Vinyl Pimp and The Joy of Digging

Vinyl Pimp and The Joy of Digging

By Victoria Holt

Every record collector knows the feeling–you’ve wandered into an intriguing record store, and just as you’re getting settled into a nice fat stack, with rows upon rows of boxes to sift through, you realize with an unpleasant jolt that they shut in half an hour. Then it’s the rapid fire prioritization process: Which genre is most coveted on your list? Which section feels doable in the time you have left? Do you need time to check for quality issues at the listening station? How will you whittle down your finds to a reasonable expense? What even is reasonable? The question quickly becomes: what time do they open tomorrow?

What if you could dig all night? Stay late at the shop, pour over the deepest corners of the most obscure boxes, and collect dust on your fingertips. What if you could do it in your pajamas with a brew in hand? (That’s tea for the non-Brits!) There is now at least one place in the world where this dream can be realized, and they’ve thought of every way to make you feel at home, from a private listening station to a personal kettle to keep the caffeine flowing.

Vinyl Pimp, located in Oslo House in the east London neighborhood of Hackney Wick, boasts over 25,000 records and the first-of-its-kind experience of digging during an overnight stay. As their Instagram page states, the overnight offering “started out of necessity during Covid, [and] is perhaps still the best way to dig for vinyl records. Every visitor has a dedicated turntable and all the time in the world to make decisions (the toughest part).” As long as a customer spends 250 pounds, the overnight stay is free (with 100 pounds more required per extra person).

When I arrived for my own stay on Monday, February 19th, the space felt warm and inviting, if a little chaotic. It’s clear to see that the team here is up to their eyeballs in vinyl and are likely shipping out Discogs orders all day, not to mention processing new inventory each time they acquire a new collection. The owner Luk Man Hon explained how the stock comes from DJs and collectors who are looking to refresh their collections. Sometimes they’re giving up the gig, and sometimes they’re just looking for a new palette to pull from. At Vinyl Pimp, each new batch is filed separately as distinct collections, which serves as an efficient way of browsing uncatalogued records.

There are a few house rules to keep everyone sane, such as keeping track of which section or collection each record came from, as well as re-sleeving the records properly after listening. A minor inconvenience for the shopper can help prevent a week-long headache for Hon if he and his team can avoid having to reorganize or re-sleeve records–like finding multiple needles in a massive haystack. Shoppers are also asked to stay out of the Discogs-listed shelves, so prospective shoppers should make a list of what they want to see from the store’s Discogs page in advance. This is highly encouraged, since the Discogs items can make up a large chunk of the overall stock at any given time.

Digging through the collections felt like digging through a giant uncategorized used section. Genres are only loosely organized based on each prior collector’s overall leanings. Many records have abstract cover art with no text (making it hard to tell who or what it is), and many are promotional compilations with only text and obscure artist names (and no visuals to give a sense of the vibe). There are a ton of white label releases with absolutely no signifiers or markings at all. These records are a complete mystery unless the shopper wants to type each runout matrix number into Discogs, or take each record to the listening station. They also had a ton of box sets and collector’s items. This can be overwhelming unless the shopper knows what they are looking for in advance. Perusing Vinyl Pimp’s Discogs page becomes all the more helpful here to prepare.

Within moments of my arrival, I spotted CunninLynguists’ album Will Rap For Food on one of the shelves and grabbed it. The track “Ain’t No Way” reminds me of childhood mornings on the ride to elementary school. I’d listen from the backseat while my older brother cycled through whatever he was obsessed with at the time on the car’s CD player. One morning as we piled into the car I asked, “Hey Matt, can you play Cunning Lynguists?” I’ll never forget the look my mom gave him demanding an immediate explanation.

Originally released in 2002, the vinyl goes for $200 on Discogs, with the 2005 2LP reissue going for upwards of $400. I sadly had to pass on the Vinyl Pimp copy to save my wallet, but I savored a few spins of “Ain’t No Way” before putting it back.

During my visit, I shopped until 4am, with only a brief break to grab some fish and chips at nearby Wicked Fish. When my eyelids betrayed me and began to shut involuntarily, I took a brief nap and was up again a few hours later to whittle down my finds. Hon priced the records I was considering, and I agonized, sleep deprived, over my handwritten list, ultimately opting for rarer or more unknown-to-me finds over full albums I knew I could find elsewhere.

Hon was extremely patient, and when I’d finally decided, he asked how I planned to get so many records home. When I naively asked about shipping prices (forgetting how costly it would be to ship vinyl from London back to New York), he offered to sell me a flight case so I could save money by checking a bag instead. It’s clear that Hon and the Vinyl Pimp team actually care about their customers and have their best interests in mind. Now that I’m home, I love bringing the flight case to gigs and remembering my amazing time amongst the stacks.

It’s clear the Vinyl Pimp team also cares about their neighborhood and are self-aware about their impact. In an interview with the Guardian in November 2023, Hon recalls how “customers had been staying late into the night. People didn’t want to rush their decision. I figured they could stay in the room and I didn’t need to charge them a fee. I didn’t want to Airbnb–it erodes the culture within neighborhoods.” This intentionality is important when you consider the area’s increased popularity since the 2012 Olympics, and the inevitable waves of gentrification that brings.

Caption: An amusing (and sarcastic) map of the neighborhood outside nearby coffee shop Bad Coffee. The area has clearly undergone a lot of change.

Despite the sheer effort it takes to look through so many records, the feeling that you could find your own personal “white whale” keeps this digging experience fun and intriguing. With plenty of classics and rare gems in each collection, there’s something for every kind of collector here. During my visit, I kept thinking of the age-old adage that it’s not about the destination, but the journey. At Vinyl Pimp, the true joy of digging is in the digging itself.

Give @vinylpimp a follow on Instagram to stay up to date on their future endeavors. For this year's Record Store Day, the team are excited to be collaborating with Hoxton Hotel to set up a record shop in their lobby.

A note on accessibility: the bed is on a lofted platform up a steep ladder. That said, I’m sure the Vinyl Pimp team would accommodate any accessibility needs with an alternate setup.


Vinyl Pimp and The Joy of Digging