Rumours of the death of the record shop have been greatly exaggerated. While big, identikit retailers have been shedding stores, the cream of the independents have been going from strength to strength, buoyed up by expertise, rare and unusual stock and hard-won respect from discerning but loyal customer bases. The best record shopping in Central London is undoubtedly in Soho, so this list features a narrower range of locations than usual and slightly longer walking times – but, as you’ll quickly discover, pounding Soho’s pavements in search of the best new and vintage music is anything but a chore.
Sounds of the Universe
The Soul Jazz label is a perennial favourite with music fans of a globe-trotting, archive-mining bent – its breakthrough series was with a set of compilations from the pioneering Jamaican label Studio One, packaged with vintage photos and deep-dive liner notes. It continues in that tradition today, unearthing forgotten gems and exploring niche genres from Chicago house to Dubstep. As you’re probably guessed by now, Sounds of the Universe is essentially the Soul Jazz record shop. It occupies a busy corner spot in Soho, and will keep keen crate-diggers happy for hours on end.
Walk past Schott without prior warning and you could be forgiven for doing a double-take. Here, in the middle of modern, media-friendly Soho – with the offices of Sony and Framestore just a few doors away on either side – is a shop window packed with sheet music. The store is an outpost of German music publishing business Schott, but it has solid London credentials, first opening here in 1835 and moving to its Soho home in 1908. Alongside the sheet music you’ll find books, CDs, DVDs and three practice rooms with baby grand pianos from Steinway. Serious musos will be in heaven, and for the rest of its, it’s still a fascinating store to browse.
Beats, beats and more beats. Those are the three priorities of this highly respected store on D’Arblay Street, which racks more sub-genres of dance and electronic music than you can shake a tone arm at. How respected is it? Well, its series of live in-store sessions has featured legends like Kerri Chandler and Derrick Carter – and that’s pretty impressive from a shop whose two floors are scarcely bigger than the average living room. You’ll also find a range of DJ equipment, clothing and magazines, but it’s the wax that is the main event. Casual visitors will probably find it all a bit much, but for true believers it’s an essential stop.
This long-running shop doesn’t specialise in a particular genre. In fact, you could find almost anything here. Instead it’s all about second-hand vinyl – stacks and stacks of the stuff, sifted through by a team of expert buyers. If your idea of record shop heaven involves the smell and feel of worn album sleeves, an hour or so of hypnotic finger-walking through crates and a final “Did-I-just-see-that?” moment of discovery, you’ll be right at home. Less patient shoppers can head straight for the reissue pressings, which offer a range of classic and cult albums on heavy-duty plastic.
Like BM Soho, Phonica’s area of expertise is electronic music, but it’s a more accessible and design-conscious option – and it’s slightly more eclectic to boot, with a smattering of rockabilly and exotica among the beats. A comfy bubble chair dominates the front window, and there’s a table of recommended buys on – gasp! – CD. Follow them on Twitter for a constant stream of interesting, left-field new arrivals, exclusive streaming mixes and news from the shop’s associated record label. Artwork, books, headphones and all sorts of other goodies are on sale too.
Did you enjoy this article? Please give the page a like so we can create more articles like it in future.