9 of Beijing's best record shops you should visit at least once

Forget Spotify, the best place for recommendations is a record store

We may live in the era of streaming, but radio, TV and the internet combined still haven't managed to kill off vinyl, or record shops – possibly because digging through boxes of old '78s is so dang fun.

Luckily for the nostalgic among us, there remains a small-but-growing contingent in Beijing working to revive music fans’ deep-seated collecting instinct. Below we list some of the best record stores in the city that's great to get acquainted with local sounds or just for a few hours of fun scavenging.

Dongcheng

Indie Music (独立唱片)

The small-but-mighty Indie Music divides local and foreign sounds right down the middle of its shop. One wall is filled to the rafters with domestic pop, metal, classic rock and folk (from 80RMB for CDs and 200RMB for vinyl) while the other end is full of international music, spanning rock, metal, hip-hop and more (Billboard-toppers like Adele and Taylor Swift cost between 220-260RMB).

What's spinning?  Southern provinces Guangdong and Yunnan have been home to China’s budding reggae scene in recent years; shop co-owner Guo Cheng recommends the Yunnan-based Kawa.

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24-3 Gulou Dong Dajie (Gulou, Dongcheng)

666 Rock Shop

This small shop just off Gulou Dong Dajie is a metalhead’s dream, stocking everything from CDs from Beijing’s thriving metal scene (from 80RMB), to vinyls of classics including Megadeth and Iron Maiden (from 200RMB). The shop also stocks apparel and accessories for headbangers to look the part.

What's spinning? Beijing-based stoner bunch Never Before, and thrashy sorts TumourBoy.

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230-6 Gulou Dong Dajie (Miyun county)

Yue Space

Inside Beixinqiao livehouse Yue Space, a small record shop stocks indie, jazz and Chinese rock. Many of the international artists’ records are second-hand and brought back from abroad. Scoop up new vinyls from labels including Maybe Mars and Beggars, or spend an afternoon flipping through old issues of Rolling Stone and Beijing ’zines in the space’s seating area.

What's spinning? Post-punk/new wave trio Re-TROS, especially old track 'Boys in Cage', and 'At Mosp Here' off their recent album Before the Applause (240RMB).

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7 Banqiaonanxiang

Cool Music Shop 酷乐唱片

Few Beijing record stores have reached a veteran status like the Cool Music Shop. Having witnessed numerous closures and re-openings in its two-decade run, the venerable music shop has remained in the business even though having drastically downsized to a hole-in-the-wall tucked away in Dongsi from a former 500-square-metre venue in its heyday. Its shelves are lined with almost completely unsorted bins and racks of CDs and vinyl records, including everything from newly emerging electronic music to classic rock – a haven for crate-diggers alike. Not sure which one to take home? You can almost listen to any picks on its in-store turnable and audio equipment for free before you buy.

What's spinning? A mixture of rock, electronica, classical music and Japanese indie music. 

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499-1 Dongsi Beidajie (Chaoyang, --select--)

Music Store

A few hundred metres away from the Cool Music Shop is another local fixture worth a visit. Less grungy than other record shops, its venue is lined with racks that contain an eclectic collection of music. From a vinyl version of The Velvet Underground & Nico signed by the whole band and Andy Warhol and Recently signed by Joan Baez, to the oddity of a 1992 Chinese pop album titled The Red Sun which covers odes to Chairman Mao with a disco beat (according to Wikipedia), it promises to be a fun hunt for quirky treasures.

What's spinning: Rock, blues, pop, hip-hop, alternative, film soundtracks, electronica, classical music

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66-3 Dongsi Nandajie (Chaoyang, --select--)

Sanlitun

Polyphony 复调

Polyphony’s crisp white walls and minimalist design may feel more Apple Store than comics and record shop but, indeed, the shop’s soundproof listening booths are a great place to spend time listening to jazz and classical tunes. While it’s only the comics that are for sale inside Polyphony, with a store membership (which simply means following the shop’s official WeChat – it’s free) visitors can access the private rooms and listen to a wide selection on vinyl.

What's spinning? The best of Duke Ellington, and the London Symphony Orchestra.

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1 Sanlitun Nan Lu (Sanlitun, --select--)

798

Li-Pi Records

Impressive in both selection and size, Li-Pi Records’ 798 store has expanded bit by bit since its opening in 2008. Vinyls from virtually every genre – from classic rock to domestic indie releases to hip-hop and everything in between – start at 240RMB and line the spacious shop’s walls, which are made accessible by library ladders. On our visit, a Beethoven symphony plays loudly from a raised stage in the venue’s largest room, making for a great spot to stick around for a coffee (americanos are 35RMB) after browsing. Recently Li-Pi has ventured into manufacturing its own devices, with its first product a suitcase turntable called the Luntik (3,520RMB), which has bluetooth and wireless capabilities.

What's spinning? Co-founder Eric Chen recommends the shop’s selection of film soundtracks, including a red vinyl of The Pianist (2002) filled with poetic Chopin pieces (278RMB).

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4 Jiuxianqiao Lu (798, --select--)

Xicheng

Freesound Records 福声唱片

Founded in 2002, Freesound Records has managed to stay afloat for 18 years in the local indie music scene. Its current outpost tucked away on a residential street in Bingjiaozi Hutong, is the incarnation of its former location in Ping’anli, which was closed down in 2015. Returned in 2018 with a spacious two-story venue, it quickly settled into its element with a frequent host of events and music projects.

 

On the store’s top floor you’ll find a carefully curated selection of long out-of-print CDs, cassette tapes for mostly domestic releases, as well as second-hand foreign vinyl records. The bottom level is a real treasure trove for audiophiles. A listening station downstairs features a stellar collection of hard-to-find, vintage turnatables and stereo equipment, which makes for a cosy hangout for music junkies to bring and play their own collections.

What's spinning? Indie Chinese, rock, jazz, classical music, traditional Chinese folk music.

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Bingjiaokou Hutong (Fengtai)

Chaoyang Joy City

Fruityshop (水果店)

Once nestled in a rusty Dongsi Hutong, Fruityshop has moved to its new digs near Joy City last year. Now in its third location, it still packs a fruity punch for every music lover. The shop’s offering starts with jazz and continues through four decades of vintage pop and rock, soundtracks, blues, country, bluegrass, ambient and experimental. It contains a mix of classics and hidden gems all priced from 40RMB to more than 200RMB. Just don’t expect too much in the way of modern music – while the shop offers a decent selection of relatively new ambient and experimental, as well as several 90s rock and new-age classics, Fruityshop is still a retro affair with few releases from the last two decades.

What's spinning: Vintage pop, punk, rock, soundtracks, blues, country, bluegrass, ambient and experimental, jazz

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17 Dongsi Toutiao Hutong (Miyun county)

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