Take Five: Reykjavík's Record Shops

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Where’s one of the best places in the world to spend the day crate digging? If you said Reykjavík, Iceland—which you probably didn’t, because … well … it’s Iceland—you’d be right. Reykjavík may be a small city on a small island, but its vinyl culture is huge. Musicians blend global influences and mash up musical styles, and that eclectic vibe is reflected in the city’s record stores.

From old school Parisian hip-hop to Swedish death metal, you can find just about every genre in the world here and what you won’t find is that snobby record store clerk attitude. There are plenty of places to satisfy your vinyl fix downtown. With all of these options, your biggest problem will be getting your new vinyl collection back home.

1. Lucky Records

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Lucky Records’ motto is Love all—Serve all. Lucky is the largest of the city’s record stores, and sells new and used 12 inch and 7 inch vinyl. If you’re hunting for vintage Icelandic folk records, you’ll find them here. Contemporary Icelandic jazz—yes. Afrobeat and hip-hop—yep. But wait … do they have Swedish pop? Definitely.

The glossy wood floors, leather couches and graffiti-tagged walls give Lucky a polished urban feel, and the djembe drums, cigar-box guitars and old electric piano add to the décor.

Ingvar Geirsson opened the shop in 2009, after gaining a following selling vinyl at the Kolaportið flea market downtown. His passion for music is obvious. He will ask you what you like, offer an espresso and hand you a stack of music to sample in the listening station. There’s too much to see in one day so save time for a return trip.

2. 12 Tónar

Founded in 1998, 12 Tónar is an independent label, a record store and a local legend. The brightly colored store sells Icelandic CDs and records. Vinyl is down the windy staircase in the basement and the selection focuses on new Icelandic releases, with a tilt toward indie rock and classical. The records aren’t cheap, but they’re high quality. There’s a sampling of used records as well.

12 Tónar hosts in-stores and several showcases at Harpa during the annual Iceland Airwaves festival. The 12 Tónar label has released more than 50 albums by artists including Mr. Silla, Ólöf Arnalds, Rökkurró and Singapore Sling.

Although it’s a hang spot for local musicians, it’s also a welcoming tourist destination. If you need recommendations, ask. If want to test drive an album, you’re more than welcome to pick up a listening copy, plop down on a velour couch and give it a listen while sipping a complimentary espresso. There’s no better way to spend a rainy Reykjavík afternoon.

3. Reykjavík Record Shop

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If you want something totally unexpected, start at the Reykjavík Record Shop. Open just a year, it was already declared the city’s best record store by the nightlife weekly, Reykjavík Grapevine. Reykjavík Record Shop is owned by Reynir Berg Þorvaldsson, who is a former employee of Lucky Records. Many of the shop’s used records come from Reynir’s personal collection.

At first glance, it may not look like the stock is very extensive, but there’s a lot going on here. The name-brand stuff is on the walls: D’Angelo, Megas, and of Monsters and Men. Like all the shops they have a strong collection of American jazz and soul, but if you fancy Ghanaian pop, South African anti-apartheid songs, or some rare Icelandic punk, flip through the bins.

The store’s design is sleek and everything is very tidy and tucked into its place. No free coffee here, but they have the coolest shirts.

4. Smekkleysa Plötubúð (Bad Taste)

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Smekkleysa is another local institution with an associated record label. Started in the mid-1980s by members of the Sugarcubes, the label has released music by many of Iceland’s musical giants, including Björk and Sigur Rós, as well as múm, Kimono and Jan Mayen. The label is also known for its deep collection of local classical music.

Smekkleysa sells new Icelandic vinyl—everything from rock to classical—and there’s a good blend of European, American, Latin American, Middle Eastern and African artists in the bins. They’ve got some great American funk gems, too. Although it’s crowded with records and CD racks, they still manage to host the occasional in-store. Smekkleysa isn’t a place to get cozy and nestle into, but it’s a must-visit for the hipster factor alone.

5. Geisladiskabúð Valda

This is the rokk record store. Pick your poison: Doom Metal. Speed Metal. Grindcore. The back room is crammed with used vinyl, and the focus is heavily on—you guessed it—metal and rokk from the Nordics and beyond. There’s the full gamut of American stuff, from live Nirvana to Neil Diamond to Red Hot Chili Peppers and lots of KISS. If that’s not your thing, there’s a little bit of reggae (including Reykjavík’s reggae stars Hjálmar), Michael Jackson, Funkadelic, Coltrane and Mingus.

Geisladiskabúð Valda is in a little house on Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s main shopping drag, and they make the most of every inch of space. It’s pretty tight in there, so if someone is shopping in the back, you might as well wait in the front room, which is piled and stuffed with DVDs, video games and CDs. The record selection isn’t huge, but you can find good prices.

Willona writes about music, culture and social justice from Washington, DC.

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