Need something to do this weekend? In celebration of Record Store Day this Saturday (April 22), here are five places where you can honour the beauty of vinyl. Looking for a few more suggestions? Check out our Record Store Day feature here and our round-up of lesser known record shops here.
Noize to Go Records, 243 Union Street
While memory might serve us wrong—blame the four-decade amyl-nitrate hangover—we're convinced that, back in the day, we once saw veteran Vancouver scene-maker Dale Wiese demonstrate punk's anyone-can-do-it ethos in the flesh.
A pioneering Seattle punk band called the Silly Killers found itself opening for D.O.A. at the now defunct Arcadian Hall on Main, but the singer never made it across the border. After a couple of instrumentals, the Silly Killers' guitarist asked if anyone would be willing to jump on the mike, which Wiese jumped on-stage to do, totally giving 'er while clutching a page of scribbled-out lyrics.
While it's possible we just dreamed all that, Noize to Go leaves us thinking otherwise. After all, even though the edge-of-Chinatown store stocks CDs, DVDs, and cassettes, classic punk-era vinyl is the big attraction. Those curious about who blazed the trail for multimillionaires like Green Day and Blink-182 can use Noize to Go as a one-stop educational centre; on a good day you'll happen upon essential black-wax releases like D.O.A's Something Better Change and the Ramones' Road to Ruin. Wanna know what grunge sounded like before grunge? Spring for a copy of Slow's roaring fucking classic Against the Glass.
Even though you'll see Pointed Sticks and Buzzcocks posters taped to the walls, Noize also carries everything from Heart picture discs to Canadian roots obscurities like Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra. Ask nicely, and Wiese might even show you the impossible-to-find bootleg 7-inch of him performing "Anarchy at Arcadian Hall" with the Silly Killers. Then again, it's possible we just dreamed that record existed.
Vinyl Records, 321 West Hastings Street
With perhaps the exception of local stalwart the Vancouver Pen Shop, Vinyl Records is the most descriptively named store in the city, selling exactly—and, with the exclusion of a few shirts, only—what its shop window decal says. While other LP shops might dabble in a number of products, Vinyl Records dedicates itself to its musical stock—and, as Elton John found out on a recent visit to the downtown store, it’s one of the best-supplied locations in town.
Hip-hop, soul, funk, and reggae abound, with the shop boasting the city’s largest selection of used records. A generalist’s wet dream, Vinyl Records’ collection ranges from electronic music—specializing in house, breaks, and trance—to experimental new-wave and jazz titles, with a healthy dose of punk and disco. The store itself is meticulously categorized, with every genre split into individual artists, and the “new arrivals” board outside the front of the shop makes it easy to locate fresh and hidden gems.
Offering more than 50,000 pieces of vinyl in its catalogue, we’re willing to bet that Sir Elton managed to find exactly what he was looking for.
Sikora’s Classical Records, 432 West Hastings Street
The problem with classical music is that finding an entry point can be challenging. Sure, everyone's heard Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525: I. Allegro", but, kind of embarassingly, almost no one has a clue what the song is actually called. (Confession time: we cheated by going to YouTube.)
Assuming your dad wasn’t Leonard Bernstein, and your next door neighbour isn't a Juilliard School graduate, chances are you might need a little direction once you've decided to expand your horizons and dive into the classical pool. Enter the helpful folks at Sikora's, who havebeen stocking the finest in the genre since 1979. The West Hastings spot has nearly 25,000 classical and jazz CDs and DVDs in stock, which means you should be able to find everything from Truid Aagesen to Bernard Zweers on its shelves.
Those convinced that Giacomo Puccini's La fanciulla del West shouldn't be played on anything but a Clearaudio Concept turntable, meanwhile, can rifle through the store's over 50,000 vinyl LPs. Sadly, it took us a good half-decade to get from Ludwig van Beethoven's ubiquitous Ninth Symphony to the stunning exercise in sadness that is Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 3. Sikora's could have got us there in about five minutes.
Beat Street Records, 439 West Hastings Street
When Elton John is in town and has a hankering to stock up on gangsta-rap LPs, where does he head? Why, Beat Street, of course. Okay, that has only happened once (so far), but it did indeed happen. Last month, Sir Elton popped into the shop and asked manager Lindsay Tomchyshen if he had any Tech N9ne records in stock. The answer was no, but the pop-rock icon did drop about $200 and left with music by Linda Ronstadt and Divine Brown.
Beat Street is a mecca for hip-hop heads, carrying everything from the latest Future and Kendrick Lamar releases to more underground sounds issued by the Stones Throw label, but its catalogue runs a lot deeper than that, with 50,000 to 100,000 new and used records in stock at any given time. Looking for Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea on 180-gram vinyl, Metallica’s …And Justice for All on two LPs, or pretty much everything ever recorded by Miles Davis?
Beat Street has ’em, along with turntables and accessories, headphones, apparel, and books and magazines. Oh, and a full range of graffiti supplies, from Krink K-42 paint markers to spray-can caps in various sizes—because, Metallica platters aside, Beat Street is really a one-stop hip-hop shop at heart.
Highlife Records, 1317 Commercial Drive
You're generally likely to hear some old U-Roy, Curtis Mayfield, or early '70s Nigerian psych-funk wafting from this East Side institution, which sits on one of the Drive's prettier and more fragrant blocks, looking like it was beamed in from Notting Hill.
Founded in 1982, Highlife has survived all the economic collapses, including the one you're in right now, thanks to its unwavering commitment to world music and the four basic food groups (blues, folk, jazz, and cereals). Those same enthusiasms are reflected in a fine selection of books, DVDs, and instruments (get your melodica for any dubwise extensions here), but it's the deftly curated record wall that really counts.
You won't find the biggest selection in town at Highlife, but it's as tight and solid as a Nimibian rhythm section.