When it comes to buying electronic music on wax, the country which birthed house and techno has a dearth of brick-and-mortars. Still, there are worthwhile record stores – if you know where to look. Here are ten of the best.
1. Gramaphone - ChicagoFew record stores can print “established in 1969” on their awning, but this isn’t Gramaphone’s only claim to fame. Though originally focusing on jazz and blues, the shop began carrying house records in the 80s and thus became the first point of contact for many DJs and vinyl enthusiasts in their introduction to the genre. Today, the legendary store is owned by Smart Bar resident Michael Serafini, and for those who want the widest selection of house around, it’s a serious treasure trove with white labels galore. The footwork section is also worth noting.
2. A-1 - New York CityThis East Village store is pretty much the embodiment of every crate-digger’s dream. It’s stuffed with vinyl – wall to wall, floor to ceiling – offering an assortment of used records which are of overwhelmingly high quality, and at reasonable prices to boot. A-1 doesn’t merely specialise in one genre, they specialise in all of the genres that they carry. It’s a store which offers one of the very best shopping experiences out there, regardless of whether it’s a well-known touring DJ or someone newly curious about vinyl who walks through the door.
3. Submerge - Detroit
It’s a commonly-known fact that Underground Resistance is headquartered ‘Somewhere in Detroit.’ That ‘somewhere’ is in fact 3000 E. Grand Boulevard, otherwise known as Submerge. Existing as the manufacturer, distributor, and de facto meeting place for iconic Detroit labels since the early 90s, this is an absolute must-see for anyone with an interest in the city’s musical history. The basement of this unassuming, three-story brick building contains the physical retail counterpart to Submerge’s online store. Open by appointment-only, this is the place to pick up records from the current and back-catalogs of UR, Transmat, KMS, Red Planet, Axis, and other affiliated labels. After stocking up, be sure to peruse Exhibit: 3000, a museum of sorts upstairs where drum machines, synthesizers, artwork, and rare record pressings are on display.
4. Preserved Instincts - Oak Hill, New York
There have never been a shortage of record stores in NYC, but few were as talked about as Dope Jams. The owners’ unwavering commitment to stocking only records which they considered “dope jams,” and disregarding all the rest, made the Bed Stuy store a gem. At the same time, they were vilified by customers who saw the shop as an outpost of snobbish dismissiveness, and by artists displeased with their often vitriolic (but always highly amusing) year-end lists. Though rising rents forced their doors to close in June 2013, the store would soon reopen in the tiny town of Oak Hill, nearly three hours north of their original Brooklyn location, under the name Preserved Instincts. They’re still purveyors of the finest underground dance music, and have lost none of that singular personality in the process.
5. halcyon the shop - Brooklyn
Thanks largely to in-the-know buyers with their ear to the ground, halcyon is the only store of its kind in NYC, and there’s probably nothing like it anywhere else in the US, either. This modest Brooklyn storefront is truly a speciality retailer, offering carefully-curated goods across all electronic music genres, and with special attention paid to European imports.
6. Super Soul Records - Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Get lost in seemingly endless stacks of wax. The father-son operation has a history going back to the 80s, when noted NYC-area collector and record store supplier “King George” Johnson got his start. Super Soul is not technically a store, but this collection of used records is largely centered around dance music (soul, funk, house, disco, acid jazz, hip-hop, Latin, techno,) and there are tens of thousands of records in the warehouse space to dig through. Be sure to call ahead of time to arrange your visit, as this one’s open by appointment-only.
7. Beacon Sound - PortlandHaving recently moved to a much larger location, Beacon Sound is the leading store for electronic musc and is the champion of contemporary and experimental electronic music in Portland and boasts the most diverse selection the city has to offer, whether new or used. The shop’s wares are clean and well ordered, and its helpful, no-attitude staffers are a welcome bonus. Beacon also has its own label, with previous releases on vinyl and occasionally on cassette too.
8. Hello Records - DetroitThe space may not be sprawling and the volume of its wares may not be overwhelming, but this store’s got the quality to quantity ratio down pat. Opened in 2008, Hello Records operates with much the same spirit as the neighborhood record shops of a bygone era, with extremely reasonable prices and a varied, eclectic stock. Soul, funk, disco, house, and jazz are where the store really shines, with some records being so rare that they simply slip under the average buyers’ noses. Patient digging will likely yield some seriously special results.
9. Kstarke Records - ChicagoWhile not selling electronic music exclusively, this Ukrainian Village storefront has a hefty number of classics and rarities tucked inside. Kstarke is great for digging. Worth noting is Kevin Starke’s encyclopedic knowledge of disco and funk, because when he’s in the shop (and he usually is,) simple requests for recommendations will be handsomely rewarded with a stack of suggested listening. It’s entirely possible to walk out with a gem you never knew you needed.
10. Aquarius Records - San FranciscoAquarius specializes in obscure and experimental music. Their tendency towards highly-specific genre classification can feel somewhat pretentious and perhaps unwarranted, but amidst the freak folk, field recordings, and Scandinavian death metal, there are some great ambient dub, cosmic disco, and minimal (the Steve Reich kind, not the Perlon kind – though they probably carry that, too) records to be found. Of course, that unambiguous genre nomenclature is absent when it comes to electronic music, but the broadly-titled “electronic” section currently includes releases from Demdike Stare, Luke Abbott, and Jeri-Jeri, to name a few. Those artists don’t seem underground enough? That’s OK: Aquarius also carries loads of records from names so obscure that even those with the most esoteric taste should be able to discover something new.