I have a confession to make. I am a vinyl junkie. Not in a pseudo-cool way. You know, the type of person who bought a turntable back in 2008 because the NME started giving away free White Stripes 7 inches on the front cover. I was picking up LPs as soon as I started getting into grunge back in the early 90s. I thought I was cool then (in a shoegaze / flipper t-shirt /undercut sort of way). Now I am not cool. I am a geek. So, every time I start planning a trip somewhere, one of the first things I do is check out the quality of the record stores. I have three main criteria: a) the store has to sell vinyl, b) it must be independent (and preferably the main outlet for some indie label), and c) doesn’t have any Lana Del Ray albums for sale. The patronising guy with long hair and BO behind the counter is generally a bonus. When I started investigating what Iceland’s capital Reykjavik had to offer, I nearly peed my skinny jeans. Considering Reykjavik has a population of roughly 120,000 people, there are an amazing number of awesome record stores. Here’s a rough guide.
Skólavörðustígur 15, 101 Reykjavík
12 Tónar is one of the best known indie labels in Iceland and the shop has served as a meeting place for Icelandic musicians ( Sigur Rós hang out there from time to time) since it opened in 1998. When I went in, a ridiculously chilled out guy in his 40s wearing an amazing pair of bright red chinos asked me if I wanted an espresso. I did. Then he started telling me about some of the music, told me that it was totally cool if I took the shrink wrap off the CDs if I wanted to listen to them and pointed me in the direction of the back end of the shop. It looked like an Icelandic sitting room, complete with couches, twee collages of the Icelandic landscape and posters for early Björk gigs. Turns out the guy was Lárus Jóhannesson, one of the founders of the label. If you find yourself in Reykjavik – go here.
Laugavegur 35, 101 Reykjavík
Known as the birthplace of The Sugarcubes, this shop is tiny but has an awesome selection of vinyl. It’s got something from pretty much every Icelandic artist around as well as a huge selection from Berlin label Morr Music. Most of it’s brand new. I asked the guy behind the counter something about a record and he rang the label there and then to get me an answer. And he looked like he’d just stepped off the set of an Icelandic version of Starsky and Hutch. Amazing.
Kringlan 4-12. 103 Reykjavík
This place has more of a commercial feel. In fact, I’m not even sure if it’s completely independent, but the selection of vinyl is pretty good. On the whole, the vinyl turned out to be the most competitively priced, but most of it was chart stuff (falling foul of point ‘c’ on my criteria). The CD selection is way better. The representation of weird Icelandic bands and interesting European stuff was much broader. The lady working there was nice too. Everyone in Iceland is nice.
Laugavegur 64, 101 Reykjavík
Entering this place is like stepping onto the set of a 90s Kevin Smith film. Slightly weird charity shop smell – check. Piles of random LPs stacked on top of each other in no discernible order – check. Weird mullet guy in a Metallica t-shirt talking to the owner about obscure Frank Zappa b-sides – check. If you go here, be prepared to rummage and give yourself a couple of hours to weed out the good shit. It’s there, trust me. Once you squeeze through the towers of old magazines and stacks of second-hand NES games (yep, you can get those here too) you’ll find the back room. The back room is a cave stacked floor to ceiling with metal records. If you’re ever in Iceland and thinking to yourself ‘Hey, I wonder where I can pick up a copy of Suicidal Tendencies’ first record’, this is probably where you’ll find it. No doubt you’ll get a discount if you’re wearing a bandanna.
There are more record stores in Reykjavik I couldn’t be bothered to take photos of. There’s a pretty amazing blog (and DIY map) covering the rest HERE.