Record stores in Cologne: The renaissance of vinyl
– part 1 –
In the 1990s this was a regular exercise: whenever a favourite band announced a new album, on the day it was scheduled to come out I’d line up impatiently outside the record store, waiting for the owner to open up. Once the booty had been secured came the pleasant part: discussing obscure bands, labels and vinyl special editions or reminiscing about shows with like-minded enthusiasts.
As I saw it, the hours I spent in the record store weren’t just part of my social life, they were a form of training, a bit like my degree course. Yet before long, the deeply unsexy medium that is the CD arrived on the tail of the digital revolution, followed by the ubiquitous MP3 format – almost the death knell for my beloved vinyl stores. But this treasured cultural asset has risen from the dead. Vinyl is back. Cologne is home to so many well-stocked record stores that they even attract customers from outside the country. Here’s a few of my favourite treasure troves.
Parallel Schallplatten – An empire of good taste
This is where I head when I’m yet again on the hunt for a record that’s missing from my home collection because, in a misguided attempt at modernisation, I replaced it by a CD. The shelves are placed at waist height and display a pleasingly comprehensive collection of punk rock evergreens, new wave, indie, singer-songwriter material and hip hop. I browse the goods for hours without being interrupted, inevitably walking up to the counter at some point to inquire what’s on in the background. It’s almost like the good old days.
Parallel Schallplatten | Brabanter Straße 2-4 | 50674 Cologne
Web: www.parallel-schallplatten.de | www.facebook.com/Parallel-Schallplatten-125305887486871
Early Bird Records – Hip hop and turntables
Frank Schneider likes to offer his customers a cup of coffee to sharpen their senses in preparation for what’s to come. Thus refreshed, I embark on a hunt mainly for the highlights of four decades of hip hop, but this is also a great place for jazz and funk enthusiasts. If you’re in any doubt as to the merits of a prospective purchase, simply put it on one of the two turntables for a try-out while you rifle through the bargain bins on the floor. Since Early Bird Records opened in December 2012, some regulars have turned into friends, just like in Nick Hornby’s classic novel High Fidelity.
Early Bird Records | Lindenstraße 77 | 50674 Cologne
As/If Record Store Café – Black gold times two
At As/If, the term ‘black gold’ is doubly tempting. The shelves of Cologne’s youngest specialist vinyl store feature an exclusive selection of mainly guitar-heavy records. Plus proprietor Pierre Severin likes to treat his guests to high-quality coffee specialities. The result is an urban oasis that’s a wonderful place to pass the daylight hours, occasionally extending into the evening when Pierre stages live music events. Soon the store stands to be extended into the basement, again with a double function: a retail space for second-hand vinyl and vintage clothing.
Nunk Music – A bargain bin full of vinyl history
An unassuming entryway leads into a series of vaulted rooms where vinyl fans can forget the world outside. Streetside, classical music collections and maxi singles vie for attention, while in the next room over, high-end record players wait for a new home (the basement houses a repair shop for analog audio devices). Towards the back of the store, piles of forgotten treasures from decades past compete for each precious square foot of space. Depending on the day of the week and hour of the day, either there’s an atmosphere of concentrated silence, or the air is filled with the sound of beer-fuelled conversations about the merits of this band versus those of another. In short, it’s a store that by rights shouldn’t even exist, especially not in the stylish Belgian Quarter.