The first half of the feature highlighted the best record shops within a tight community centred around Soho, West London. The capital is a big place for the record hunter, and this article highlights the best spots around Notting Hill, Islington, and Hackney.
The previously mentioned Music & Video Exchange’s Notting Hill outlet is without doubt a must-see. It’s only a few moments from Notting Hill Station, but sadly it had to downsize from its (admittedly oversized) original premises to the cramped upstairs room of its sister shop a few doors down. For those that can remember, that was as close as you get to the crate digger’s paradise, making its little brother in Soho look like, well, the shitty little brother. Back then not only was the upstairs a spacious treasure trove, there was also this infamous basement that sort of doubled as a warehouse for wax. At 20p a pop, it was worth buying anything you so much as recognised, if you had the hours to browse them.
The saleable stock from upstairs had been transported and squeezed into its new home, luckily without too much collateral. There’s still a lot to be found within the racks and with categories such as ‘Villalobos/Perlon/Cadenza’, there’s certainly more detail within its range. That rather niche category sits between the more familiar ones, such as ‘Minimal Techno’ and the slightly confusing ‘Nu Deep House’, which covers everything from remixes of The Killers to Ost-Gut Ton releases. Much like its Soho counterpart, the glory is in its delightfully low prices and eclecticism, not in its service or quality control. I fondly remember taking home 11 records for about £9 once, with several 50p and 20p snips in there. But that’s not to imply it’s a junk shop: there is plenty worth rooting around for, but its a shop for those who like the ‘rooting’ part most.
While you’re in Notting Hill you would be mad to miss a genuine musical institution at the north end of Portobello Road, Honest Jon’s. The legendary retailer’s musical heritage reflects the area’s Caribbean roots, but the shop itself stocks far more than just reggae and dub. Its coverage of electronic beats, on the right side of the shop, is exceptional. The section dedicated to Perlon is always a delight to snoop around, while its more general categories are packed with top-shelf artefacts and newer releases. There’s little in Honest Jon’s not worth buying, but if you wish to hear a record first they’re usually happy to sling it on the turntable and blare it out from their speakers. The walk from Notting Hill Gate may be surprisingly long, but it’s one that is usually rewarded.
I’ve lived a stone’s throw from Islington’s Essex Road for the last year or so but only recently discovered two vinyl specialists based there. You can imagine my delight upon this discovery: I suddenly envisaged an entirely fresh feasting ground, new opportunities and untouched gems, waiting to be taken home. Unfortunately both Flashback and Haggle Vinyl are hugely disappointing for very different reasons. Flashback sells plenty of both second hand and new releases, but House music is almost completely neglected. The single square unit of items is downstairs, and is barely worth flicking through unless your demands are shamefully thin. Again, that’s not a sweeping criticism of the entire shop, which certainly looks the part with its boxes of old tat shoved outside with rock-bottom prices, but it’s just not a place for people like us.
Haggle Vinyl is a genuine enigma. The place looks like a vinyl fanatics wet dream, which makes its appearances in popular culture fairly inevitable, but the stock – literally strewn all over the place – is mystifying beyond its chaotic presentation. That dreaded lexical distinction ‘Dance’ is used to vaguely organize what we’re interested in, but the titles give new meaning to obscurity, and not in a particularly good way. While Haggle Vinyl is one of a kind with stock underpinning this, it’s genuinely difficult to find something recognizable in its ‘Dance’ section. As if this wasn’t enough to limit your purchasing appetite, Haggle is surprisingly expensive. Maybe this is where I’m showing my relatively young age, but either way it’s an incredibly niche selection that would test anyone’s knowledge.
Then there is Dalston. Where so many of London’s vinyl junkies reside, but where do they go to fill up their IKEA Expedit units? Every DJ worth their salt will immediately shout ‘Kristina’ at you without hesitation, as it is without challenge the area’s go-to vinyl emporium. House music enthusiasts are particularly well accommodated, as Kristina prides itself on being a high-quality boutique, stocking rare and unusual titles at unapologetically premium prices. Indeed, the prices can be a little too premium, but it all kind of makes sense when you weigh up the postage fees you may have to pay should you rather shop online. Kristina may occupy a compact little unit on Dalston’s main thoroughfare, but their range of stock is impressive. They tend to lean on the American flavours of House more than others, with DJ Qu, Levon Vincent and L.I.E.S. titles best represented, but their coverage is by no means homogenous.
The shop itself is laid out simply and stylishly. Elegant shades of pine give a clean, slightly Asian feel about the place, with two listening decks situated on the right side of the shop. Kristina is also well known for its in-store events. Past guests have included Roman Flügel, DJ Qu and Anthony Parasole, and attract the area’s most educated listeners.
Finally, while you’re east(ish), it’s probably worth jumping on a bus or the Overground to Hackney Wick to check out the brilliantly named Vinyl Pimp. The shop sits on a fairly unremarkable street in a raw and industrial district of East London, but the area’s modern influx of creativity makes it an ideal spot for this unique and achingly cool shop. The owner and self-proclaimed ‘Vinyl Pimp’ deals with a network of DJs of whom he sells their collections, or at least the unwanted parts of them. As a result the majority of his vast array of stock is second hand, using a ‘sell ‘em cheap and quick’ ethos to keep things fresh. Therefore his impressive armoury of vinyl, filed on a vast wall at the back of shop on full display, is extremely varied in both style and quality, although his DJ connections keep it dance orientated. The ever-present proprietor of Vinyl Pimp knows what fills his shelves intimately, and being always on-hand to read your musical palm, he usually makes it rather difficult to leave the shop empty handed. Isn’t that bit of tangible human contact and unpredictability what makes leaving your house in the first place worth it?
Shopping for music in London is the best it has been for years, and we can only hope it continues for long. Head back to the first part of the guide to see what the rest of the city has to offer.