Mapped: The Best Record Shops In London

Chris Lockie
By Chris Lockie Last edited 6 months ago
Mapped: The Best Record Shops In London
Photo: Florencia Viadana

The death of physical music has been put on hold. Fans have twigged that paying for something you can never touch is a sure-fire way of accepting air will one day be privatised and have duly begun to remember how brilliant record shops were back in the day.

Thankfully there are plenty in London, and we've tried to map each and every one of them below. And as an extra special treat we've written up some of our favourites. Enjoy!

The stalwart: Sister Ray

Sister Ray, Berwick Street, Soho

Sister Ray has ridden the storm of physical music, somehow surviving the massacre that took down so many other record shops on Berwick Street and its surrounds — if they'd gone the way of Vinyl Junkies, Koobla, Ambient Soho and the rest it would have been a bloody tragedy. It's still holding firm on that same Soho street, albeit in new premises across the road. Quality vinyl is the name of the game, both new releases, second-hand gems and rarities (they're regular participants in Record Store Day), with some CDs available too.

Punk and hardcore heaven: All Ages Records

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Hardcore is a word with so many wonderful uses, but in this case it means shouty guitar music, rather than happy hardcore pilled up to the gills or whatever other kind of hardcore your mind might have conjured up, you filthy beast. It's obvious what punk is, and it's obvious that if you like it you'll love All Ages Records in Camden. In addition to new releases and second-hand finds, it also stocks a whole load of new stuff from unsigned and often local bands. You never know, that frightening hand-drawn CD cover you're peering at sceptically could be worth thousands when Mornington Chaos hit the big time.

DJ central: Phonica

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The one shop that every dance music DJ has been to. If not to buy records for their upcoming club nights, then to groove at one of Phonica's lively in-stores. It's just off Berwick Street, Soho's traditional vinyl epicentre, but in recent years we reckon it's become the busiest of the shops left in the area — especially on a Thursday when a new set of records hit the shelves.

A forager's paradise: Flashback

Flashback, Essex Street, Islington

Back when people were predicting the death of record shops, the saddest aspect was the end of the foraging for hidden delights among huge stacks of records. That's what Flashback is all about, designed for those folks who like to rummage through piles of music, peering beyond much-regretted copies of Darkness 12 inches for the elusive second album by Teenage Fanclub or whatever equivalent your mind thrusts forth when thinking of rarities. And there are three branches to choose from: Essex Road, Crouch Hill and Bethnal Green Road.

Of vintage stock: Sounds Original

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The 1950s and 1960s formed a crucible for nearly every form of music we know and love today, taking blues, jazz, gospel, music hall and every other noisy endeavour and mashing them together to form rock and roll, soul, pop and of course David Bowie, gawd bless him. And if it's the music of those two decades that gives you that special tingle, Sounds Original of South Ealing is the joint for you. 95% of their records are 'original top quality 45s EPs & LPs pressed in the UK between 1953 and 1968', and if you're not licking your lips at the thought of that you must have a heart of stone.

Club music specialists: Kristina

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We reckon that if you tot them all up, Hackney is probably the borough with the most record shops, thanks to a slew opening in the past 10 years. Lots of these new shops have a heavy slant towards house and techno — which makes sense considering that one in three Hackney residents are part-time DJs. Kristina caters exclusively to that crowd; caters being the operative word. Enjoy tea and cakes as you browse the bouncing beats.

Not rock and roll: Soul Brother

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Specialists in funk, soul and jazz (though we shouldn't hold that third one against them), Soul Brother has been plying their trade in East Putney since 1991. It does a tasty line in disco 12 inch records and supplies some of south London's finest DJs with the finest in polyvinyl chloride. If you've an afternoon to waste, try and find a single negative review of this shop anywhere on the internet — or you could get down to Soul Brother and buy yourself the new Kamasi Washington record instead.

For the discerning drinker: Book & Record Bar

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Obsessed with drinking as Londonist necessarily is, we are powerless to resist a record shop that allows you to sup while browsing. Open since 2013 on the site of an old pub, the Book & Record Bar in West Norwood not only has an excellent selection of second-hand vinyl assembled by semi-legendary local record collector Michael Johnson, there's also a range of books to peruse as you imbibe, confirming its claim to be a 'social hub' as much as a shop. It even does 'coffee', whatever that is.

A local favourite: Alan's Records

Alan's Record And CD Shop, High Road, East Finchley

No such list could be deemed acceptable without the inclusion of Alan's Records, an institution of some repute in East Finchley. It claims to have a stock of over 15,000 records and 3,500 CDs across all the genres — an impressive haul for a store with a deceptively small frontage. Alan's website prominently displays Never Mind the Bollocks, The Fall, the Stone Roses, and a section for USA Punk, and only people with problems wouldn't be happy with all that. Bear in mind they're closed on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The outlier: Crazy Beat

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Out in the wildlands of not-Essex-anymore, Crazy Beat Records is making sure east London’s extremities are kept well stocked with quality vinyl across every genre imaginable. Well into its third decade in Upminster, it claims their staff have an excellent knowledge of the records on sale so we suggest you get in there and quiz them at random about a few of the 100,000 items their website says they have in stock. And when they do indeed have all the answers, that'll be you told.

The one everyone knows about: Honest Jon's

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Arguably London's most famous record shop, Honest Jon's has a pedigree going back to 1974, taking in some of the most significant developments in the business. It specialises in soul/funk, reggae, jazz and world music, all of which is nicely catalogued. While the main store is a well-publicised musical mecca, there's also a diddy branch tucked away in the most polarising shopping centre (at least at Londonist Towers): Coal Drops Yard. There's less of everything here, thanks to the compact space — but the percentage of absolute treasures to stumble upon remains high.

Metalhead sanctuary: Crypt of the Wizard

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While plenty of record stores claim to be omnivorous in their selections, the heavy metal section often remains bare and predictable. Crypt of the Wizard in Hackney is a safe place for those whose idea of comfortable clothing is all black t-shirts (preferably with some pagan imagery), black jeans paired with you guessed it... an all black leather jacket. Throw up them horns and find some records that will make your ears bleed (in a good way).

A little bit of everything: Sounds of the Universe

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Sounds of the Universe is the best-named record shop in London. OK, well technically it should be sounds from Earth (we're unaware of any records cut on Mars being stocked here, nor existing for that matter). But it does stock tunes from all over the planet, along with tunes that sound completely otherworldly. Quick heads up; in our experience the tunes here are occasionally ever-so-slightly too booming, so bring along earplugs if you have them.

The one that's sometimes a club: Rye Wax

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Since Peckham became the natural successor to Dalston, it's only natural that it's home to a cluster of record shops. Rye Wax is situated in the basement of the epicentre of 'new Peckham', the Bussey Building. It's not only a record shop, it's a bar, a cafe and a nightclub all rolled into one. There's often a DJ spinning while you're having a shop — even if you don't find any records that tickle your fancy, you might at least discover your new favourite London selector.

Reggae vibes: Supertone Records

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Supertone Records started out as a reggae soundsystem in 1969. Then in 1984, it switched lanes and became a record shop, which it still is to this day. For reggae devotees this is a must-visit, although the soul, calypso and soca collection is worth a look in too. The record shop also has its own label that reissues some fantastic tunes that time forgot.

Worthy mentions go to:

Rough Trade — legendary pair of shops need a mention, but tend to be on the spendy side.

Music & Video Exchange — alive and well in Notting Hill and Greenwich, although its absence is keenly felt in Soho.

Banquet — home to the much-loved record label of the same name, based in Kingston.

Record Detective Agency — there’s no website and we’re not quite sure if this is just one bloke in a shed, but everyone raves about it.

Love Vinyl — open since 2014 on Pearson Street in Hoxton.

Intoxica — once in Notting Hill, then Covent Garden and finally Kentish Town. It's a proper aficionados shop (read, the shopkeeper knows more than you and isn't afraid to show it) and is by appointment only nowadays.

Have we missed any? Let us know in the comments down below or send us an email.

Updated by Harry Rosehill in February 2020.

Last Updated 05 February 2020