DJ’ing and record shopping played a big part in my youth. In secondary school the fact I had turntables (2x Numarks and a Soundlab mixer) gave me a little bit of notoriety and lead to me meeting some of my oldest friends. I was lucky because when I was about 14 my cousin introduced me to Jungle, Drum ‘n’ Bass & UK Garage and would give me music and mixtapes by her husband, Ray Keith.
I’m 34 now but back then things seemed a bit more subculture driven. If you were into D’n’B & UKG you generally dressed a certain way and gravitated towards certain people, likewise if you were into Metal or a ‘grunger’. My friends and I spent most of our weekends going into our local town Croydon. Some of us would go record shopping and others would just hang about the Whitgift Centre or go to the weed shop in the indoor market. Most trips my little crew would split from the main group (we tended to travel in big numbers in those days) and embark on this little route that allowed us to hit up a few different spots.
First stop was Beano’s, a second-hand record shop that had a few floors and always seemed to have really affordable 12’s. I get the impression Beano’s was quite renowned for more traditional record collectors as the main floors were full of Rock, Pop etc but we only knew it as the weird spot that had loads of cheap white labels on the second floor. I remember excitedly unearthing Krust’s – Warhead on one of my first trips and much later in life going there with my mum (on its closing weekend I think) and picking up Scars’ only studio album ‘Author! Author!’. Which gives you a bit of an idea of the scope of the place !
Next stop would be this spot on the High Street that I can’t remember the name of but had the grumpiest owner who would always berate us for how we put the needle on the records (if anyone can remember the name, please hit me up). Then it was down to the now pretty infamous Big Apple Records on Surrey Street Market. Big Apple was definitely the centre of things at that time, DJ Hatcha was a big character behind the counter and they had ashtrays beside the turntables which seemed like the ultimate height of sophistication to us. It was always rammed with punters and the walls were covered in white labels and specialist bits that the shop was pushing. I remember going back there when Grime was kicking off and picking up quite a few anthems of the day, you definitely felt like there were few other spots around London that were as connected to the music you’d hear on pirate radio & at raves.
Despite Big Apple’s reputation and notoriety, it was actually the next stop on our little tour – Swag Records, that really meant a lot to me and my mates. I’m still a really firm believer in how important staff can be in record shops, we were these young and innocent kids looking for records and one of Swag’s staff, Loftgroover made a real impact on my mates and basically secured our business for the next few years. We went to Swag for UK Garage records but it actually wasn’t until a lot later that I realised how infamous the shop was for birthing Tech House, which kind of blew my mind. Going back to the subculture thing – UKG to me just lived in this very specific cultural place and I was just really ignorant to the idea of these shops being anything other than places to buy Brandy ‘n’ Monica bootlegs. I now listen to Gideon Jackson tracks with RIP Productions-esque drums and it seems obvious that someone could combine an idea from one side of the shop (UKG) to the other (Techno & House) but in my 15-year-old head these sounds couldn’t be further apart. Glad I was the only short sighted one though !
Last stop on our magical mystery tour (of Croydon) was Wax City in West Croydon. Wax City specialised in Hardcore & Drum’n’Bass, we were introduced to it by my mate’s sister’s boyfriend who worked there and if we were lucky would acknowledge us when we came in. Wax had what I wanna say was a sort of Aztec & Egyptian decor and definitely felt the most abstract from what we were into at the time. It was one of those spots where I’d stumble across some b-side I’d heard on a Brockie tape that I was never going to knowingly look for.
Keen readers will notice how our route was fairly geographical allowing us to return to places on the way back to the train station (if need be) and dip into HMV for 3 quid major label remixes. We often debriefed at this insanely cheap chicken shop on George Street before heading home, comparing finds while working out how much lunch money we’d have to save before our next trip.
Looking back, I get a lot of joy in knowing I still feel so connected to the sounds I was buying back then and how they shape what I do today. I’d like to think the teenage me would be pretty excited by the idea that I would one day have one of my records on similar stocked shelves, so thank you Croydon.
This piece is dedicated to DnR Vinyl in Addiscombe btw, it’s still got that special energy that I remember from those days and if you’re ever in town I’d really recommend a visit.
x Joy O