A pseudo-acoustic, semi-comprehensive guide to record-hunting in downtown Amsterdam
Imagine Amsterdam was a gramophone record. No doubt it would be a precious antique, the crowning jewel of some private collection. But what would it look like? How would it sound? Well, just try to visualize the waterways of the Grachtengordel and the surrounding canals, being filled not with water but pressed on black vinyl, consequently transforming into massive sound-bearing spiral grooves running from the periphery towards the inner center and there you have it: De Amsterdamse grachten have now become tracks of a fantasy Amsterdam record! So, let us try to explore this truly extraordinary disc, as we let an imaginary needle touch its outer edge and guide us through the record stores of the city’s center.
As this somewhat special city-record starts spinning, our made-up stylus lands on Ferdinand Bolstraat, where Record Mania is located. Known amongst local vinyl friends for its quality and diverse offerings, this store was moved from the Jordaan area to De Pijp around 11 years ago. Displaying a varied collection of pop, classic rock, but also soul/funk/jazz/reggae/world/folk and classical music, you could easily find yourself visiting this place regularly, taking on an extensive quest for hidden treasures. Also available are needles and elements for record players. A special mention has to be made on the interior decoration and the cool vinyl-covered floor, which makes every visit to Record Mania a truly pleasurable experience.
Situated just across the famous club Paradiso, next on our track list is Record Palace. A place that has been around for more than twenty years, it offers vinyl hunters the chance to discover many rare pressings and limited-edition discs, especially in the classic rock genre. An extra plus is the nice display of vintage photos and posters on the shop’s walls. While you’re at it, do not miss the opportunity to take a look at the extensive jazz collection (New Orleans through big-band and bebop to avant garde) located in the basement, along with some blues/folk/world records. Also, note that many well known musicians are said to be visiting this place when coming to perform in Amsterdam, so keep an eye out for celebrities while you’re browsing through the shop’s vinyl collection!
Moving on westward and entering Prinsengracht, our stylus now touches upon Second Life Music, a small second–hand record shop of no particular interest to the collector, but with an assortment of various LPs at friendly prices across many different genres. Staying on the same direction, our sharp-pointed device comes across Rozengracht, where VelvetMusic is located. The Velvet chain consists of many stores around The Netherlands (the first one was opened in Leiden). VelvetMusic has a small but interesting collection of both new and second-hand vinyl (notably funk/soul/hip hop/pop/rock), most of it reasonably priced. Some extra cheap deals can also be found at the back of the shop. Just around the corner is InDeep’n’Dance, a record shop (and also a label) established in 1999 and specialized in techno and house, which also sells DJ gear, record bags, and design T-shirts.
As the spinning of our unique Amsterdam disc goes on, it brings us to Back Beat Records, a cozy record shop situated right in the heart of Jordaan. As one can easily guess from the Blue Note sign outside the store, this is a place where any jazz lover will feel at home. Featuring a noteworthy collection of jazz/fusion/swing/bebop records, there are also several funk/soul/blues/rock LPs. A big plus is the knowledgeable and friendly staff.
Not far from the jazzy Back Beat, right on the beautiful Weesterstraat lies Distortion Records. An independent record store of eclectic character, it sells music ranging from 70s punk/jazz/fusion/soul/Latin/lo-fi/garage/industrial to 80s – 90s indie/hip hop/reggae/drum’n’bass/house/electro/minimal techno. There are both new and second-hand records and ordering is also possible through the store’s website, where an online catalog is updated regularly. Note that this place can often be a bit messy, which somewhat adds to its local charm; however, this also means digging your way into the crates could be necessary in order to spot what you are looking for!
Just a few minutes away, Flesch Records offers a second-hand vinyl collection of considerable interest to those looking for collectibles, mainly in the classical/rock/jazz/soul genres. One of town’s truly unique vinyl spots, Flech Records is a place worth taking a bit of extra time in order to go through all the curiosities and collectibles on offer. Part of the store’s collection can also be found on sale at the nearby Noordermarkt. Last but not least, you can even catch some fresh fruit offered along with the various discs!
If you feel like staying in the West Side to check out some more second-hand vinyl, you can pay a visit to the recently opened Eardrumm Buzz on Haarlemmerplein. Specialized in pop/rock/reggae/punk, it also offers several 12- and 7-inches, as well as a collection of second-hand record cases. And in case you’d like to top your new buys with a new look, then the adjacent hair salon Cut The Crap might come in handy! A bit further down on Haarlemmerdijk you will also find Discostars, which features an assortment of LPs across various genres (mainly pop/soul/world/classical) at the back of the shop.
By this point, the tracks on the outer part of our dreamy Amsterdam vinyl have been played and the imaginary needle continues its way to the inner tracks over a short gap marked by widely spaced groove. In between some scratching – or is it Metro construction works? – it stops on Concerto, a name which should ring a bell to any Amsterdam resident who still buys his or her music the old-fashioned way (i.e. not merely through downloading). Said to be the oldest record store in town, it holds a vast music collection and anyone willing to explore both new arrivals and second-hand vinyl will not be left unsatisfied, as there is something from pretty much any music genre for all different tastes. While you’re trying find your way through Concerto’s musical maze, take some time to marvel at the state-of-the-art record players, as well as the book and movie collections on offer. In case you need a break, you can always rest at the cosy café that recently opened within the store and plan your future vinyl-hunting strategies!
Unlike Concerto’s massive proportions, the more modest and specialized vinyl collection of Independent Outlet stands camouflaged next to the skate shop’s sneakers, T-shirts and other streetwear stuff. Focusing on punk/Oi!/garage, it offers mostly new vinyl, plenty of 7-inch records, while some second-hand records across different genres are also available. All of these, together with some nice music books and ‘zines, can also be browsed and ordered online. Just a slight spin away is Amstel Antiques. There, amongst second-hand items and other antiques, one can enjoy an interesting assortment of LPs from classical to soul/funk/jazz along with several -fittingly- dusty 7-inch records. Just across the Amstel groove, Waterloopleinmarkt is also a good spot for vinyl hunting. While you’re finding your way through the flea market’s clothes, antiques and various curiosities, make sure to check some of the second-hand records sold at various stands; you’d be surprised to know how many little gems lie hidden in there!
Meanwhile, our city vinyl keeps spinning, and next on the playlist is Waxwell Records. A good place for record collectors and music enthusiasts, it specializes in soul/hip hop/funk/jazz and pop/rock, with a splash of blues, 70s disco and reggae. Established in 2005, Waxwell Records sells only vinyl (new and used) and also runs an online shop. Right next-door is Sugar & Spice Amsterdam, with a vinyl assortment of 60s/garage/blues/ pop/rock/ soul and world music. There’s also a section with cult movies and books, while art exhibitions and music events also take place.
Coming up next is Rush Hour Records, which started in 1997 by importing obscure records from around the world and later went on exporting similar Dutch ones to companies abroad. A distribution wing thus evolved, paving the way to the creation of a record label that saw its first release just before the millennium. With an eclectic selection varying from house/techno/electro/disco to Latin/Brazil/African and jazz records, Rush Hour is the kind of place that appeals to many music aficionados by being able to satisfy highly specific or sophisticated demands and offer releases which are hard to find elsewhere.
The needle now approaches the heart of our Amsterdam fantasy vinyl, and vibrates over Record Friend, which boasts a stock of approximately 35,000 new and used collectible records. Around since 2003, Record Friend is indeed a good friend of vinyl lovers, who can take pleasure in scrutinizing one of the biggest record collections in town. Especially attractive is the classic rock/jazz section, but there are many noteworthy pieces from other music genres as well. Also available are turntables, record-cleaning accessories, needles and cartridges. Watch out for the tricky (yet very impressive) entrance, as you may find yourself entering a clothing shop instead! Staying on the same track (i.e. Sint Antoniesbreestraat) you can check out MuziKat, a cosy little shop with a few vinyl records and an appealing collection of music magazines and books, especially for those interested in early printings, old specials, dedication issues or hard-to-find editions.
Our Amsterdam vinyl is about to stop playing, yet a few last tracks remain. Discreetly nestled in the upstairs section of a bike-rental store on Nieuwe Nieuwstraat, Killa Cutz is a specialized record shop focusing mainly on drum’n’bass/dubstep/soul/funk, along with a smaller selection of house/techno. Ordering is also possible online and a comprehensive catalog is available on the shop’s webpage.
In an inner courtyard just off Oudekerksplein, right in the heart of Amsterdam’s most infamous neighborhood, two very special record stores await the more adventurous, inquisitive vinyl hunters. After ringing the doorbell, opening the old barred door and going through the narrow corridor leading into the courtyard, one finally reaches this secluded vinyl haven. Accommodated inside a former prostitution window, Red Light Records may be tiny, yet it boasts an interesting second-hand vinyl collection covering many genres from jazz/disco/funk/kraut to electro and house. The neighbouring Vintage Voudou Records offers a unique selection of hard-to-get records from all over the world, covering exotic styles such as Latin/Bollywood/Cumbia and Caribbean.
In times when the music business is experiencing rapid changes and going digital appears to many as the only way forward, the vinyl market with its faithful, old-fashioned followers seems to be posing an intriguing alternative. Will vinyl endure these hard times and re-establish its status as a medium of timeless quality for appreciating music? Only time can tell. But in the meantime, vinyl enthusiasts around Amsterdam had better visit those remaining record havens, for the name Amstel Antiques could prove prophetic regarding the future of various vinyl stores… Still, the passion and affection traditionally displayed by music aficionados regarding vinyl as an item and sound medium might turn out crucial in preserving the trade and interchange of all those precious and much beloved round black discs which just won’t quit scratching. After all, as one record seller meaningfully told us: ‘‘You don’t run a record store if you want to be a millionaire!’’