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Lucky Records Success Story: A Vinyl Boom in Reykjavik

‘Love all – Serve all’ is the slogan of Lucky Records, the vinyl record store just next to the Hlemmur bus station on Rauðarárstígur, downtown Reykjavík, Iceland. Recently described as one of the best record shops in the world with a collection that is ever-increasing. In addition to being the biggest store of its kind in the country, it’s also a place for live performances, record launches and screenings. On a recent rainy afternoon in Reykjavík I sat down over pizza with Ingvar, the main player in the Lucky Records success story, to see how it all began.

So, I’ve been told Lucky Records began as a street market stall.

Yeah. Ten square metres at the Kolaportið flea market on Saturday and Sunday. This was probably twelve, thirteen years ago. I was selling used records, then I started ordering new records also, mainly from Chicago and places like that. Then I started selling posters, DVD’s and so on. Then I had a shop on the street below the main street for four years. Now I was seventy-five square metres. And by keeping Kolaportið I did them both for a year. But I was lucky with the economic crisis, I was slowly building at this point over four or five years and didn’t owe any money. But you could feel that the spending power wasn’t there. 

Lucky Records is now a label too, am I right?

Just two compilation releases so far. But there will be more to come.

I like it that a shop selling vinyl should open up these days, especially one that’s actually importing new albums.

You know, a new album comes out in the United States and maybe it costs twenty-five or maybe thirty dollars at the most. Here, you have to spend upward of maybe forty or fifty dollars. We have a very certain customer for this kind of shop that helps us to grow. But for working class people, you know, adding that kind of money to their outgoings is a lot, especially when you have Spotify or something where you pay your monthly fee and you get access to it all anyway. But even though I do have Spotify, I barely use it except maybe to check something out. I always buy vinyl. But I also spend a lot of my time, not just my money, on music. I have to choose what I’m going to buy very carefully. I’m listening to so much stuff. I mean you, you live in Brooklyn, there’s a whole scene there but most people don’t even know what’s happening in their own places. People miss out on so much.

Do you think this is down to a sort of worsening of people’s attention span? That they want everything instantaneously these days?

Yeah the need to investigate and check things out is fading away. People go out less, they go to concerts less. I have three children, they spend so much time listening to all different kinds of music...

...that’s so healthy!

Yeah, the deepest impact is, I think, on a kid who’s pre-fourteen years old. Then the next step is maybe fourteen to eighteen. Maybe by then you meet people, you hear stuff, it sends you off in another direction. Then people above eighteen years old have less time with all their responsibilities and are less susceptible to new sounds. But that deep impact is what you heard when you were around fourteen years old. What were you listening to at fourteen?

I’m trying to think. The whole Madchester scene was going on. Happy Mondays, the Inspiral Carpets, the Stone Roses, the Charlatans... 

Are you going to a lot of shows in New York? Are you hearing any new stuff?

Not enough. I’m either out working myself or maybe I’m supporting friends who are gigging themselves.

When you have friends, yeah. This is like me. I mean it was ridiculous, I was out watching Mezzoforte, an Icelandic jazz band, for their fortieth anniversary. They’re very big in Germany and Norway and different parts of Europe, you know, and they were in Harpa, the concert hall right here, and it’s a big show, forty years and still playing together. There’s a very special vibe between them. They spoke in Icelandic then switched to English and asked the audience how many people spoke Icelandic and only half raised their hands. Then they asked how many came to Iceland to see this show and it was the same amount of hands in the air! So some people do travel and are quite committed.

Is there a definitive Icelandic sound today?

Not really. Some Icelandic sound is electronica, but we don’t have a specific sound. People think of Sigur Rós or Björk when they think of Iceland, but hip hop is probably the biggest thing here right now. I’m actually putting together a compilation of Icelandic hip hop from the last fifteen years. The first concerts here were in ’96, maybe ’97. 

Is there any sort of underground scene to speak of?

Reykjavík is far too small for an underground scene. Everybody knows everyone and everything here. It’s more of a grassroots scene.

And Lucky Records plays a part in this grassroots scene, it’s a place for artists to come and play, launch albums and so on. 

Yeah. Actually I’m just organizing the Airwaves festival line-up now. In recent years we’ve had fifty bands, one every hour for seven days. All kinds of music... coming from Iceland, the U.K., Canada, Finland. A lot of people come for this festival, it’s in November. The music starts in the big venues at eight in the evening, but prior to that from midday you can go and listen to bands in all kinds of spaces all over Reykjavík. You know, not only in here. The barbershop, the butchers, clothing stores everywhere. All over town.

Lucky Records is located at Rauðarárstígur 10 - 105, Reykjavík Iceland and is open all year round. 

Matt Roper is a British comedian based in New York City. His relationship with Lush goes back to 2011 when he appeared before the muddy festival-goers of Lushfest, returning the following year to curate the line-up of the comedy stage. As he travels around the world, he shares his musings with us here in a series of writings - a sifting of thought from a restless but always seeking imagination.

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