The book documenting the world’s best record stores with a few Belgian entries in it

We speak to Marcus Barnes – the London-based music writer behind the recently released book Around the World in 80 Record Stores that features Brussels’s Dr Vinyl, Ghent’s Music Mania and Antwerp’s Wally’s Groove World amongst a few others local essentials – about selection criteria, how he explains the current vinyl resurgence and what’s missing from the scene.

Can you take us through your research process? How many stores did you come up with during your research, and how did you tackle your selection? What were your selection criteria?

It started very simply with me writing down all the shops I could think of; the ones that had been mentioned to me in interviews, the ones that were world famous, the ones I’d been to… The next step was to put it out to my network, so I did a Facebook post asking people to name their favourite record shops, which received a lot of great responses and helped push everything along. Finally I spent a lot of time on collector’s forums and then Google to figure out what else to add to my list. By the time I’d got to a point where I felt my research was effectively complete I think there were close to 200 on the list. The next step was to put the list through several filters; I wanted the book to be balanced, a few ‘cool’ shops, a few huge superstores, a few high-street names, some lesser-known, some brand new, some decades old… it was important to have an even spread, in my opinion so that the book had wider appeal and demonstrated the diversity of the record store.

As far as the Belgian selection of stores is concerned, a few Brussels essentials – Crevette, Veals & Geaks and 72 Records to name a few – are missing from the list. Is there any particular reason?

With only 80 available slots there will always be essential shops that are left out. I’ve already had a shop owner in London ask me why his store wasn’t included… The fact is, I could only include a few shops from each territory, and it pained me to leave some out. Perhaps I should get a website going where I can include everyone…

Why do you think there’s been such a resurgence for all things vinyl?

One of the fundamentals of being alive is our interaction with the physical world. So many of us have items that we treasure, that we are intrinsically attached to because of their physical nature and sentimental value. Music that has been pressed to vinyl has an almost mystical appeal; call me crazy but so many people will attest to this – the alchemy between needle, record groove and speaker is pure magic, the smell, the feel of it, even the way it shimmers in the light, the artwork… perfection. The transmission of vibration in this form has something primeval about it, I believe it speaks to a very deep part of us and I think that is one of many reasons why vinyl has had a resurgence.

In your view, is there such a thing as too many record stores at some point?

No I don’t think there could be too many record shops, there are never enough. A few decades ago in Soho, here in London, there were record shops on almost every street and they all did something a bit different. No two record shops have the same selection because you have different owners curating what’s on the shelves – especially if it’s a second-hand shop, there will be such a broad range of music on offer in every outlet you go into. It’s endless, that’s what makes record shopping so addictive.

Similarly, there has already been quite a few books documenting the world’s records shops, how would you say this one differs?

My book should please record lovers of all levels; from the beginner to the more experienced diehard collector. I wanted it to work as an informative, encouraging aid to anyone who wants to know a bit more about record shops worldwide, to take them on that journey and give them the confidence to travel and check out some of the places I’ve written about. It’s been created for the purpose of inspiring people who treasure music in its most beloved physical form, no matter what their background.

Are you yourself a record collector and, if so, what three records are you the proudest of having in your collection?

Yes of course, I love collecting records and I’m proud of my entire collection. If I had to pick three from my shelves right at this moment it would be…

  1. Fred Ventura / Andy Romano ‎– ‘Open Your Eyes/Robot Matador’ [Disco Evolution]
  2. Larry Heard Presents Mr. White – ‘The Sun Can’t Compare’ [Alleviated Records]
  3. Katey Brooks – State Of Mine (ft. Eric Volta’s ‘And Even In Our Dreams We’re Forever Connected With This’ Remix) [Silly Records] – this is a record that I had pressed myself as a birthday gift for my other half a few years ago. The song is by a friend of ours who’s a folk singer, the song always reminded my partner of us and our relationship, so I got the WAV from Katey. I wanted a b-side so I asked Eric Volta, who’s a friend of my partner and I, to remix it and he did this incredible 11-minute reinterpretation with a sample of himself reading Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘A Dream Within A Dream’ at the beginning. One of my favourite poems, but we’d never discussed this – I just asked him to do what he felt. Amazing.

What advice would you have for the budding record collector?

Buy my book and get yourself out there on the hunt. It can be a bit intimidating at first because even small record shops still have a good few thousand on their shelves, but once you get into it there’s no doubt you will become hooked. I think it’s also a good idea to ask for records as a gift for a special occasion.

With the global outlook on record stores you now benefit from, would you say there’s anything sorely missing from record shops? A gap in the market the young entrepreneur could exploit?

Good question! Perhaps if there were a way to reach out to a wider demographic and encourage people from lower income backgrounds, or young people who have less opportunity to experience the joy of record shopping. Workshops on vinyl appreciation perhaps, to unite young and old – and to bring people of varying economic backgrounds together.

Around the World in 80 Record Stores: A guide to the best vinyl emporiums on the planet is out now on Ryland Peters & Small.