As far as digging for records goes, Reykjavik is probably one of the most remote places you can go in the world sitting on a smallish island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where the European and American continents meet. For the relatively small population that the capital city has, the record store scene is surprisingly healthy. I arrive in the country late quite late in the evening and I make my way to the hotel through driving rain and wind in near freezing temperatures, sort of expected but still a bit of a shock to the system. By the time I wake up though after sleeping during the few hours of darkness they get at this time of the year, the weather has cleared and warmed up a bit so it is a perfect day to wander the streets of Reykjavik checking out what sort of record stores the city has to offer.
My journey starts at Lucky Records, and it’s an impressive start. The layout of the store is great, there are lounges to chill out on and they even give you free coffee. The stock that they have on hand puts it up there as one of the more impressive stores I have found globally both in new and second-hand vinyl. I lose a few hours digging through their second-hand collection which covers a broad range of both genre’s and era’s. The bonus of being a remote country is there are some unique local pressings of international bands and there is an extensive range of Icelandic music. For a population of only a couple of hundred thousand, the country punches well above its weight when you consider internationally renowned artists such as Bjork, Sigur Ros, Asgeir, Of Monsters & Men and many others hail from the small country. Dig a little deeper in the Icelandic music sections and you can find much, much more.
Reykjavik is very small for a capital city and the advantage of that is that every record shop is just a few minutes-walk of each other so just a few blocks away I head into Geisladiskabúð Valda, a traditional second hand shop where every little bit of the space is used to it’s fullest. The front section has CD’s and DVD’s but if you make you’re way through a tiny little hallway the back room is full of vinyl. There is new release vinyl as well but the majority is second hand and although the cluttered nature of the shop can make it hard to look through at times it is worth spending the time to dig through. Iceland is expensive though so with any of these shops, if you find something you really want, you’ll need to pay for it. It’s not somewhere you’d come for bargain records, more to tick off items from your want list or discover some amazing local music.
Reykjavik Record Shop
All the shops have strong Icelandic music sections and Reykjavik Record Shop is no exception with a lot of home country records in stock that are worth some time investigating, the shop is small but well set out. Over at Smekkleysa, which translate to Bad Taste in English, the label that launched Bjork’s band The Sugarcubes, the shop is also small and stocked mainly with new vinyl. I’m told they very recently moved from their original location that had many years of history behind it.
The last stop on the record stores journey of Iceland is 12 Tonar, a great two-level space that feels like you’re walking into someone’s house. Almost immediately as I walk in I’m greeted, given a coffee and informed about the latest few releases on their in house label. Downstairs is where you need to head for the vinyl as there is a decent selection of second hand records, again including a lot of Icelandic music that you can listen to on the turntables they have set up, but they also stock a very strong selection of well curated new releases. Not record shops as such but there are a couple of extra stops for music fans to check out while you’re in the city. First up is the Icelandic Punk Museum, housed downstairs in a disused public toilet it has an array of memorabilia from the cities punk past, both local and visiting artists, while on a totally different level, Fischer is a design shop and gallery opened by Jonsi from Sigur Ros.
Icelandic Punk Museum
While the city is small you can still spend a whole day digging through the records shops of Reykjavik as I have done, it’s time to find somewhere for dinner and the most appropriate place seems to be Kaffi Vinyl, where they actually have a few records for sale and have the turntable playing the whole time. I have a great soup and a beer and considering the cost of things in this country the prices are reasonable.
Obviously Iceland is a long way to come just to look at records so you’ll be doing some other things while you are here. I hired a car and took a drive around the Golden Circle stopping at places such as Geyser, Gullfoss and Þingvellir. It’s an easy drive that takes a few hours round trip from Reykjavik and you get to see numerous naturally beautiful parts of the country. If you have some more time there are obviously many other places on the island to explore and you’ll discover a country that is really unique both for its nature and culture.