it sleeved and labeled and awesome? Yes.
This is where I got my first true taste of the UK experience, because even their row or two of reggae was lightyears better than anything I’ve ever seen at home, and there were a few early 1980s dub records that I mentally marked for possible purchase. At least, that is, until I got to the industrial section and ran across what appeared to be about half the Chris & Cosey catalog, all first pressings and all in great shape. I told Holly before we left that Chris & Cosey and 4AD stuff was top of my list, so the reggae records had to stay and I brought copies of Trance (1982) and Songs of Love & Lust (1984) (both originally released on Rough Trade…) to the counter, which elicited a raised eyebrow from the guy working there who had just been dealing with an American who had just bought a turntable and who was complaining about the cost of early Ramones albums (to which the Rough Trade guy rightly observed, “Look, if you really just want the music buy a re-release”). So I paid with my credit card and got my first interesting UK experience – they absolutely want to match your signature to the back of your card. And instead of a signature, the back of mine says “See ID” because I want people to make sure my card isn’t stolen. So he asked if I had ID and I was pulling out my passport he said, “No, I don’t need to really see your ID. There aren’t a lot of American blokes who have been holding onto their stolen credit cards so they can buy Chris & Cosey records.” Which frankly is more astute than any VISA fraud algorithm yet designed.
Honest Jon’s Records
278 Portobello Road
If you want reggae or dub, drop what you’re doing right now, head to the airport, and take a cab straight to Honest Jon’s. The selection was deep, with strong helpings of Northern Soul, soundtracks, and various kinds of electronica. It was simply my pure ignorance regarding these genres that kept me from walking out of the store with anything and I’m still kicking myself for, at the very least, not picking up a bunch of dub CDs since I don’t have any dub on my iPod.
Like Rough Trade, Honest Jon’s is also a label, and I probably actually first heard of them because they put out Ghostigital’s “Not Clean” 7″, which is ridiculous because they’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. Definitely a worthwhile stop.
Blue Groove Soundz
8 Portobello Green Designers, 281 Portobello Road
We ran across this joint by accident, part of one of those weird little shopping “malls” that have a wide range of stores. The small space felt extremely DJ-centric, a blend of electronica, funk, soundtracks, library music and the like. You’re not going to find Revolver or Never Mind the Bollocks here, but you’ll probably find some stuff you’ve never heard of and maybe an Ice-T record or two in the hip hop section, so if you’re in the area you should check them out.
Vintage Market, 85 Brick Lane
Our first stop on Day 2 of our London adventure (excluding coffee and pastry, of course) was the Brick Lane Vintage Market, which would be well worth the stop even if Vintage Vinyl didn’t have a booth in the basement. But fortunately it does. Vintage Vinyl has a good assortment of genres given the limited space, and prices seemed pretty good. The whole market was packed and the stall was nearly full of punters, some of who were searching for treasures while others made the obligatory comments like, “oh look, vinyl records”, “I used to have a record player”, and, of course, “I can’t believe this record is twenty quid”. I didn’t buy anything during our visit, but I could have easily walked out with a dozen or so titles and felt good about doing so.
Rough Trade East
Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane
A short walk from Vintage Vinyl is one of London’s most famous record stores, Rough Trade East. In addition to coffee the location hosts live performances and even appears to have a small recording area. If there’s a down side, it’s that this location only traffics in new (sealed) releases – so if you’re a used junkie you’ll want to hit up the Rough Trade West location instead. Regardless, we did quite well here, as the shop carries a wide range of genres and is surprisingly deep in some areas. We continued with the Chris & Cosey theme we’d established on Day 1, picking up a vinyl re-release of their 1987 album Exotika, as well as two of Chris Carter’s solo efforts, re-releases of Mondo Beat (1985) and Small Moon (1999). And just to prove I’m not a (total) vinyl snob, we also snagged a handful of CDs, most notably Japanese import versions of the first two This Mortal Coil albums, the new one from Test Dept, and yes, more Chris Carter in the form of CCCL Volume One. While I’d have loved for them to carry used stuff, there was plenty here to keep me busy in just about every musical format plus a large selection of books.
5 Pearson Street
This store is aptly named, because I loved our brief visit. A small but well curated shop specializing in DJ vinyl, it offered up four listening stations and an inventory that was about half new and half used with emphasis on various electronic genres, hip hop, and reggae. As often I the case when I go into electronica-focused stores I felt totally lost because my knowledge of the various genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres is so anemic. That didn’t stop me, though, from picking up the new one from Paranoid London, PL, and as an added bonus it’s the clear version. If you’re into electronic music, add Love Vinyl to your short list of shops to visit.
75 Berwick Street
Day 3 in London started at one of the city’s most famous shops, Sister Ray. And it lived up to the hype. The vinyl is housed down in the basement, and while not massive in surface area there was plenty of room to move around and lots of great records. For whatever reason our Chris & Cosey direction took a hard left into the world of On-U, and we walked out of there with three titles that I’m excited about. We kind of bookended Adrian Sherwood and On-U with Singles & Players’ Revenge of the Underdog (1982) and Sherwood & Pinch’s more recent Late Night Endless (2015), but the pièce de résistance was Sensational’s debut LP Loaded with Power (1997). I love the Brooklyn rapper, and we’ve had way more success finding his stuff in Europe than we have in the US.
30 Berwick Street
Because I’d just picked up a bunch of stuff at Sister Ray, I didn’t spend too much time in nearby Reckless Records. Don’t take that as a snub, though – I only have so much space to bring stuff home. Reckless had a decent selection of used CDs, but also a healthy stock of used vinyl across a range of genres – they even had a section devoted specifically to black metal, if that says anything. Certainly some good potential here, and it’s basically across the street from Sister Ray, offering a good two-for if your digging time is limited.
51 Poland Street
We almost didn’t go to Phonica, since we’d already done pretty well on the trip and had just wrapped up at Sister Ray. But Phonica wasn’t too far away and Holly is a big fan of dance music, so off we went. And I’m glad we did, because this still KILLS. Once again I was left felling like I was tossed into the deep end wearing concrete boots, but we rallied hard and turned our focus to the relatively small but very intriguing selection of CDs, including yet another Chris & Cosey title (technically Carter Tutti Void…) Triumvirate and also a label comp (Phonica is also a label) from 2014 called Ten Years of Phonica. We picked a few more for good measure and came away very satisfied. The team there was very cool, and there are multiple listening stations set up for DJs.
London is awash in record stores. In addition to those above, we tried to stop by two others but they were closed despite being scheduled to be open. We also walked by at least a half a dozen more that I didn’t wander into, both due to space constraints and, frankly, because this trip isn’t all about record shopping. I’ll be brining nine records and about a dozen CDs to Iceland with me tomorrow for the start of Iceland Airwaves 2019, and I expect both my DJ back and suitcase will be bursting at the seams on the flight home to Seattle. And then begins the long process of cleaning and mentally preparing myself to go back to work. Fifty two weeks until Iceland Airwaves 2020…
(♠) Of course, as the character of Jim Williams says in Midnight of the Garden of Good and Evil, “It’s the riche that counts”…
(♣) Or the ass clown who was tearing up and down the residential streets up where we’re staying in his yellow Lamborghini, never managing to get it out of second great, running it up and down the same street, and backfiring on the shift like a toolshed (♥). You know. “That guy”.
(♥) This guy was more like a SnapOn Tool Truck than a toolshed.