North of the Border - Sydney's Wax Hangouts
As you may well know by now, Instant Classic is a Melbourne based crew. Accordingly, our opinions on where the best record stores in the country are are biased. It's Melbourne. But that doesn't mean our northern crew need be overlooked, and we of course have our Wollongong-based staffer, Gabi, who wouldn't be too pleased if we neglected her backyard.
So with her assistance and a little research, we've assembled a list of eight stores north of the border that we'd happily recommend as bastions of great music, friendly atmosphere, and bearing the potential to find something satisfying and new.
If you're Melbourne-based and haven't already checked out our blog on what's good back home, then take a peek here. If you reside north of the Victorian then read on for some insights into the best spaces to deck yourself out with fresh wax.
Red Eye Records
Red Eye Records, 143 York Street, Sydney
If you can’t find it at Red Eye, then good luck to you. Most of the stores on this list can at least be scanned and explored in an hour or two. With Red Eye, not so. We’ve spent entire afternoons in the caress of its polyvinyl chloride arms and felt like we’ve only just scratched the surface. Next year they’ll celebrate their 40th year of supplying LPs to the city’s wax-loving masses, and their collection is an affirmation of that impressive swathe of time.
As you descend the stairs just across from the Queen Victoria Building you slowly get an idea of the breadth of the selection of this CBD music stalwart. The genres span anything and everything you could dream up, though their most impressive collection is perhaps their unrivalled selection of rare and hard to find Aussie LPs. It’s a shop that’s just as much for the newbies as it is the collectors, and if you are new to this game, we’ve never found the staff to be anything short of warm and welcoming. Just do us a favour and don’t try and take a casual pass at the store, you’ll be doing yourself and it a disservice. And make sure to leave a little bit of extra space on the credit card, Red Eye also stocks an awesome selection of books, DVDs, magazines and posters.
11/181 Church St, Parramatta
Beatdisc is bizarrely overlooked by most publications’ ‘best Sydney record stores’ lists, perhaps because it requires punters to travel outside the CBD, Surry Hills, Newtown or Annandale to get there. It’s a shame, because it’s truly one of Sydney’s vinyl gems, and ably services the greater western suburbs. It can be a little hard to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for, as it doesn’t have street frontage but rather looks out onto the bustling walkway of Church Street, just across the way from the Parramatta Town Hall.
Since 1995 Beatdisc has stocked a considered selection of vinyl, CDs, memorabilia and DVDs, as well as hosting in store performances in pre-Covid times. Owner Pete Curnovic has worked in the store for 20 years and been owner for 11, and is extremely happy to guide you through the selection that spans many genres but focuses on indie, rock and heavier stuff too. It’s a small space but its red walls are brimming with music for you to get your fix, and Sydney’s in the know vinyl crowd travel from far and wide to while away the hours digging through their stock. We suggest you do the same.
3 Wilson St, Newtown
Sydney’s CBD has a great smattering of top notch record stores, but we reckon Newtown probably takes the cake for diversity and convenient proximity. And one of Newtown’s most loved vinyl alcoves is Egg Records. Just off Newtown's main drag King Street, Egg Records’ eclectic facade is unmissable from the exterior.
Step inside and you’re greeted by a decidedly serpentine space that seems to go on forever. Egg has a magnificent selection of band t shirts and a functional feel that focuses less on aesthetics and more on the music. Their selection is as eclectic as you could hope for, with a range of vintage toys and huge collections of Beatles and Elvis memorabilia, as well as a very goofy looking Homer Simpson statue in the front window that watches passersby in permanence.
Mojo Record Bar
73 York St, Sydney CBD
There aren’t too many record stores on this list or indeed in Australia that are at their best after dark. We can recommend plenty of places to go digging that have terrific bars nearby but at Mojo, you’re getting the best of both worlds. The vinyl side of things is a little more modest compared to some of the stores on this list, but Mojo earns a shout out for its functional dynamism through the combination of two of our favourite things in the whole world - records and booze.
If you’re looking to do some after work digging followed by some really well-executed drinks then welcome to your new haunt. We’d strongly suggest penning in your first visit for a Thursday or a Friday - that way you’ve got more crossover time where both venues are open so there’s fluidity between your wax search and your thirst quenching. What can you expect to find on Mojo's shelves? A heady mix of rock, jazz, blues, country and most permutations between followed by one of the Sydney CBD’s better small bars. They have a really nice selection of local craft beers and a polished, expertly executed cocktail list.
413 King St, Newtown
Do You Like Rock Music? Yes it’s the title of a British Sea Power album, but it’s also a question that if you’d answer in the affirmative, we’d give you a firm shove in the direction of Repressed Records. One of the key stops on the Newtown vinyl circuit, Repressed has earned its stripes as a Sydney vinyl institution. At its core is an imperious collection of punk, rock, indie, and alternative but its genre offering stretches far beyond those confines, and their support and representation of local acts is among Sydney's best.
We have to give a shoutout to Repressed’s extremely reasonable prices - there’s loads of value to be had throughout the store but it’s their $2 bin that pushes them into the ultra-value tier. Don’t expect to find the latest LPs from Private Function or Mere Women in those bargain buckets (they are on the shelves though), but you might be surprised at what you’ll dig up if you time your visit right. Repressed is also just a bloody terrific store if you’re shopping for gifts for anyone with even a passing interest in rock music; they have a great selection of music books, 2nd hand fiction and some expertly curated local and international music zines. Plus a grab bag of music DVDs, if you still have the means to play those.
511 Kent St (Lower Ground Floor), Sydney CBD
Utopia have what is probably Australia’s broadest collection of rock, metal, punk, and industrial vinyl, plus a nice clutch of Iron Maiden puzzles (no really). I still recall descending the seemingly intentionally slow moving escalators for the first time down into the dank basement space in the middle of Sydney’s CBD back in 2003. I was visiting the city of lights for my first ever Big Day Out, and in attendance at Utopia to line up with a bunch of other disaffected teenagers to get my copy of White Pony signed by the Deftones. I ended up spending about four hours in the store without actually buying anything, but it was my first true immersion into the kinds of music stores I'd previously only seen in films.
Utopia deserve their spot on this list just for the number of kids' dreams they’ve made come true over the years through those regular meet and greet events. Aside from in-store signings though, there’s oceans of stuff to wade through if you have even a passing interest in music made with guitars, drums, and bass. There's a massive selection of band t-shirts, novelty items including rock figurines, an enormous vinyl and CD selection, and just about every metal genre under the sun. If it’s heavy, it’s here.
Something Else Records
488 King St, Newtown
Back to Newtown for what we reckon is Sydney’s most majestic collection of house, techno, minimal, dub, electronica, drum n bass and ambient. Something Else Records, which makes up a key component of the Newtown vinyl nexus houses an awesome selection of everything electronic.
Their offering is deftly chosen by a crew that truly love what they do, and it’s not just wax that you’ll find tucked into this King Street hole in the wall. They also stock a great selection of DJ mixers, direct drive turntables, and other DJ-centric gear that make them an awesome one stop shop for local and internationally visiting artists. Something Else actually has its roots in the Sydney electronic party scene, with owners Dave Stuart and Alex Dimitroff hosting the eponymously named techno and house party series that eventually gave birth to the store. If there’s a store with a more in vogue selection of electronic music in Sydney, we haven’t found it yet.
34/277 Crown St, Surry Hills
If Something Else Records is the go-to for the new breed of kind vibe electronic hipsters, Record Store is Sydney’s take on the classic Manchester-esque stores of the 90s British underground club scene. Everything from the chequerboard tiled floor to the colourfully arranged interior screams old school cool. And whilst things may look a little wild on the surface, the level of care this store takes in presenting their wares is bettered by few in Sydney. Each and every record on their shelves comes with a small blurb giving advice as to the contents and how they sound, and Record Store also has a great supply of DJ headphones, decks and cartridges too.
Located in the leafy surrounds of Surry Hills, Record Store offers a relaxed browsing experience for DJs and novices alike, and there’s a good smattering of indie, jazz, funk and rock alongside the vigilantly curated offering of house, techno, dub, footwork and everything electronic. The staff are exceedingly friendly too, so if you’ve ever wondered about some of electronic music’s more obscure sub-genres, it’s worth striking a dialogue with one of them to get you on your way.
As was the case with our Victorian store blog, this only scratches the surface of a culture of crate digging that stretches far and wide across this dry land. These days the record store scene in Australia gets more and more vibrant with every year that passes, and the lifeblood of that musical sphere is independent record stores. So the next time you're think of copping a few LPs off Amazon, have another read through this blog and do yourself a favour and head down to your local vinyl merchant and ask them what they're listening to. It's a truly rewarding hobby, and one that we hope will last for centuries to come.