Vinyl Destination: Rook Records

By in Features





Vinyl Destination is a series where we visit new and established crate-digging locations and vinyl focused spaces worldwide to learn about the stories, people and records behind them.

Hackney Wick is the proud home of London’s latest brick-and-mortar record store, Rook Records. In this edition of Vinyl Destination, VF speaks with its co-owners Louis Rooney and Julian Gascoigne about setting up a store and acquiring collections from unlikely sources.

Launching as an online store in 2016 and a YouTube channel in 2018, Rook Records has spent the last seven years finding its identity. Now, armed with a collection of US imports and a variety of second-hand treats, the store has opened its real-life doors to London’s vinyl community. 

Read more: East London’s paradise for Japanese vinyl collectors 

Rook Records’ first physical location has coincided with a pivot in its specialisation. “Last year we started importing a lot of bulk stock from the US and changed the focus of the business into much more secondhand records,” explains Julian Gascoigne, co-owner of the store. “In London, there’s a gap for import specialist shops and we’ve also just started importing from Japan, so we’re hoping to offer a different type of stock”.

Having moved its base of operations to a Hackney Wick storage unit last May, Rook was faced with the decision of whether to open up its basement space to customers. “We were already in the online space, we’ve now got this space that we’re already here processing stuff,” Gascoigne says. “It just seemed like a no-brainer for us”. 

As with any record store, Rook Records needed to find its angle–a reason for its existence that set it apart from the others. For Rook Records, an over-crowded record store market with similar offerings meant specialisation was key to finding an audience. “Until last year, my main income was from new records and now it’s really shifted because the competition in the new market is just so intense,” Gascoigne says.

“You’re competing with all the big players in the online world and every shop in London is stocking a lot of the same big releases. We don’t want to have the same records that everyone else has”. 

Despite its storefront being “off the beaten track”, Rook strives to build a community around itself–one of the main reasons its owners have chosen to open a physical location. “There’s lots of people who sell records online and do it really well but when it comes to the digging experience, it is rooted in community,” says Louis Rooney, Rook’s second co-owner. “You’re going through boxes, looking at covers, seeing who played what instrument on the back and picking up stuff that you wouldn’t online. When you’re shopping online, you can only go for the stuff that you know”. 

Citing inspiration from record stores like New York’s Human Head, Hastings’ Pressing Matters and Amsterdam’s Platypus Records, the pair aim to curate an inclusive and welcoming digging space that is open to all. “In those places, the people in the store take an active interest in what you’re digging, and they’ll say “Hey, if you like this box, check this stuff out,” Rooney says.

A desire to provide similar expertise while introducing its patrons to a diverse collection and representative in-store sets guides Rook Records. “We have a responsibility to pick out a diverse roster that reflects the audience”. 

Setting up a record store is not without its challenges, especially when it’s on “a shoestring budget” but it’s clear the sacrifice is paying off when Rook Records recall the holy grail discoveries and charming tales unique to overseeing a second-hand record store.

One such story centres around the store’s long-suffering postman. “Our poor postman is getting his back broken every day, taking deliveries in and out,” Rooney laughs. “But then one day he was like, “You guys buy collections?””. The pair ended up buying their postman’s collection, filled with disco records. Whilst looking at his other records, Gascoigne discovered around 50 Ghanaian records that were “really rare and in good condition”.

Despite the postman’s presumption that the store wouldn’t be interested, Rook snapped up the gem-filled collection. “These records had been stored in his loft for the last 30 years. The beauty of used is that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. 

Now overseeing a fledging record store, Rook plans to continue spreading its roots within London’s vinyl scene. Initially serving from Monday to Friday, the store is soon to open its doors on the last Saturday of each month–allowing its 9 to 5 crew the chance to come digging. The pair are keeping busy with an oncoming line-up of in-store events and record fair excursions. 

For those considering making the trip to Rook Records, Rooney and Gascoigne guarantee a welcoming digging experience. “If you’re coming to the store, don’t be afraid to talk to us at all. We’re all here because we love what we do”.

Rook Records is located at 9B, Riverbank House, 455 Wick Ln, Bow, London E3 2TB. Learn more here.