Mention the words “London” and “music” and an endless list of artists come to mind: Alunageorge, Disclosure, Skepta, The Clash, Sex Pistols, and The Rolling Stones, for starters. London has shaped a lot of music’s history (punk comes to mind) and continues to influence what we listen to today. And whether you’re a music buff or not, no trip to London town is really complete without hitting up some record stores to cop old-school joints or to talk shop with staffers who have their finger on the pulse when it comes to new, under-the-radar beats.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the best London record stores to take the guesswork out of navigating the city’s bustling music scene. Here, Skinny Macho, a London-based creative, lists his favorite spots and runs us through why we can’t be sleeping on ’em.
Rough Trade is a big record store, like massive record store, but in the back they have in-store gigs for artists they bring through where you can get your CDs signed by them, or your records signed by them, or to see them play in a really intimate, small setting. Also, I think the best thing for me, Rough Trade signed one of my favorite artists, which is Dean Blunt. They bought him out of his Hippos in Tanks [record] deal, and released his record on Rough Trade, the Black Metal album. For me, it was a fucking sick album, but also a new lease of life for him.
The first time I saw Kendrick Lamar was at Rough Trade. When people were getting their records signed he said, “No photos.” I was, like, the second-to-last person to get my record signed, and he actually wanted a photo with me only because I reminded him of one of his homies back home. So, I guess that was cool.
Soul Jazz, otherwise known as Sounds of the Universe, is based in Soho. It was a store brought onto me by a good friend of mine and kind of mentor, Christian, otherwise known as Christian from Boiler Room, or Christian from Global Roots… I used to go there downstairs, flick through some records, but also upstairs had some tapes as well. It also does this amazing record store day party in the middle of Soho–probably the best one in Soho. It’s fucking hectic, and there you see they also have a good range of top selectors playing there. It’s a really good day party.
It was a shop in West London, Notting Hill basically, and I used to work there a few years ago and I used to head over to Honest Jon’s on my lunch break and see my friend who used to work there. I used to buy a few bits myself, couple of seven inches, reggae, ten inches, and also anything else that he recommended because I trust his taste. But also, there was a label called The Trilogy Tapes by Will Bankhead, and that used to be the only store that used to stock his records. So I used to go in there every time he had a new record out, I used to buy it even without listening because I trust Will Bankhead’s taste.
If Music is also a record store in Soho where they specialize in jazz. I don’t really go there often because it’s fucking expensive, but it is a specialist. It’s a very nice building. It is a very nice studio and a very key selection of jazz records that he has. The owner’s called Jean Claude. He is a connoisseur of jazz; people go to him for his incredible encyclopedia knowledge of jazz music.
This is in East London, Stoke Newington. People will class it as Dalston but it’s not. It’s just over the border. So it was in a North London postcode. It’s one of the new records stores, ’cause usually you open a record store you don’t really think they’ll make it but they’ve been getting by, let’s say that. And they also specialize in getting house and dance music. Smaller selection, smaller store, but it’s nice that it’s local.
And then you have my favorite store: Phonica in Soho. It’s on D’Arblay Street, which is around the corner from IF Music, literally like 10 seconds from IF Music, and about five minutes from Soul Jazz. Phonica is just great. The music’s pumping outside the shop and the windows are open. It’s got a nice array of selections and the staff is amazing. Nicholas is especially amazing. That’s my go-to guy. He’s been there for a long fucking time. Also, they were early supporters of Peggy Gou, who’s a superstar right now, who’s the best star and DJ. I think they are one of the best.
This is based in Dalston. My friend took me there. It’s like a secret. It’s not a secret, but it’s become like this secret store, because if you know, you know sort of thing. I’d just go there by myself. It’s been there for a very long time, before Dalston became trendy, like when Dalston was the hood. It still is the hood.
But, before Dalston became trendy it was dark and no cabs wanted to stop there, and no cabs would pick you up there. The owners even wanted to leave the store before it got dark because it was just a really shady area, but it held their own. As Dalston has become trendy and gentrification has changed the whole area, they’ve stood there. They stood there and were like, “Listen, we’re not changing our ethos, we’re not changing nothing. We came here to sell records, this is what we’re going to do.” They specialize in afro-beat, kind of reggae, hip-hop, but the music isn’t modern. Like, everything is from the ’80s or the ’70s. The only modern stuff that they have is some ’90s and maybe some early 2000s, but the thing to do is to keep it real old-school. The name comes from one of the owner’s grandmothers as well, so that’s kind of cute.
Highsnobiety’s global team has gathered together the best City Experiences from London, Berlin, and New York. Click here to explore more.
Editor’s Note: Location descriptions have been condensed.
- Location Descriptions: Skinny Macho