In between the novelty cafes, not far away from the bars serving cocktails in jam-jars and just down from the artisanal bakeries, another trend is taking root on the streets of Shoreditch. It is no secret that vinyl is now becoming big business, and nowhere is this more the case than here. Shoreditch has become the place to shop if you are a record junkie.
October’s opening of Flashback Records was the latest in a series of new arrivals to the music scene in Shoreditch and beyond.
They’ve picked the right time to open. Vinyl is becoming big business. 2014 was the first year since 1996 in which more than one million new albums were sold on the format. The bestselling list might have included golden-oldies like Pink Floyd and The Stone Roses but new albums from Jack White and Royal Blood showed that there is an appetite for new music on old formats. And the old format has brought new attention to lost classics, with reissues such as J Dilla’s Donuts amongst Flashback’s best sellers.
Shoreditch had once been the fiefdom of the huge Rough Trade East store just off Brick Lane, a huge place that is , as much a social hub as record store. “They make as much money from a coffee as a second-hand CD,” a member of staff at one of their rivals tell me. . You can tell. Walk in to the mega store and you are greeted by the sound of an espresso machine over the music. The coffee is excellent, as is the selection of brand new vinyl, but it all feels a bit too big.
Walk north along Shoreditch High Street and you will soon find Sister Ray, opened in July in collaboration with the Ace Hotel. Carry further up the Kingsland Road and come to Hoxton’s Love Vinyl, a bright, airy space that houses a basement in which customers can pick up old dance records (and, implausibly, Bonnie Tyler’s Faster Than The Speed of Night) for just 20p, which started trading in July.
Matt Estall, Flashback’s 29-year-old manager, has worked in record stores for most of his life. But, in what will be the only High Fidelity reference in this article, he is no John Cusack figure, worn away by a lifetime of other people’s problems. A bright, engaging and above all passionate man, he talks at length about one of the stand-out pieces of the store’s collection, a £400 copy of John Coltrane’s Blue Train. It’s not an original pressing, he says, those don’t have the ® symbol. Take that symbol away and the record could be worth over £1,000.
That sort of knowledge is indicative of a staff that prides itself on a curator’s eye. Of course any good record store should be staffed by people that are passionate about music, as those in Shoreditch are. But it says something for this store that it feels a need to apologise for titling one of its sections with something as crass as “World Music”.
After three months in business this branch of Flashback, which follows similar stores in Crouch End and Islington, is starting to build a reputation for itself. Original DJ Dave is one of its growing number of regular customers, travelling from Finsbury Park in his search for soul & ska records. He said: “I always come back to somewhere when I find something.”
With so many potential rivals it’s easy to ask whether the area might be on course for ‘peak-vinyl’ I like this joke!. But ask those involved in the local stores and they are confident that competition is only good for business. Estall said: “I don’t think three record shops is too much for Shoreditch.”
Johnny Hartford, manager at nearby Sister Ray, is even more buoyant: “I encourage more shops to pop up in Shoreditch. It used to be that the natural place to buy records in London was Soho, around Berwick Street. I think this area is definitely becoming an equivalent in the East.”
Both these newcomers to the Shoreditch music scene have looked to branch out from just selling records, with Sister Ray hosting DJ sets and live concerts at the hotel next door. Flashback will also host in-store performances by the likes of the Twilight Sad and has recently announced an artist-in-residency programme. Estall describes it as “interesting, a bit different” and is representative of the new avenues these stores are exploring.
The likes of Flashback are looking to build communities around them, partnering with clubs, charities and bands to do creative things. Not because record stores are not profitable, they most certainly can be, but because it is in the spirit of creativity that is embodied by the music they sell. Shoreditch may at times veer into self-parody when another coffee shop with a twist opens, but these stores are what made the area so interesting in the first place. Creative and confident, it seems the record store is here to stay.