The city’s ten best vinyl spots.
Flying in the face of its increasingly hostile reputation for independent business priced out by exorbitant rents, London’s record shop scene is thriving, with close to fifty places dotted around the capital where you can get your hands on nigh on anything you desire. The prices may not be as cheap as they once were, but whether you’re after cutting edge dance music, weirdo soundtracks or just a good rummage, there are more options out there than you might think.
Having profiled eight of the city’s lesser known spots in our secret record shops list, we thought it was high time to address the big hitters. While these will be familiar to most natives with a nose for vinyl, we hope this guide will still serve as a useful reference point to plan specific trips or take advantage of spontaneous urges. For those visiting… well, there’s no better way to get the sense of a place by taking the full tour.
As ever, we’ve picked out ten shops to profile and collected the rest in the map below. We’re fairly confident we’ve marked the most prominent down but do add your suggestions for any we’ve missed into the comments.
Honest Jon’s Records
Location: 278 Portobello Rd, London W10 5TE
Go for: Jazz LPs, reggae 7”s, experimental 12”s, and community vibes
What’s the story? Honest Jon’s has been serving west London’s most vibrant community, in more ways than one, since 1974. Sociology lecturer John Clare was researching gang membership in Paddington at the time, but he leapt at the opportunity to start trading jazz records when an old butcher’s became available on Golbourne Road.
“It never completely lost its identity as a butchers shop,” Clare says. Meat hooks adorned the back room, walls were ensanguined and Clare traded records over a giant solid marble slab. “For two years a young customer who drove a meat lorry called in twice a week and paid for his entire record collection with raw meat; mainly beef.”
In the ’80s the shop moved to its current Portobello home. As it expanded, it increasingly became an informal university for music lovers; the shop counts Roger Beaujolais, Neil Barnes of Leftfield, The Wire founder Anthony Wood, Gilles Peterson and James Lavelle within its alumni.
In 1992, Clare passed the shop on to employees Mark Ainley and Alan Scholefield, who expanded the selection to encompass music from around the world. In creative partnership with Notting Hill local Damon Albarn, they also launched the Honest Jon’s label, which has released an incredibly diverse and adventurous range of music over the past fifteen years.
Sounds of The Universe
Location: 7 Broadwick St, Soho, London W1F 0DA
Go for: Cross-cultural vibrations
What’s the story? Over 25 years ago, Stuart Baker started SOTU, selling records from a humble stall in Camden. Though Camden had its appeal, Baker knew that Soho’s golden mile of record stores was where he wanted to be. He moved to a shop front on Ingestre Place before relocating to Broadwick Street, in the heart of Soho.
Around the same time, in 1992, he established the label Soul Jazz, with the idea to draw “cross cultural connections” between soul, jazz and reggae through compilation albums.
Meanwhile, the tile-fronted emporium has evolved into an unrivalled treasure-trove for global sounds and beats. The enthusiastic staff will help you pick out a new dub-techno 12″ off the back wall or second-hand deep jazz rarities and music books in the basement.
A favourite amongst DJs, connoisseurs, dancers and listeners alike, the shop has become an essential stop for touring musicians including Prince, Moodymann, and Questlove, as well as London locals like Gilles Peterson, Kieran Hebden, and Theo Parrish. If it’s good enough for them…
Location: 51 Poland St, Soho, London W1F 7LZ
Go for: The best new dance music
What’s the story? When Phonica opened in 2003, it entered an environment of decline. Record shops in Soho were closing, vinyl sales were at an all time low and Dido’s Life For Rent was the year’s best selling album. How times have changed.
Aside from being an independent record shop that counts a who’s who of international DJs as regulars (Four Tet, Floating Points, Caribou, Dixon to name a few), Phonica has been instrumental in bringing a new type of record shop to the fore. Where shops previously limited themselves to specific genres, manager Simon Rigg encourages a “broad church” approach to dance music, offering everything from rare soul 7″s to library soundtracks to big room house and techno 12″s.
Hosting regular in-stores, legendary Record Store Day parties and live streams, it has cemented a reputation at the heart of London’s international club scene and now also boasts an overseas outpost at The Store in Berlin. In their own words: “Fads come and go but we still always sell good dance music, that’s basically it.”
Rough Trade East
Location: The Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Ln, London E1 6QL
Go for: Live music, coffee and indie LPs
What’s the story? Inspired by the communal vibe of the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, Geoff Travis opened the first Rough Trade in Notting Hill in 1976. Within six months, punk broke out; members of The Raincoats and Swell Maps worked behind the counter and Rough Trade was at the epicentre of DIY culture in London.
As the London scene evolved over the decades, it made increasing sense to branch out East. In 2007, a 5,000-square-foot flagship store was opened in the former Stella Artois brewery in a courtyard off Brick Lane.
Designed by David Adjaye the shop has a fair trade café and a co-working area, making it one of our favourite spots to get your fix of vinyl and coffee. As well as all the releases you’d expect a Rough Trade to stock – from punk 7”s to dance 12”s to sci-fi soundtracks – the store regularly hosts free high-spec gigs by everyone from Skinny Girl Diet to Blur.
Location: 50 Essex Rd, London N1 8LR / 144 Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London N8 9DX / 131 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 7DG
Go for: Reliable and broad selection, deep second-hand fare
What’s the story? A North London staple, Flashback opened its flagship store on Essex Road twenty years ago, stocking the upstairs with new releases and reissues and filling the basement with a broad and wonderfully dig-able selection of second hand titles. Covering the major bases as a matter of course (with a solid selection of disco 12″s, rock, hip-hop and a commendable dedication to 7″s), it’s in the weirder fringes where Flashback excels, with dedicated krautrock, library and soundtracks sections unlike many other central London shops.
With a second space in Crouch End (pictured above) and a new(ish) two-storey spot recently opened at the end of Brick Lane in Shoreditch, Flashback makes a good case for being the capital’s most reliable indie-chain for second-hand music. The kind of place where you’ll likely find what you were looking for, and then some.
Location: 75 Berwick St, Soho, London W1F 8RP / Ace Hotel, 100 Shoreditch High St, London E1 6JQ,
Go for: Everything from flexidiscs to football records
What’s the story? Sister Ray has called Soho’s Berwick Street home since 1987 but has occupied three different addresses along that once golden mile of record shops. “Blame the landlords,” they say, which can be a problem since “the staff are virtually unemployable in any other capacity.”
A proper vinyl specialist, Sister Ray rarely sells online. “It makes the shop worth visiting again and again. Too many people sell their best stuff online and leave the shops skinny on the topside.”
The shop stocks everything genre-wise except classical LPs and the stuff you’d otherwise find at record shops. That said, recently, they’ve aimlessly been collecting flexidiscs and football related records.
A little-known fact is that Sister Ray launched a reissue label in the early ’00’s. They didn’t press too much but their issue of the Billy Nichols LP is now highly sought-after.
As well as the Soho branch, there’s also a smaller location in Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel.
Location: 44 Stoke Newington Rd, London N16 7XJ
Go for: Experimental and avant-garde titles, left-field electronic music
What’s the story? One of the capital’s best looking record shops, Kristina is nestled in the heart of Dalston and serves a more experimental fare than most other spots. Fans of online retailer Boomkat will find lots to get your teeth into here, whether it’s on an ambient drone tip, for an avant garde jazz session or a glimpse of those darker dancefloor machinations. That said, Kristina also offers a superb selection of leftfield disco, worldwide reissues and a few hard-to-come-by originals that make it an easy spot to drop more pound than you were planning.
Location: 5 Pearson St, London E2 8JD
Go for: Sought-after titles and forgotten diamonds
What’s the story? Opened in 2014, Love Vinyl was the brainchild of four pillars of the local scene: record dealer Zafar Chwodry, aka The Mighty Zaf of Reckless Records and Zafsmusic.com; BBE affiliate and former owner of Village Vinyl in Walthamstow, Jake Holloway; producer, DJ and promoter Stuart Patterson; and James Manero of London promoters Another Party.
Subsequently Dave Jarvis and Roual Galloway replaced Stuart and James to take over new releases, whilst Jake and Zaf continue to handle the vintage side of the business.
Accordingly, the shop is split between two counters, one focusing on the latest house, techno, disco and edits (plus some of the best new reggae, soul and jazz) and one offering second-hand records and rarities. “To put a finite figure on our current stock is too difficult,” says Zaf. “But we have access to hundred of thousands of records every day.”
The store has a mezzanine floor which plays host to in-stores, for example last year’s blow-out live show from Paranoid London on Record Store Day.
Location: 324A Hackney Rd, London E2 7AX
Go for: Rare regional records, private pressings and soul classics
What’s the story? New kid on the block, Cosmos Records London opened in August 2015 on Hackney Road. The shop is linked to the pair of Cosmos record stores in downtown Toronto, originally founded by Aki Abe from his living room.
“It made sense to open a shop in London because it’s where the rare groove scene started in the ‘80s,” says Abe. “As there already was a footprint of knowledge planted there for decades and for us it was a perfect opportunity to spread our inventory across the pond.
Run by super knowledgable duo Derek and Lizzie, Cosmos London boasts about 10,000 records, with a focus on jazz, soul, rare groove, psych, Latin and disco. Cosmos has inventory stations in the US and Canada which its “dedicated diggers” trawl through to send the London shop rare regional records, private pressings and classics.
“If we haven’t seen it, hopefully you haven’t either,” they say. “When you go to our shop our goal is to bring you the experience of shopping for vinyl back in the ‘70s.”
(Ed. note: Cosmo has reopened as YoYo, independently of Cosmos Record label.)
Rye Wax / YAM / Lorenzo’s
Location: Rye Wax – The CLF Art Cafe, 133 Rye Ln, London SE15 4ST / YAM – 11-14, Holdrons Arcade, 135a Rye Ln, London SE15 4ST / Lorenzo’s – 137 – 139 Rye Lane, London SE15 4ST
Go for: Dance music from across the spectrum, new and old.
What’s the story: OK, so we’re bending the rules a little here, but there really is no point separating these three young Peckham retailers given that they’re literally metres apart and were born within the same 6 months from the same upstart DIY spirit that typifies one of the capital’s most vibrant areas.
Under the Bussey Building, Rye Wax is the largest of the three, pushing new and second hand dance music of all stripes and shares its space with a bar & café that will regularly host live music and DJs. YAM may be smaller but the selection is just as tight, focussing more heavily on new 12″s and a broad second hand section for adventurous DJs. Down the corridor you’ll also find online radio station Balamii and Peckham’s very own dubplate cutting service. In the arcade next door you’ll also find the newly christened Lorenzo’s – formerly the Do!! You!!! outpost of NTS host Charlie Bones – which is cosier still and dedicated almost exclusively to second hand bits. Make a trip of it and visit all three.
Photography by Rosella Degori