Right near Kaldi Bar sits the sleek and discreet Reykjavík Record Shop, a newcomer to the city that has swiped the title of Best Record Store in Reykjavík this year. The shop, easy to miss when walking down the street, feels understated, even humble. It’s a beautiful day outside when I visit, so the downtown area is buzzing with day drinkers and tourists hyped up on 24-hour sun, but when I walk into the shop, a cosy space with grey walls decorated simply by colourful records and jazz spinning softly, there’s immediately an air of calm.
The tiny shop is run mostly by one man, Reynir Berg Þorvaldsson, along with a co-worker. He opened the store last October, saying it was just an old dream he had. As an avid vinyl collector since he was a teenager and having previously worked at Lucky Records, his decision to open his own place seemed natural, albeit a little impulsive. “Vinyl’s my passion and my number one hobby, and any time I have a free minute, I just go online and read about records or buy a record or listen to records,” Reynir said. “It’s what I wanted to do, so I just had this momentary insanity where I just quit my job [as an operational manager] and decided to open a record shop.”
Though the shop has only been open for nine months, business has been going smoothly. “I’m not rich, but I mean, it’s working. That’s all I’m asking for,” Reynir shrugged. “And everybody’s super, super positive. People are like, ‘I’m so happy this is not a puffin shop.’” Reynir even hosted an outdoor concert a few weeks ago with Reykjavík’s own space cadet dj. flugvél og geimskip, which attracted quite a crowd. “Too many people showed up, actually,” he laughed. Though the neighbors may not like it, he plans to have more shows in the future.
Given the wide array of options for listening to music today (we may even be in the midst of a small cassette renaissance), Reynir seemed adamant in his beliefs that vinyl will always come out on top, despite whatever trends come and go. “You know the Levi’s slogan? ‘Quality never goes out of style.’ It’s kind of like that,” he said. “Besides the factor that it’s something collectable and big in your hands and so beautiful and the act of playing it and all that, the main reason is that it sounds better.” Reynir does, however, include other music products in his shop, like CDs and cassettes, along with t-shirts, tote bags, books, and (soon!) a few mugs.
Reykjavík Record Shop started mainly with Reynir’s own collection of old records, but now includes some- where between 2,000 to 3,000 records from a wide spread of genres and countries. Right now, the balance is some- where around 60% used records, and 40% new releases, but Reynir anticipates that it will be around 50/50 soon as he’s always getting new stuff into the shop. He cites curiosity and desire to satisfy the customers as a reason why Reykjavík has taken so kindly to his little shop. “I always try to listen to the customers. Every day I get some advice,” he explained. “I try to hang out on the internet, read what records are coming out, what’s good, listen to it, see what people are saying about the records, what they’re buying in other ncountries… I try to keep on my toes.” And he’s a clever buyer, too—with the recent Secret Solstice festival, Reynir made sure to stock up on artists that were playing, like Wu-Tang Clan and FKA Twigs, and sure enough, that’s what sold. “There’s always someone who comes after the festival, like, ‘Wow, I really liked this band,’ and buys a record,” he said, “or wants to warm up and listen to something before the concert.” And with the upcoming All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, Reynir’s been ordering records by some of the headliners, like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Public Enemy.
Still, Reynir says Icelandic indie records are what tend to sell best, and Icelandic artists in general, as that’s what a lot of foreigners look for when visiting. “I get a lot of questions like, ‘Do you have any Icelandic funk? Icelandic punk?’” he said. “People have a specific genre in mind, and they want the Icelandic version of it.”
Though Reynir tries to please his store browsers, he has plenty of records that may be delightfully unknown to window-browsers. Scanning the walls of the shop, I saw plenty of familiar sights (including the catalogue of the French band Air—nice one, Reynir!), but I was almost dizzy by all the albums I didn’t know, with their sharp designs and fuzzy psychedelic covers that begged to be discovered (that is, if I actually owned a record player).
And while much of his collection is Icelandic and Western-centric, his records extend all over the world, including a substantial number of albums from Africa, Asia, France, Brazil, and Jamaica. “I mean, it’s just all over,” he said. “If it’s good music, I buy it.” And so far, that strategy seems to be working well for Reynir.
Reykjavík Record Shop won the Best Record Store award in our Best Of Reykjavík 2015 guide. Read the full list of winners here.