The Trip: East London’s Best Record Stores
Long Live Vinyl’s resident record collector Mark Elliott visits East London’s best record stores and uncovers buried vinyl treasure in the stores of Shoreditch and Hoxton
The West End might draw the tourists and the even bigger spenders, but the East is now routinely lauded as its cultural and creative heart. It’s where crate digging gets interesting, too, with the former bastion of Soho largely neutered by gentrification and a corresponding raise in rents driving out all but the most resilient of record retailers. It’s a shame, but the scene has certainly moved east. As always in London, it can be hard to define a strict geography on which to focus in a day’s worth of shopping, but the two miles around Shoreditch High Street and the buzz of Brick Lane and Spitalfields offer exciting pickings – and can just about be covered in the allotted time, provided you’re disciplined.
At weekends in particular, this area really buzzes and, with some of the stores skewing their opening hours to that end of the week, it’s certainly the best time to go. Dance collectors will love a handful of the specialists, but there’s actually a lot here for all tastes. Yes, even mine…
Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL
9am to 9pm Monday to Thursday, 9am to 8pm Friday, 10am to 8pm Saturday, 11am to 7pm Sunday
Rough Trade has sold records since 1976 and, in those 41 years, has built an international reputation. Its first base was out west, in Ladbroke Grove, and following a split from its famous sister label in 1982, the stores multiplied, with branches springing up across the world. Following the fortunes of the record industry it supported, most of those folded in time, but this 5,000-square-foot Goliath was launched in 2007, shortly after a smaller branch of Rough Trade in London’s Covent Garden shut up shop just shy of its 20th birthday.
This institution is far less a simple record shop and more of a lifestyle statement, with books, a stage area for live acts and, yes, Flat Whites fighting for your attention. But there’s plenty of space to go around and the vinyl racks are impressive, with pretty much everything new you’d expect. It’s nicely curated, with those nifty little descriptions posted on each poly-wrapped sleeve to tempt the browser.
Rough Trade does a nice line of exclusives (check out the white-vinyl edition of Girl Ray’s Earl Grey with its bonus 7″) and the venue, situated in the Old Truman Brewery, gets some great names performing here. I even find myself ordering a Flat White before I leave, so something must be working…
Vintage Market, 85 Brick Lane,
11am to 6pm Thursday to Sunday
Billed as the East End’s best-kept secret, the basement of Brick Lane’s Vintage Market certainly hosts an impressive stall that’s rammed with a steady stream of ever-changing stock. The claim is that there are 600 new records put out here each week and, while much of the market is full of the clothes you’ll get laughed at for wearing in most British high streets, the vinyl won’t embarrass anyone (despite the Amazulu picture disc that decorates the stand) and a handful of boxes of 12″s that will find it hard to even get arrested, despite today’s vinyl boom.
A rarely seen Funhouse Mix of the Madonna-penned Sidewalk Talk also catches my eye. A new mix it may be, but it’s also about the fifth copy of this I now own, which must be a record (even for me). A Music For Pleasure compilation billed Oh! What A Carry On! boats a fabulous period sleeve and less-than-noteworthy recordings by Dora Bryan, Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims. But it’s a decent price and so I also pick up a mint Suzi Quatro RAK compilation, brought out at the end of her run with the legendary pop label in 1980.
324d Hackney Road, E2 7AX
Noon to 7pm Monday to Friday, noon to 6pm Saturday, 11am to 5pm Sunday
With a sister store in Toronto, Canada, this two-year-old charmer has broadened significantly from its rare groove and jazz roots. A short bus ride from Brick Lane and Spitalfields, this shop is a magnet for producers who populate the scores of small studios in the area who are searching out a fresh sample. Derek and Lizzie, who run the store, love the eclectic range that’s developed over the past 24 months and explain that it’s the regular shipments from across the Atlantic that keep things particularly interesting.
“We do buy stuff locally, but the batches we get every six weeks or so from our scouts over there always throw up some interesting stuff,” says Derek. “We can see people picking up all sorts of genres and that’s in part why we broadened the type of records we carry.”
There’s a predominance of Latin, soul and disco, but it’s true: the range is wider than you’d think. With heavy-metal specialist Crypt Of The Wizard now trading next door, Derek hopes the area will continue to attract new customers. “We had one chap here from Sweden,” recalls Lizzie. “He was here, trying stuff on the decks and going through everything from noon until 7pm for three days. He was clearly working to a fixed budget and was determined to make every penny count!”
Three days might be pushing it, but you could spend a lot of time here and the atmosphere’s really friendly.
100 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JQ
10.30am to 7.30pm Monday to Saturday, noon to 6pm Sunday
Opened in 2014, this smaller branch of the Soho institution is built into the Ace Hotel and, despite its size, stocks a good quantity of stuff, following the store format you’ll likely be familiar with. The ‘jukebox classics’ – a rack of lightly priced 7″s – usually hold something for me, but not this time (perhaps I’m truly coming to the end of my wants lists of Katrina And The Waves et al). Luckily, there’s a good range of dance and soul 12″s that ensure my shopping reputation remains intact.
Prices are fine and the second-hand here balances almost exactly the amount of new vinyl on the racks. From the latter, I source a reissue of the 1984 Italo-disco smash Dancing Therapy from IMS (International Music System), which reminds me of some fabulous holidays on the continent back in my favourite decade. Another 1980s relic, the reissue of the Labyrinth soundtrack, fills a gap in my now-improving Bowie collection. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who preferred Underground to some of his more celebrated work…
131 Bethnal Green Road, E2 7DG
10am to 7pm Monday to Saturday, 11am to 6pm Sunday
One of three branches in North and East London, what I love about Flashback is its prices (always very keen) and the range. The business tends to carry a bit of everything and, although the Essex Road store was its first (opening in 1997), I actually make a visit out here to this Shoreditch branch more often, as I personally find the stock seems to be the freshest of the three.
The friendly, no-rip-off ethos that characterises the general approach is put to the test when I spy an Auf Wiedersehen, Pet soundtrack behind the counter, minus any sort of opening price. Now, given that I was interested in it enough to ask to take a look, even I was surprised when I was told it would cost me just £1.99. I’d have paid three times as much (although I can see that the pricing on Discogs marks me the fool in that regard), but I think that’s a good sign. The bargain bins are packed with discounted stock that hadn’t shifted before (always a signal that turnover of stock is a high priority).
The final curiosity worth sharing is a 1984 Polygram promotional disc targeting food manufacturers with a range of tracks that might help them shift more stock. KP Nuts and Dunhill Cigarettes had made a success of it, the promotional blurb proclaims, so surely the same would work for your company…
14 Felstead Street, E9 5LT
Noon to 7.30pm Monday, Wednesday to Saturday; noon to 6pm Tuesday and Sunday
While this is more of an online business, a short bus ride and a rather unpromising street reveals an interesting shop, particularly if dance is your thing. For five years, Vinyl Pimp has been running its warehouse from this base, where there’s room to browse what’s coming in and look at some key items. 2017’s Record Store Day was a mixed blessing for Hon, who runs the store, with his feedback being that it proved hard to source the choice material. The jury is out on whether to repeat the experiment, but the event did attract a good number of new buyers on top of the regulars.
Vinyl Pimp sells records for 150 customers, too, so there’s a steady – and interesting – selection of new material coming through the door. With almost 30,000 items currently for sale on Discogs, the huge wall of vinyl at the back of the store keeps the adrenaline pumping and this business gets a lot of its discs from the city’s DJs. I find a very nice 7″ of the Italian dance hit Just Wanna Touch Me from Fidelfatti With Ronnette; the UK 12″ of Donna Summer’s On The Radio and slightly more contemporary fare such as Aretha Franklin’s A Deeper Love and Sophie Ellis Bextor’s party anthem Murder On The Dancefloor on a mint 12″. So not the place for a Led Zeppelin rarity then, but that suits me just fine.
5 Pearson Street, E2 8JD
11.30am to 7pm Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 6pm Sunday
Hoxton is the epicentre of Cool London and it’s inevitable that one of the capital’s slickest record shops is to be found there. Dance-and-soul specialist Love Vinyl opened in 2014 and splits the business evenly between a full spectrum of new dance and reggae and good racks of second-hand soul, funk and disco, with some rock and pop jostling for attention, too.
The new stuff draws a huge range of DJs and collectors from across the city. Love Vinyl now runs a respected label and the Modaji Headwork EP is a slice of credible house that’s typical of the decent tracks they put out.
The second-hand racks fill in a Fleetwood Mac gap for me with the credible Arthur Baker remix of Family Man finally secured for under a fiver. The basement yields more random 1990s 12″ delights such as a remix of Propaganda’s p:Machinery from 1995 on ZTT for £1 and a double- vinyl set of remixes of Tina Arena’s Chains, with mixes dubbed ‘Dominatrix’ and ‘S&M’. No doubt those marketing men were having some fun there again.
27 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL
7.30am to 6pm Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm Saturday, 10.30am to 4.30pm Sunday
I did warn you it was all about the Flat White – and here’s the best local example: a record shop that’s reinvented itself as a place for the caffeine fixated, and is the perfect pitstop before you battle the commuters to get back home. Exmouth Market is full of trendy shops and places to eat and on the western edges of east London as you head back into town. Back in 1999, Brill started life as Clerkenwell Music, selling records and CDs, before adding coffee and bagels and getting a full reinvention in 2011.
There are mainly new records for sale, although a perky box of second-hand stuff was out when I popped by. In truth, my budget was exhausted, so nothing new joined the haul here. But I did buy a very nice Flat White. As my second of the day, I’d say bets are off that the beard may get more elaborate from this point on. I’ll keep you posted!
1 READY FOR THE WEEKEND
The markets in East London explode into life at the weekend. Brick Lane is a day trip in itself and there are plenty of pop-ups that sell records. Pet Shop Boys, for example, ran a Shoreditch pop-up shop to launch their album Super in 2016.
2 DO YOU WANNA DANCE?
The east of the city is the centre of the capital’s dynamic club and cabaret scene, if dance or club music is your thing. You’ll need to do your research, but there are some fantastic one-nighters to satisfy everyone’s taste. I still haven’t forgotten Bucks Fizz In Beards…
3 THE MARKET SONG
Old Spitalfields Market holds record fairs the first and third Friday of every month, as well as on the second Saturday. It’s not London’s biggest, but there’s a good range of genres at decent prices. I’ve picked up some great stuff here over the years.
London’s a hard place to segment neatly. Other great stores just outside this trip’s boundaries include Casbah Records in Greenwich (just over the water) or punk-and-hardcore specialist All Ages Records in Camden (either could easily be added to this circuit).
5 (NOT SO) MANIC MONDAY
It’s probably the day to avoid – Crypt Of The Wizard takes this day off, but has a fantastic reputation for metal records. Check out www.cryptofthewizard.com for more details. Love Vinyl is shut, too – they know how to party in this part of town, so Monday is probably recovery day!
Forget your car – the traffic isn’t great and there is nowhere to park this central that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You can have a Visitor Oyster Card online sent out to your home before you arrive (if you’re not a Londoner and you order online). Otherwise, UK debit cards work contactlessly on the transport network, or you can buy a Travelcard on the day. Many of these stores are within walking distance, although you’ll need the Overground from Shoreditch High Street to get to Hoxton (it’s one stop). No doubt you’ll be glued to your smartphone to navigate this trip. I was, and I can recommend the app Citymapper in particular. Liverpool Street is the nearest main-line train station to this circuit.