This Record Store Day we celebrate the record shop that’s continuing Big Apple’s legacy.
The year is 1996 and Dan is 15-years-old. Amongst the bellowing traders and bustling pedestrians of Surrey Street Market in Croydon, Dan presses his pocket money into the hand of his mother. He carefully describes to her the vinyl he wants and motions towards the looming shopfront of Big Apple Records. The record shop/recording studio is the birthplace of a new sound called ‘dubstep’, which has spread like wildfire from Croydon to Aiya Napa’s clubland. As a result, the shop is buzzing with activity, teaming with DJs and promoters angling to become a part of the Big Apple vanguard. So, you can understand how it’s a pretty intimidating place for a young garage and dubstep fan like Dan.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the dubstep and garage sounds that reverberated out of Croydon’s Big Apple Records. Mostly, Croydon’s dubstep scene is dead now. The genre evolved and moved away from dubstep. Formats changed and put record shops out of business. Big Apple Records closed well over a decade ago now, as did its competitors. And somewhere in between Croydon Council slapped a ban on bass-led music. The once-thriving dubstep scene has gone without a trace, except for a single record shop. DnR vinyl, located on Lower Addiscombe Road, sells dubstep and garage exclusively on vinyl and is the last bastion of Croydon’s seminal dubstep scene. And behind the counter is the scene’s most loyal flag-bearer, Dan.
“We were looking at opening our shop where Big Apple was,” says Dan. “It would’ve been really good to have kept it going.” However, Dan (now 38) and his business partner Rob couldn’t have moved into the Surrey Street Market shop even if they wanted to. Even in their early days of buying and selling vinyl online, the pair’s collection had way outgrown Big Apple’s capacity. What started as a teenage hobby to fund a trip to Ayia Napa quickly spiralled into an obsession and then developed into a viable business. The pair were shifting crate-loads of vinyl during Dan’s uni years. By the time he was finished studying, they signed a lease on their first shop near East Croydon station. “We did look further afield but there’s a history of music in Croydon so we wanted to keep flying the flag here.”
The Lower Addiscombe shop is the pair’s third in Croydon, and Dan estimates they have over 60,000 records in their shop and in storage. It’s hard to believe they can find space for even a fraction of their collection, but then again there’s not a square inch of the shop unused. Compact racks are stacked with well-loved vinyl; the walls busy with colourful posters; record bags hang from the rafters. “A lot of people have a kind pilgrimage here just to see it all,” says Dan, motioning behind the counter to the endless shelves of vinyl. “If we had a shop in a trendy area it’d have to be pristine but we’re not really about that.”
From the early 2000s when they set up their first shop, DnR’s business model has always been based on doing things differently. While their predecessors Big Apple sold brand new vinyl, Dan and Rob knew the margins would be slim and opted to sell second-hand records. Dan cites this choice as the very reason their shop survived for so long. “Our money was always made finding older stuff that you can’t buy in every other shop,” he says. Being in the second-hand business and the collector’s market also means that their stock is increasing in value just sitting there. “We joke that we should shut the shop for ten years and come back and it’ll probably be worth ten times more,” he laughs.
A savvy business model isn’t the only thing that keeps business booming for DnR though. Dan and Rob’s expert knowledge and friendly customer service have helped cultivate a community out of the shop. “Some of the best relationships are formed through the shop and some people have even gone into the studio together and made decent music.” A scroll down the shop’s Facebook page will give you the A-Z of the DJs that frequent DnR, but the most impressive visitors are Big Apple’s producing trio, Magnetic Man. Though Dan, now a full-grown man, no longer regards them as childhood heroes, when he proudly shows me a video of the trio rifling through DnR’s catalogue, just for a second I get a glimpse of 15-year-old Dan.