The Trip: Stockholm
The globetrotting, cratedigging Mark Elliott extends his vinyl quest to the record shops of the Swedish capital…
More than one Stockholm record dealer tells me that the country’s relatively stable economy over the decades sustained a buoyant music industry, leading to the abundance of great used vinyl you can source here today. This is another of those must-go destinations for cratediggers but, like other key centres such as Berlin or Amsterdam, you’ll need a lot of time to do it true justice. A few of the stores have fallen victim to the creep of the coffee chains and the like, but there’s still a lot left. Across a packed day, I managed most of them, but An Ideal For Living was closed on the day I was there and I just couldn’t reach others such as the Little Shop Of Records or Kollaps. A few, such as Classical Bay, I ditched on the assumption that their passion for Beethoven wouldn’t be a match against mine for Bananarama.
The central commercial area unsurprisingly doesn’t support many record shops (with one notable exception), but the districts of Norrmalm and Vasastaden, in the north, and the island of Sodermalm in the south are really day-long destinations by themselves. Don’t miss the handful on the island of Gamla Stan, but do be prepared to spend a bit everywhere you go. Sweden is expensive and, if that’s true of a coffee, it’s also the case with vinyl. I’d say the new releases and reissues are worth passing on, as there’s little here you can’t source elsewhere for less. But it’s the second-hand material that will be of interest. Great copies of European 45 picture sleeves (I found a lot from Holland, Germany and France alongside local pressings) are in abundance, alongside clean copies of 1960s beat and soul. I promise you’ll need to think about your luggage allowance.
Getting around Stockholm is easy and English is spoken everywhere. There’s a lot to do here, hence its popularity as a weekend break, but Sunday trading is limited, so you’ll need an accommodating companion if you’re limited to those two days alone. I crammed as much as I could into a long day, but wanted more time. I was determined to add to my Roxette collection, my passion for Europop is established and there’s that other Swedish supergroup to consider, too…
1 MONEY MONEY MONEY
Stockholm is driving the cashless agenda harder than any city I have ever visited – even the cinemas wouldn’t take cash. Paying with cards was accepted everywhere, which makes a welcome change from many UK record retailers that only trade the old-fashioned way.
2 OUR LAST SUMMER
The annual break is taken very seriously here and the city can seem empty across the summer. Likewise, it’s not uncommon for a store to close its doors for an extended run (up to about two weeks) if members of staff are away. I found most of the stores here kept their websites up to date, so if there’s one in particular you want to visit, make sure you check it’s business as usual.
3 SUMMER NIGHT CITY
It’s true that the winters can be brutal here (although locals report the troubling changes in climate too) so I’d advise planning a visit in the summer when the balmy nights make this place among the most magical on earth. Alcohol is expensive, but everyone’s super-friendly, so soak up the atmosphere (and later opening times) instead.
4 SUPER TROUPERS
Opening in May 2013, the impact of ABBA gets its rightful reverence in the band’s own quirky, clever museum. Alongside the costumes and merchandise, there are a handful of great interactive exhibits where you’ll be performing alongside holograms of the band. You can buy tickets at abbathemuseum.com. No news on an Ace Of Base extension yet, but I’m hopeful.
5 THE VISITORS
The number of vinyl retailers in Stockholm swells when the Stora Skivmässan record fair, billed as the biggest in Scandinavia, takes place. Held twice a year at Solnahallen and twice a year at Huskvarna, check skivmassa.se for dates.
It’s always a good start to a stint in a city if the busy retail centre still has a successful record store. Bengans is situated slap-bang in the heart of the principal shopping street, Drottninggatan, which streaks through the centre of Stockholm and is a stone’s throw from a number of the big hotels near Gamla Stan (Old Town). Like other international survivors, the CDs and DVDs are still there, increasingly overwhelmed by T-shirts, novelty merchandise and racks of new vinyl and, here, a much smaller second-hand section.
The new releases are slightly more expensive than you’ll pay elsewhere (Sweden is expensive for just about everything) but I pick up the latest Bowie 7″ picture disc, the 10″ 25th anniversary edition of Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love, issued in 2015, and a used 1980 compilation celebrating that year’s Winter Olympics featuring ABBA and other homegrown stars such as Ted Gärdestad and 50s revivalists The Boppers. That ticks off one Swedish must-buy, at least. Two later-1980s albums by local Eurovision also-rans Style, who had modest hits but spectacular hair, complete the haul. I had started the day not even being aware of Style, but isn’t that the wonder of 21st Century cratedigging, where a few swipes through Wikipedia after finding the discs can convince you to take a chance on something?
If, like me, you find yourself misty-eyed at the memory of Beanos in Croydon – one of the largest second-hand record shops in the world back in the day and long since departed, stop your sobbing. I’ve found a worthy successor in this large shop situated in Stockholm’s northern suburb of Vasastaden. Its lively website had promised much and the physical experience doesn’t disappoint. A tunnel into the store is packed with bargain mixed vinyl in excellent condition before the main shop (borderline warehouse) appears to offer almost anything you might want to search for. Like Beanos, everything is catalogued meticulously, clean and neatly ordered. Prices aren’t at the leanest end of the spectrum, but the comprehensive nature of what’s on sale here makes that forgiveable. The store’s been in the street for more than 20 years and, although there are no CDs, there is a wealth of toys, magazines and memorabilia. Adjacent, you’ll find Trash Palace – a metal and punk specialist with an equally considered curatorial air. I pick up a lot of interesting singles – the 12″ of My Mistake from Split Enz and some really nice Clodagh Rodgers picture sleeves. Albums include the Maurice Gibb-produced Carola project and some near-mint copies of early 90s acts such as Crystal Waters and Snap!
This small specialist has a great selection of jazz and classical discs. Prices are fair and the stock’s filed neatly and easy to go through. I’m conscious there are a lot of stores to cover in this city and I don’t linger long. There’s not much chance of adding to my Eurovision haul here…
HOUSE OF OLDIES
A neat mix of second-hand material keeps me occupied here for a while. As in many stores I visit in Stockholm, the bargain bins are packed with the interesting and obscure. Records are almost all excellent or near-mint (also the case, in my experience in Germany and Japan, but less common elsewhere). I spot some very good copies of early Elvis and the prices are pretty good, but he’s a dangerous space for my obsessive habit given the depth of his catalogue, so I move on.
Sometimes record stores can feel like museums, and I mean that in the most generous sense. Golden Oldies offers the calm, considered air of a serious place for the committed buyer. It was Sweden’s first vinyl collectors’ store, opening in 1977, and founder Jan-Erik Ekblom is recognised by the city’s chamber of commerce. I test the theory that this is the shop to source something special and ask for some early Roxette 7″ releases. A box emerges and there they all are: near-mint copies of everything in pristine sleeves in chronological order. This isn’t going to be the place for a bargain, but prices are fair for these rare issues and I buy everything up to their international breakthrough with the Look Sharp! campaign. The ABBA selection is equally strong, but I can’t bust the budget too early.
Opening in 2001, this store specialises in jazz and soul, but the pop and rock shelves are stuffed with interesting material. There are new releases and acres of second-hand stock. There’s a lively discussion underway about a potential purchase of a collection and I can see that there’s a steady stream of new material coming through the door. I exit with the 1990 NME compilation The Last Temptation Of Elvis in a clean, gatefold sleeve featuring covers by Fuzzbox, Hall & Oates and Robert Plant. An interesting mix, for sure.
The ground floor of this second-hand store has a lot to keep you occupied, with every genre covered and prices fair (although Seal’s 1998 Human Being on vinyl makes my eyes water until I check how much it would cost me online). The basement is where it gets interesting for me: thousands of discs (mainly albums) in all manner of genres that could keep you occupied for a week. I haven’t got that long, but do buy the S’Express debut, local versions of the Now That’s What I Call Music series called Absolute and, returning to a Roxette theme, the 1986 solo collection Den Sjunde Vågen by vocalist Marie Fredriksson. It’s a record that would have cost me considerably more at many of the other venues.
The tatty doorway promises little, but after swiftly descending the stairs an Aladdin’s cave of treasures reveals itself. This is the sister shop of Nostalgiplatset and has been in business about three years. There are a lot of CDs in here, but also 45s and a wider range of soul and disco. This is a place to get lost in and I can’t honestly give it the time it deserves. Stockholm’s vinyl-buying options are starting to overwhelm me.
If metal, rock, goth, punk and everything as confrontational is your bag, Sound Pollution will be on your must-stop list. In the interests of research, I step inside and find it rather boutique-like: lots of lacquered wood and tidy displays. Not quite the sweaty mosh-pit I was expecting. Needless to say, I don’t linger long or buy anything, but there’s a lot here (especially new releases).
There’s a little bit of everything here – and plenty of discounted stock on the cheap racks. There’s an emphasis on jazz, blues and rock (and less soul than I find elsewhere). Plugged hosts a range of gigs in its events space and, nestled in the heart of the Old Town tourist area, it’s great to see a record shop surviving alongside the souvenir T-shirts and the like. My mementos of this great store include the soundtrack to Scrooged, Hi-NRG diva Miquel Brown’s Manpower from 1983 on the legendary Record Shack label and a mint, German picture-sleeve 7″ of Getting Closer from Wings.
With a strong focus on dance across the genres, this great big basement space on the island of Södermalm is packed with vinyl. New stock is piled up in bags in every corner and, although it’s pretty well organised, there is a sense that you could unearth some real treasure among all of this. The pop and rock is actually well represented (especially on 7″) and I’m intrigued by Swedish synth-poppers Shanghai, so pick up Africa on blue vinyl 12″. Nothing like the Toto classic, it’s never going to challenge the latter’s grip on MOR radio, despite this belated plug. The two-disc Roller Boogie soundtrack is a cult disco classic and features Cher’s Hell On Wheels. The 1979 Casabalanca release is a real find and a lot cheaper than I have seen it elsewhere.
More of a shop for musical instruments than the end product, there is actually a decent amount of vinyl at the entrance to the store that merits its mention. The soundtracks selection is pretty sizeable, but there’s nothing much here I haven’t seen before. Pop and rock is plentiful, so this is worth stopping for, with a decent range of collectables, including some ABBA.
A new store every Friday is the bold claim from this well-regarded indie but, I’m told, it delivers on the promise every week: clearing everything off the shelves and replacing it with fresh stock. Trading since 2001, there’s a strong bias towards dance, Latin and soul, but some choice rock discs too. It’s not the biggest of shops (handy, given its marketing hook), but the vibe is friendly and I’m only sorry I can’t visit again later in the week to test the proposition. Still, as luck would have it, my visit coincides with the Christmas album from pop-soul act The Jets, Streetsounds 12 (I’m picking off a fair number of the releases in the main 20-edition series this year) and Jody Watley’s underrated Larger Than Life album from 1989.
Another small store in an area billed SoFo (South of Folkungagatan), Fade Records balances selling equipment to DJs with a good selection of discs, including a lot of used stock. In truth, like Amsterdam earlier in the year, the sheer volume of vinyl starts to deaden your senses across a packed day such as this. I do focus long enough to pick up the 1986 compilation of singles from Manfred Mann on EMI’s budget range. The dance and soul predominates, but the used rock has a lot of 1960s and 1970s that I don’t see elsewhere.
A fine choice to finish the day on (there were other stores I just couldn’t get to or were closed during my trip), Pet Sounds gets some surprising star endorsement, with Quentin Tarantino reportedly naming it his favourite record shop. It opened in another location in 1979 and carries new and second-hand vinyl alongside CDs and the like. There’s an especially good world range, but the stock is varied. The Swedish section throws up my final Roxette find of the day and it’s a goodie – the locally issued Dance Passion remix album from 1987 in stunning condition. My final purchase of the long day is a US-issued Broadway cast album from the classic The Boys In The Band production. There’s just time to pop across the road to the store’s sister bar. I think I have earned that beer…