One of the score of narrow one-way streets crisscrossing the mighty Laugavegur is Vitastígur, and provided you’re looking for it, it would be rather hard to miss the large, somewhat garish and seemingly hand-painted sign indicating Geisladiskabúð Valda, or Valdi’s CDs, on the left-hand side of the street walking up from Laugavegur.
Upon closer inspection, the store is also decorated by the merchandise lining the windows. Cheap banners for rock bands of varying quality, rare finds (or as rare as you can find in Iceland, anyway) and VHS tape containers have been haphazardly arrayed, stuck or simply propped up against the windows, and are actually a pretty good indicator of what you’ll find inside: the most unpredictable, cramped, badly-aired and altogether best record store in Iceland.
In here you can find old favourites, lovingly worn and scratched by their original owners, stacked next to shiny and fashionable recent releases, onto which Valdi himself has stuck a reassuring green label emblazoned with the word ‘nýtt’ (new), justifying its slightly higher price.
Which, incidentally, is still not very high by Icelandic standards. The new releases are usually priced between 1500 and 2000 ISK, with the older ones varying from anywhere to half as much to the same, depending on popularity and relative value. Considering that there is a better-than-average chance Valdi’s will actually have what you’re looking for as opposed to trusting your luck (the flea market) or settling for what some slimy record executive wants you to listen to (special offers at a corporate chain outlet), these prices are inarguably the best in Iceland today.
And because the phrase “record store” gets tossed around far too liberally these days, let me pause to assure you that Valdi’s does indeed carry records, stashed away in the back across from a rack of VHS tapes that seems constantly on the verge of collapse. He has several extra-special ones draped on the limited wall space in the store, attainable for a far higher price than anything else in there. He also carries DVDs, the aforementioned banners and vast stacks of computer games of every kind imaginable, from ancient Nintendo cartridges to the latest in mind-boggling graphic imagery.
As with most used stores, your choices are admittedly limited to what someone else disliked enough to sell at about a fifth of what they bought it for (Valdi keeps his prices down by driving a miser’s bargain when it comes to purchases), but bear in mind that tastes do differ from man to man, and the fact that after the close of Japis and Hljómalind, Valdi is one of a select few still flying a black flag as far as Icelandic record stores go. The only alternative nowadays is faceless corporate entity Skífan or picky high-brow music snobs like Bad Taste and 12 Tónar, who are more likely to snort indignantly than offer any real help when asked if they carry anything that hasn’t made the cover of Wire yet.
Valdi himself is of the home grown variety, an affable glasses-wearing music geek seemingly glued in place behind the counter and wearing a red soccer shirt that is in turn glued to him. He’s the only employee I’ve seen in the store and is extremely accommodating to those with questions, smiling just as wide when asked for Spice Girls albums as when asked for Einstürzende Neubauten or GG Allin.
And if you’ve come to Iceland fishing for Icelandic music made when Icelandic people still knew how to make music instead of drab exercises in sonic narcissism, Valdi is more than likely to carry it.