Friday, June 27, 2008

London record shops 1: Pure Groove

So here’s another Daily Growl occasional series. It’ll probably be less regular than Singles going steady, but hopefully a lot more frequent than Whatever happened to…. We’ll see. As the title may suggest, it’s quite simple – all about London record shops. The plan is to compile a sort of guide to record shops in the capital and and buy some good stuff along the way. Some of them will be shops I frequent, others will be new to me, which will be part of the fun. So here goes.

First up is Pure Groove, perhaps appropriately, since they’ve recently closed their long-standing Archway store and opened a brand spanking new one, more centrally in Smithfields, with a fresh new concept, a sparkly new website and an impressive list of instore performances.

I’m going to fit the review of the shop into a sort of template that I’ll probably use for the other shops I’ll write about in future. Let’s see how it goes…

The bare necessities:

Pure Groove, 6-7 West Smithfield, London EC1A 9JX

What type of music?

Pure Groove has its roots in dance music vinyl, but for as long as I’ve known it (two or three years) it’s been providing an eclectic range of indie music to the citizens of North London and beyond. Basically the sort of music that say, readers of Drowned in Sound or Pitchfork would like. Or maybe readers of The Daily Growl. Or me. They’ve also been known for championing new bands, particularly bands from London, and have given prominence to them on the website and in the shop racks.

What’s the shop like?

Clean and bright, pretty boxfresh, though that’s not surprising given that it’s been open for less than a month. There’s good natural light coming in through the huge front windows. Given the unique stock / display concept (see next question), there’s a lot of space in the main floor, with all the CDs and records along one wall, leaving space for seats, magazines and temporary art exhibitions – on my recent visits there were early 90s My Bloody Valentine concert photos hanging from the ceiling in big frames. The walls were decorated with some fresh graffiti murals. Actually, all that I’ve described might make it sound like an upmarket boutique, which may be slightly off-putting to some casual customers. Who knows? Aesthetically, I quite liked it.

Good stock?

This is the most interesting thing about the new Pure Groove. They have a new concept which will either make or break them. Rather than having racks of the latest CD and vinyl releases, with a bit of credible back catalogue stuff, they’ve gone for a display of a pre-selected ‘Pure Groove 100’, which is 100 releases – singles or albums, on CD or vinyl – which they have deemed to be good and worthy of selling. That’s it. Nothing else. All are neatly displayed on a large frame running along one of the shop walls, like a gallery display with the copies for purchase in narrow racks underneath. So no point going in and asking for the new album from whoever, because if it’s not in the 100, it’s not in the shop.

On one hand I admire this kind of retail audacity. It’ll probably go down well with either the kids who want to be reassured that they’re listening to the best cool new stuff, of the slightly older person who just doesn’t have the time to check out all the latest releases, and wants quality recommendations which are both good and will give them some credibility. The latter's probably a similar group to those served by the Rough Trade Album club. It’s also good to see a shop not only making clear statements about what think is good, but actively promoting new music that they believe in.

On the other hand, it may be commercial suicide, with punters being put off by perceived snobbery and lack of what they’re actually looking for. Although West Smithfield is more central than Archway, it’s still off the beaten track, and given that they’re not going to be relying on passing trade (unless there’s a load of Smithfield Market butchers with a taste in HEALTH vinyl) they’re presumably relying on being a destination shop, where the customers either want to be surprised and recommended something new and exciting, or already know what’s on the sale list. Maybe the staff are trained in negotiation skills, so that when the kids come in wanting Pigeon Detectives CDs, they leave thoroughly convinced that what they really needed was a Collapsing Buildings 7 inch.

Friendly staff?

Given the pre-set stock list, opportunities for interaction with the staff are more limited than other record shops, since there’s none of the “Do you have any X?,” or “where do I find Y?” questions. However, in having brief chats on both my recent visits with staff there, they seemed amenable and friendly enough, and quite proud of their new top 100.

Other stuff of note

Instore gigs are a real strength. In the absence of any live action at Rough Trade East of late, Pure Groove are certainly filling that gap admirably. From their opening night sets from Mystery Jets and Jeremy Warmsley, they’ve kept up the quality live action with sets from Lykke Li, HEALTH and White Williams among others. Upcoming there’s Edwyn Collins, Micah P Hinson and Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip.

They also sell a range of merchdise – mainly t-shirts, postcards and other stuff. I wonder how much of a market there is for We Smoke Fags necklaces though.

The website’s pretty good. They’ve dropped the old Pure Groove Digital download shop and replaced it with a load of decent free downloads, with an accompanying featured free download every other day. There's more web action with PGTV which shows clips of live instores and other performances.

Points off though for not having a CD player and record deck for listening to music on. It’s all very well recommending the 100, but do we actually get to hear it? OK, they might put it on the shop system if asked nicely, but what if it’s a busy Saturday afternoon? Or maybe they’re just not expecting to be that busy.

My reservations aside, it’s definitely worth a visit. I found plenty stuff I wanted to buy, I parted with cash on both my recent visits and I will be back. Here are samples from some of the records and CDs I bought.

Download: Mystery Jets – Somewhere in my Heart
Download: Esser – Long Arms
Download: Fleet Foxes – Ragged Wood

Mystery Jets try but fail to capture the magic of the Aztec Camera Original on this Two Doors Down b-side, but hopefully this will raise the profile of Roddy Frames wonderful band with the kids. Long Arms is decent enough, but not a patch on the a-side, the brilliant I Love You. And here’s a song from the big-selling Fleet Foxes (number 11 this week, y’know). I should really do a proper review of this album, but can’t really be bothered. Suffice to say that I love harmonies and I love this album.


Tom Oakley said...

The 100 concept is really weird, but i think it might pay off on account of the fact that they are selling stuff at such a high profit margin - i was persuaded into buying a health t-shirt for £20.

and also worth possibly mentioning is all the free crap you can pick up there. I now have a lovely pure groove poster on my wall.

jessicajlee said...

thank you so much for doing this. i'm moving over in about 7 weeks, and it's good to get 'reviews' of decent shops, etc. to help me know what's worth my while.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! Been looking for someone who knows their record shops outside of soho for a while! This one definitely looks worthy of a trip to EC.

Keep this topic going, looking forward to hearing about more.

Gynexin Reviews said...

London record shops are amazing and I could spend days in them - I liked Pure Groove. Nice vibe, and some good stock too.Gynexin

Teetho said...

thank you so much for doing this. i'm moving over in about 7 weeks,. godaddy coupon | hostgator coupon