Our second visit to London in issue seventeen of Deluxe and another shop finding a beautiful niche and doing it impeccably. Based on Columbia Road - home to the famous flower market - World of Echo haven’t wasted an inch in their airy new shop, it all tells a story. We spoke to founders Stephen and Natalie.
Deluxe: So you both have ample experience in the independent music industry, (laughing) surely you knew better than to open a shop right?
Stephen Pietrzykowski: If you know anything of my experiences in the music industry, you'll know I'm not shy of making a stupid decision.
Natalie Judge: Doesn’t everyone that works for a label want to run a shop and everyone that works in a shop want to work at a label? I guess we wanted to see what it was like on the ‘other side’...
D: What was the preparation process like? How long were you looking for the shop?
SP: You're bringing back horrific memories I've tried relentlessly to suppress. It was probably close to six months in total, though at the time it felt never-ending. Finding a suitable premises in London was mostly an unbearable experience. Inept estate agents, arrogant landlords, extortionate rent and unexpected and seemingly unjustifiable (from an ethical point of view) 'extras'. As soon as Natalie had finished at her previous job in August of last year, we were under increased pressure to find a place, as the money was running out quickly (taking a breath in London has a surcharge). We got close on a few different spots, that in hindsight we're glad didn't work out.
NJ: Before we even thought about opening the shop, we spent all our free time in record stores, but I guess we made more of a concerted effort to visit even more in the run up. We were lucky enough to spend time in the US where they have some of the best record stores we’ve had the pleasure of visiting - so we were looking more at things you perhaps take for granted - racks, what’s on the wall, decor etc. In addition to the most important thing - what the stores are stocking.
SP: In the end we were extremely fortunate to discover the shop we're now in. Location and the space itself aside - which are both as good as we could have hoped for - we were also lucky enough to somehow end up working with perhaps the only likeable and sympathetic estate agent in London (perhaps the world?). Nothing is straightforward, and we didn't expect it to be anything other than challenging, but I will say it was a learning curve I hope not to repeat any time soon.
D: How about stock, were you buying collections for a long time before you opened?
SP: Probably from about 10 months in advance, and fairly regularly once we started.
NJ: We had to use our house as the storage facility, which was a trying few months - turns out vinyl takes up a lot of space when you have boxes and boxes of it.
D: Lots of people make the error of falling in love with the stock they are buying and end up taking things home. Be honest now, what hasn't made it to the shop shelves?
SP: Honestly, everything made it to the shelves. By the point we opened the shop, we wanted our house back - it was entirely colonised by records, and the associated years of dust they accumulate: if this whole thing were a sitcom, the catchphrase would be sneezing.
NJ: That said, there’s been the odd thing that we’ve ordered an extra copy of for ourselves - the beautiful Kankyo Ongaku box set for instance.
D: You guys have quite a fascinating stock split in that way, you're a pretty split mix between new and not new stock. What is the best part of stocking new and pre-loved records? What are the challenges?
SP: The main challenge with new stock is ensuring you're abreast of all the relevant titles, which at times can be quite overwhelming, especially when you're just starting out. But we've actively tried to steer away from being in service to the near-endless stream of new releases and instead try to concentrate on what we like and think fits into our approach and interests. If that means being late on one thing or another, so be it. Reissue culture shows us the good stuff is not time-specific. Second hand stock is a game of chance in part - being in the right place at the right time - and about trying to find a series of short term solutions to a long term goal. The question we're asked most often (and by that I mean EVERY DAY) is, ‘Where does all this great stock come from?’. A magician never reveals his secrets, unless he's drunk and showing off, which right now I'm not.
NJ: I think it’s also reflective of our buying habits - when we visit a store we look at both new and second hand stock, so it seemed obvious to offer both. They are kept separate though - you can’t cross the streams.
D: You opened back in November '18. A solid six months in, what have been the… most fun moments?
SP: The local 'celebrity' who wields a banana (sometimes green, sometimes brown) like a gun and wears a bootleg Pulp Fiction T shirt OVER a hoodie whom we first encountered when he stormed into the shop, asking ‘People go out of fashion, clothes go out of fashion. Why can't music go out of fashion for once?’
Also this exchange between a Dutch couple:
Her: What is the indie?
NJ: Steve Gunn playing our first instore - a true gent - we had no clue how it was going to go with it being our first, but he took it in his stride and we somehow managed to cram 40 people through the door for it.
D: Most unexpected moments?
SP: The near sexual hold an obi strip and Japanese text has over certain people.
NJ: The number of people who believe that their copy of the White Album is worth thousands.
D: The strongest emotion being behind the counter?
SP: Being hungover.
NJ: How does the till work?
D: When you got ready to turn the open sign over on that first Saturday, did the shop look like you expected? Actually, you popped a cork didn't you... that's a much more interesting way to open!
SP: I was just glad we made our deadline, which less than 24 hours beforehand looked a near impossibility.
NJ: Looking back on photos of the opening, the shop looked pretty empty by comparison to how it looks now, which is a good thing.
D: Were you prepared for dealing with the public? It's quite often said that record shop work is one part retail and one part community outreach
SP: This is a universal truth! I just hope everyone is ok…
NJ: Honestly, I have never had so many people (men) tell me so much about themselves within seconds of meeting.
D: Had either of you worked behind the counter before?
SP: Not I.
NJ: I did a glorious year at HMV in Bournemouth during University. Made no money, spent it all on CDs.
D: World of Echo is a great name. Is the album a direct influence? Something you're paying tribute to or more of a shared gesture toward a cool name?
SP: The title of the only 'official' studio album Arthur Russell released during his lifetime, once greatly misunderstood but now widely recognised as a work of precognitive genius. Somehow there's a map within that story that guides a little of what we try to do.
NJ: And we just love Arthur.
D: I also love your logo. Give us the full story of how that came together.
SJ: Matthew Walkerdine designed our logo, and helped shape the aesthetic - t shirts, merch etc. The process itself was a long one, spread over many months and exchanges of ideas, references, influences. Fantastically, that's still happening now. I'm hoping we can do even more with him. A true great, and someone we're forever indebted to (and in awe of). Any success the shop may have is partly attributable to Matthew.
NJ: Matthew runs Good Press up in Glasgow - highly recommend checking it out.
D: Do you have a manifesto - of sorts - for what you want the shop to be?
SP: Hard to answer without sounding a little insufferable or self-important. We just want to create a space we'd like to walk into ourselves. If we want to buy these records, a few other people probably will. You can't please everyone no matter what you do, so just be satisfied with those who you do.
NJ: … and I definitely didn’t want it to be dark and grimy with cardboard boxes on the floor - don’t get me wrong, I love those places too, but just not where I wanted to spend all my time.
D: Which other shops have been a source of inspiration in what you're doing?
SP: Any shop that is trying to do something a little less conventional and isn't precious or stuck up about it. Big fan of Stranded in San Francisco. Enjoyed my visit to Commend (NYC) recently.
NJ: … and generally just having a positive attitude and a friendly welcome - George and Nat at Hot Salvation have always had that. We must thank Richard at South for bringing his reliable cynicism to all the advice he gave us.
D: More broadly, what have been your favourite record shop moments on the customer side of the counter?
NJ: I guess just introducing people to things and then returning and saying how much they loved it. It’s been very rewarding for me to have so many women come through the door too.
Photos: Al Sundvall
D: What is your first record shop experience? Where? When?
SP: Maybe not the first per se, but the ones I remember were in Coventry - Spinadisc, Woolworths, HMV, Virgin. Maybe even a service station. I didn't hold precious the notion of the record shop. I think that is something that has been fetishised in the wake of the internet and the greater need for context and direction. At the start for me, they were just shops that sold the things I wanted the most. I'd like World of Echo to be that for people (for even just one person).
NJ: Our Price and Spinadisc in Rugby - I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was to have had two record stores in my small town growing up.
D: What was your first record shop purchase? Artist, title and format.
SP: Whitehouse - Total Sex - CD reissue. If you believe that, you'll believe anything. I honestly can't remember. Prince or Blur or something like that?
NJ: TLC Waterfalls on cassette. I stand by it as being a total classic.
D: What is your most favourite record shop and why?
SP: World of Echo, of course.
NJ: What he said.