The 5 Influential Record Stores That Changed Music Forever

How a few old-school music shops helped birth D.C. punk, indie hip-hop, nineties rock, and Chicago house.


Photograph of Breakbeat Science by Ivan Corsa

Record stores sell music, but on occasion they help make it, too. In the days before iTunes, record stores were social hubs where DJs conferred over seven-inches, like-minded fans shared rare finds, and proselytizing employees pushed their obscure tastes on customers. Those relationships formed webs of influence that would in turn shape new categories of music—some of them offshoots of genres like house, others representing later stages of genres like rock. Below are the five stores that spawned some of today's biggest and most well-known bands and sounds.


Photograph of Breakbeat Science by Ivan Corsa

Gramaphone Records, Chicago (Chicago House)

When Gramaphone Records first opened its doors in 1969, it sold folk, country, and blues. But when the disco craze hit, the owners couldn't help but notice those records flying off the shelves, and they began to specialize in dance music, specifically local Chicago house artists. "By the late eighties, Gramaphone had become really popular as the go-to spot to buy the latest house music," says Gramaphone co-owner Jason Bradley. Some of the biggest house DJs on the scene—Mark Farina, Derrick Carter, DJ Heather—started their careers as Gramaphone employees. Today, the bright, cheerful shop is considered one of the top dance-music stores in the Midwest, if not the United States. To this day, about 80 percent of its sales are still vinyl.


Photograph of Breakbeat Science by Ivan Corsa

Pier Platters, Hoboken, N.J. (Indie Rock)

Before Kim's Underground, Other Music, and other giants of nineties indie-rock retail, there was Pier Platters. Right down the street from the concert venue Maxwell's, which was booking seminal indie acts like Yo La Tengo, Sebadoh, and Unrest, Platters became a mandatory pre-show stop for fans. Music journalist Douglas Wolk considered visiting the store a rite of passage for young fans. "It had really great records of that scene, and it dug them up from all over the world," he says. "There were something like 700 copies of the first Pavement single, and I imagine Pier Platters sold an awful lot of them."


Photograph of Breakbeat Science by Ivan Corsa

Yesterday and Today Records, Rockville, Md. (D.C. Punk)

When Skip Groff opened Yesterday and Today Records in the fall of 1977, the D.C. punk scene was in its infancy, but local bands like the Slickee Boys and the Razz were playing at the Atlantis and stoking the flames of a nascent punk revolution. The store was a mecca for teens like Ian MacKaye of Fugazi and Teen Idles vocalist Nathan Strejcek (and a certain Teen Idles roadie who would later become known as Henry Rollins)—they all shopped or worked there, and Groff himself produced the very first records for their fledgling Dischord label. With its collection of impossible-to-get 45s from New York and the United Kingdom, Yesterday and Today played an indispensable role in the birth of the D.C. punk scene. "Knowing people's moods and music needs on a day-to-day basis, hearing something and knowing it's destined for a certain person—you need a location like a record store to do that," says Groff, who closed Yesterday and Today in 2002 but still sells his 45s at monthly record


Photograph of Breakbeat Science by Ivan Corsa

Fat Beats, New York City (Indie Hip-Hop)

If you lived in New York in the nineties, Fat Beats was indie hip-hop and indie hip-hop was Fat Beats. The boldface names of the era—DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Talib Kweli, and D'Angelo—visited the shop on a regular basis. "Everyone still had a dream about getting signed to a major label," says DJ Eclipse, who worked at Fat Beats from 1995 until it closed last year. "We started showing people that if you had good music, you didn't need to wait on folks putting it out for you, you could do it yourself." Despite expanding to Los Angeles and hosting in-store shows with the likes of RZA, KRS-One, and Eminem, Fat Beats was decidedly local in scope: It would nurture green artists, pressing up their demos and carrying the best of the batch in its stores. The brick-and-mortar shop in Greenwich Village is gone, but Fat Beats has started hosting pop-up shops in its distribution space in Brooklyn. With vinyl bins laid out and posters on the wall, one could almost mistake the place for its original incarnation.


Photograph of Breakbeat Science by Ivan Corsa

Breakbeat Science, New York City (Drum and Bass)

In 1995, a London transplant named DB Burkeman noticed that jungle, or drum-and-bass music, was exploding in the States. He and a few partners opened the first all-drum-and-bass store in America, and it became ground zero for the U.S. jungle community, an essential stop-off point for visiting DJs and MCs. In 2004, a casualty of the Internet and escalating rent, Breakbeat Science closed, but the beat lives on in stores like Brooklyn's Halcyon, which hosts a popular monthly "bass" party.

By Adrienne Day

You Might Like

Powered by ZergNet