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A Music Lover’s Guide to London

From vinyl hunting and vintage guitar shopping to the best pubs, live music venues and beyond. 

London. It’s the biggest city in the UK and the globe’s leading financial centre. A geographically expansive, densely populated mecca with widespread ethnic and social diversity, resonant left wing values and stacks of culturally distinct neighbourhoods.

But is it the best music city in the world? Perhaps it was in the past, but not many would argue that London warrants this title today.

But while gentrification, rising rents and increasing corporatisation may have stifled some of the city’s artsy buzz, it’s still a place that crawls with music and musicians. Here’s a nod to the shops, venues, bars and radio stations that help define London’s musical identity today. 

RECORD STORES

Rough Trade’s Shoreditch and Notting Hill locations are big, slick setups offering shelves and shelves of new vinyl alongside books, CDs and merchandise. There’s also a café/bar and regular in-store performances from international acts.

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Rough Trade Records 

On a smaller scale, the Flashback Records stores (in Islington, Crouch End and Shoreditch) are better suited to vinyl nerds and bin scavengers with their top-notch selection of second-hand vinyl and a small stock of new releases.

See also: Sister Ray, Soho and Shoreditch; Fopp, Covent Garden; Sounds of the Universe, Soho.

LIVE MUSIC VENUES

Smaller:

The Lexington is a failsafe option for gigs in London. The Kings Cross bar has a 200-capacity live room with a big, ballsy PA, high-positioned stage and split-level viewing area. The likes of Alex Cameron, Big Thief, Kitty, Daisy and Lewis and Jen Cloher have all played here in recent times. The bar stocks a vast range of Bourbon and American craft beer and there’s a Monday night music quiz.

Shacklewell Arms, located in East London’s Dalston, is the city’s standout dirty pub venue. It’s a sweaty room, a bit shitted up, but with a never-ending schedule of indie rock shows from local bands and touring acts. They seem to like Aussie music here too – Methyl Ethel, Good Morning and The Murlocs have all visited during the past year.

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The Shacklewell Arms

See also: Dingwalls, Camden; The Victoria, Dalston; The Monarch, Camden; Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.

Mid-size:

The Moth Club and Oslo, both in Hackney Central, are ideal spots to see indie acts of the moment (such as Jenny Hval and Allah-Las) and circuit stalwarts (such as Dr Dog and Timber Timbre). Oslo is a swish place in a disused railway station, while the Moth Club is a trashy-glam room out the back of a rather non-glamorous traditional boozer.

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Alex Cameron at the Moth Club. 

See also: Village Underground, Shoreditch; Boston Music Room/Dome, Tufnell Park; Islington Assembly Hall, Angel; Scala, Kings Cross.

Bigger:

Kentish Town Forum is a lot like Forum Melbourne only bigger and with a large upstairs seating area. It’s a great place to see big ticket sellers like Joey Badass, Pond, Savages and nostalgic punk, rock, hip hop and metal gigs. And they sell beers in double pint glasses.

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Joey Bada$$ at the Kentish Town Forum. 

The Roundhouse in Camden is one of London’s legendary music venues. Established in the 1960s and having recently undergone extensive refurbishment, the Roundhouse offers a big (and round) music hall experience with supreme quality sound and a sophisticated atmosphere.

See also: Brixton Academy; Shepherd’s Bush Empire; Alexandra Palace, Haringey.

BARS AND PUBS

Slim Jim’s in Angel is one of the rare manufactured dive bar/rock pubs that manages to pull off the shtick. Bras hang from the ceiling of the dimly-lit, small bar located in well-to-do Angel Islington. The vibe is messy but relaxed and although it’s a rock joint, they’re not afraid to spin a bit of Britney.

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Slim Jim's

The Big Red in Holloway is a metal-heads’ haven, and also very welcoming to non-metal heads. Get comfortable away from the threat of laddish malarkey or a TV screening the fucking football – you will hear a lot of Pantera though. There’s a couple of pool tables, shitty pub meals and a hard rock and metal-centric jukebox.

The Boogaloo has been a musicians’ refuge for decades. Former barflies The Libertines still play the occasional acoustic gig, as do the likes of Chrissie Hynde and The Rifles, while Shane MacGowan is the Highgate pub’s patron saint. Weekend DJs play doo wop and soul and the pub jukebox covers the broad spectrum of popular music from the ‘50s till the present day.

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The Boogaloo 

See also: Tapping the Admiral, Chalk Farm; Aces and Eights, Tufnell Park; Brilliant Corners, Dalston; The Haggerston, Dalston.

MUSICAL EQUIPMENT

Any musician that’s visited the UK capital will be familiar with Denmark Street – a small strip in Central London that’s loaded with instrument shops.

Stationed in the building where Elton John worked as a music writer before making it as a solo musician, Wunjo Guitars excel in new and vintage guitars, amps, pedals and accessories.

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Vintage guitars at Wunjo. 

No.Tom Guitars is more of a high-end guitar shop on Denmark St. It’s where Johnny Depp buys his guitars. And just ‘cos he’s a cunt doesn’t mean the guitars are shit.

Taylor Hawkins wore a Regent Sounds t-shirt at Glastonbury this year, so take that as a fairly reliable endorsement. Formerly a recording studio (it’s where the Rolling Stones recorded their debut LP), Regent Sounds is the city’s Fender and Gretsch specialist.

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Regent Sounds

RADIO STATIONS

One can’t speak highly enough of NTS Radio, an internet radio station headquartered in a nondescript market square in Dalston. Regular DJs like Throwing Shade and Andrew Weatherall present shows encompassing everything from grime, Japanese avant-garde, and outsider folk to funk, soul, house music and whatever else you can think of. There are also daily guest hosts, such as Four Tet, Mount Kimbie, Weyes Blood and Mikey Young, playing personal favourites and new discoveries.

The aforementioned Boogaloo pub has its own radio station – Boogaloo Radio – which broadcasts from a revamped shed in the beer garden. Musicians from Suede, Yuck and the Magic Numbers host weekly programs, and there’s an Australian music show on Sunday afternoons.

After more exploration inspiration? Head to our travel section