It feels like we only ever hear about record shops closing, or tiny boutique stores opening in their place. So it was with some surprise that news was received of Birmingham’s giant new HMV Vault, home to over 25,000 records and 80,000 CDs.
Its sheer size places it firmly in the list of the biggest record shops in the world. If you believe that big is better, add these to your travel itinerary.
Where: Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
While iconic music franchise Tower Records has gone the way of the Dodo in the United States and the United Kingdom, you’ll still find Tower doing great business in Japan where it went independent from the main chain in 2002 and in 2015 boasted 88 stores spread across the country. Unsurprisingly, the biggest is in Tokyo, a nine-floor behemoth located in Shibuya (you’ll know its iconic ‘scramble’ crossing if you’ve ever watched Lost In Translation). The secret of its success? “Japanese fans still like the idea of possessing and playing the physical disc,” said late Tower founder Russ Solomon. But it’s also because the Japanese still treat their record shops as places of awe. We can also strongly recommend the eight-floor Discunion club, located in the Yamada building in the Shinjuku district.
If it was a movie monster what would it be: Tall, noble, Japanese – it’s Godzilla, obviously.
Where: Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, LA, U.S.A
Though Amoeba was founded in 1990 by former employees of the still-in-existence Rasputin Records in Berkeley, San Fran, the iconic branch we refer you to can be found at Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles and opened in 2001. How iconic? Well, arguably more Amoeba Records T-shirts exist than people who’ve been to the store, the shop’s cartoony logo joining the ranks of CBGB’s and the Ramones as a music brand that far exceeds the popularity of the source. The store was also a playable venue on 2008 videogame Guitar Hero World Tour. It’s the law of bullshit that every beloved venue, store and landmark on earth has to be under threat from developers at any given time, like a real-world realisation of the plot of Empire Records. Rumours of Amoeba’s demise continue to circle. Rest assured, music lovers won’t let it go without a fight.
Iiwammwwib: Since the store is located within Hollywood itself, Amoeba theoretically has movie monsters on tap. We’ll go with Gappa: The Triphibian Monster from the 1967 kaiju movie of the same name. The hipster’s choice!
Where: Gothenburg, Sweden
Founded in 1974, this iconic record shop in the Stigbergstorget area of Sweden’s second largest city claims to be the largest record store in all the Nordic countries. We can’t find anything to refute such a claim, with the shop encompassing 700 square metres packed with records, CDs, cassettes and merch. Bengans used to be an old cinema and features retro signage out front, meaning it’s difficult to miss. Artists to have performed in-stores there include David Bowie, REM and Belle & Sebastian while the shop also hosts a café, which provides views of nearby hipster mecca Majorna. Here’s a little Swedish lesson for you. Write it down and you’ll be all good. ‘Kan du visa mig vägen till Ramones tillbaka-katelog?’
Iiwammwwib: 2010’s found-footage classic The Troll Hunter might be made and set in Norway, but we can think of no better example than the really big bastard at the end.
Easy Street Records & Cafe
Where: Seattle, U.S.A
Seattle isn’t short of great independent record shops, with Sonic Boom, Everyday Music and Holy Cow being among our favourites. But Easy Street is the biggest and so makes our list here. It’s also a great place to eat, with the west Seattle unit hosting a cafe where rock ‘n’ roll-themed cuisine can be enjoyed (we’d recommend the Woody Guthrie omelette, with a stack of ’James Browns’ – um, those would be hash browns) to provide the fuel you’ll need for a deep dive into those crates. Legend has it that in 1995, Eddie Vedder – singer of local lads Pearl Jam and a man who loves vinyl so much he even wrote an ode to it, ’Spin The Black Circle’ (released the previous year) – put in a shift behind the counter, playing Sonic Youth’s ’Washing Machine’ over and over again on the PA. It became the store’s biggest selling record that month.
Iiwammwwib: The Sasquatch is a local legend, lurking in local forests, waiting for that copy of Shanks & Bigfoot’s 1999 garage pop classic ’Sweet Like Chocolate’ to come in.
Red Eye Records
Where: Sydney, Australia
A country as vast as Australia doesn’t do small, and this gem of a record store, opened in 1981 and located in the nations capital, is often said to be the biggest record shop within a very big country. And yet, aside from its size, what Red Eye is really famous for is helping its patrons find rare Australian pressings of the records they’re looking for, also their support of rising Australian artists, something that exists even now. Red Eye even doubled as a record label for a time, releasing a string of important records by pioneering Australian artists (we highly recommend you go listen to the song ’Pushes’ by the band The Verys right now. No, go on. Off you trot…) It’s a shop that backs up every claim you’ve ever heard about a record shop serving as the heart of a music community.
Iiwammwwib: Ever seen the 1984 horror movie Razorback, about a giant wild boar terrorising the Australian outback? You should.
Rough Trade East
Where: Old Truman Brewery, London
Britain’s best big record shop was opened in 2007, containing 5000 square feet of records, CD’s, books and merch, and sits on the site of a Victorian era brewery. It hosts a fair trade cafe, regular instores by bands both big and new, and sports a photobooth that sometimes feels a little bit like stepping into a human sized xeroxed fanzine. There’s probably a kitchen sink somewhere in the building too, covered in stickers of the coolest bands around, obviously. The Rough Trade stores have come a long way since Geoff Travis opened the very first, in 1976, in Ladbrook Grove in west London, and yet the founding ethos – this stuff is important, buying records shouldn’t feel like buying tins of beans in the supermarket – remains the same since those salad days.
Iiwammwwib: Since the 1961 King Kong rip-off – um – Konga – was set in London, we’ll go with the tituar big chimp here.