To celebrate record store day, I’ve highlighted some of the owners behind the record shops – both well-known shops and off-the-radar ones – and the stories behind the shops. It is often these owners and my own journeys to these shops which make record stores unique. Support the independents.
Barn Home Records, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Barn Home Records is a humble operation housed inside a nondescript building on a busy thoroughfare in one of the busiest Tokyo districts. Like entering many Japanese shops there is a little trepidation in walking into a space hidden from the public’s gaze, lost as it were at the end of a corridor up a flight of stairs. Inevitably, you discover a quiet atmosphere; despite being a record shop, there is little noise.
Although small, Barn Home Records had some quality selections: classic soul, folk and progressive rock to name but a few examples. I went into the shop knowing the owners would be unaware of The Secret List and helped myself to the sixties soul selection, happy to be guided by their recommendations across this and other genres. The conversation started to flow: the state of record shops in Tokyo, my holiday in Japan etc, and a friendship began to form. They saw me eye up the psychedelic rock albums and more recommendations followed – not a hard sell to purchase, more a love of sharing their knowledge of good music.
The husband and wife owners then emerged from behind the shop counter, bowed their heads and presented me with a US West Coast ‘surfin’ seven inch, complete with a cover good enough to frame. I was really touched and am grateful to have chanced upon this wonderful gem of a shop.
Barn Homes Records, Clean Nishi-Shinjuku 1F, 7-5-6 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Fat Beats, Los Angeles
The Fat Beats shops, now sadly closed, were a huge influence on the evolution of hip hop. Discerning hip hop lovers from the UK visiting New York would pay pilgrimage to the downtown shop. The New York shop put the store on the record store map, and a smaller sister Los Angeles branch, based in the cool meets funky Melrose Avenue, had similar success. Other shops opened in Atlanta, Tokyo and Amsterdam, spreading the Fat Beats name worldwide.
Fat Beats supplied music, or fat beats, to hip hop producers. Its stock was hip hop as well as a wide variety of ‘breaks’, samples, spanning disco, rock and soul. The stock was perhaps not as eclectic or deep as New York’s ‘The Sound Library’ or ‘A1 records’ but Fat Beats was worthy of its reputation as the place for hip hop. This reputation was further cemented by a celebrated clientele – DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor etc: a long line of the who’s who of producers whose names and testimonies lined the walls at Fat Beats shops.
My name was also on these famed walls, not scribbled under some DJ pseudonym but contained in an article I wrote for Shook magazine prominently displayed behind the counter. A handy addition to have in the shop, so it turned out, as it proved to be my ticket to buying records at the Melrose branch.
I had walked into the empty store, on a quiet stretch of Melrose Avenue, hidden from passers-by by being tucked away on the first floor of a nondescript building. I, as ever, when greeted with an empty shop, impressive stock and a willing assistant, helped myself to a handful of aural delights. As I swapped stories with the assistant and came to hand over a hundred dollars on my credit card, I fell foul of the stringent American ID laws. No passport or driving licence meant no old school hip hop, no Madlib, nothing. But ah ha, I can prove who I am, sort of. Behind you is an article I wrote, coincidentally on record buying.
Offering ID in the form of an article on record digging probably falls foul of credit card law. But appropriate in a shop, and more widely hip hop, where the premise is to search thoroughly for information. Digging for the perfect beat as the mantra goes.
Conch Records, Auckland
“If you’re free this evening we’re going for a drink. See that wooden door opposite, push it open and there is a secret bar behind it, meet us there from 6pm.”
At the far end of Ponsonby Road, a funky strip home to some of the best coffee producers and their cafes and littered with cool but not overtly hipster shops, lies Conch Records. Conch Records is a wonderful shop. It is a well-designed space, easy to navigate, with lots of natural light and a garden with a cafe. Gentrified it is not. I got my fingers suitably dusty finding a weird Latin cover of the Jamie Principle classic ‘Baby Wants to Ride’ and an obscure and cheap-as-chips Japanese jazz album. These purchases reflect Conch Records’s eclectic selection as well as stocking a host of new releases, making it an essential stopover for visiting international DJs. The likes of Gilles Peterson and Norman Jay have graced the store.
The owner Cian is brilliant, going as far to recommend a number of New Zealand- based records, and as he didn’t have them in stock, alternative places to buy the records. And, with his friend, DJ Sam-E, who I met at the shop, a very good drinking companion.
Cian and Sam invited me to an after work drink soiree with what seemed like half of New Zealand’s music industry. Suitably clandestine, the bar was hidden behind an anonymous door – I stood outside for a good thirty seconds thinking I had been had – opening onto a small courtyard with a barbeque and DJ. As I swapped stories with my new friends – Sam’s experience of living in a squat in Southall – I was asked what I did. Jaws dropped when I said I wrote a record shop guide series, I quickly reassured my friends they had nothing to worry about in terms of any review. And besides The Secret List being invited to a secret bar is a story well worth telling.
115A Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland 1011