'It's hopeful and generous': Thurston Moore's experimental record shop

The Sonic Youth co-founder has set up a store in London, a haven for fans of Stockhausen, Luc Ferrari – and Norwegian black metal

Thurston Moore is sitting in his shop window, pricing up a pile of records and telling me how Sun Ra used to operate. “Before he was going on tour, to say Egypt, he used to ask them to send him some fabrics from there. He wanted to feel them in his hand, pick up the vibrations.”

We are talking about the physicality of objects, of holding a record or leafing through a pamphlet or a book of poetry. These things can be talismanic in a world where everything is digitised and streamed, where all music is available without us leaving the house. Here in this new shop, an old record cover, some Robert Smith merch, a book of strange poems, a Barney Bubbles print, a Japanese pressing of a Bowie album may seem out of time but they are deeply precious.

The shop has opened in my local high street in Hackney and it is the brainchild of Moore, co-founder of Sonic Youth, in collaboration with comic artist Savage Pencil (Edwin Pouncey) and Soho Music and Zippo Records head Pete Flanagan. His son Jim is working there. “I love collaborations. I always wanted to be on compilation albums!” Moore explains.

Less a shop, more an experiment … Thurston Moore’s pop-up record store on Stoke Newington Church Street.
Less a shop, more an experiment … Thurston Moore’s pop-up record store on Stoke Newington Church Street. Photograph: Sarah Lee/the Guardian

Named after Moore’s record label, the shop is called Ecstatic Peace Library, also the moniker of the publishing company run by Moore’s partner Eva Prinz. She is here, hanging an exhibition of John Fahey paintings called Days Have Gone By. The shop feels like a place where anything might happen but soon you see the amount of loving curation involved.

It’s beautiful, but then there’s the obvious question … who in their right mind would open a record store now? There is no money in it. Even on this gentrified street there are empty shops, the rents are extortionate and landlords are keen to turn properties over to property developers. What about profit? “What about artistic profit, creative profit, intellectual profit?” replies Moore.

The paradox that indie shops give a place character but no one can afford to run them is one reason I really appreciate Moore’s shop. Ever since he moved to my neighbourhood a few years ago he has been involved in local events. Only the night before he was playing with Scottish jazz musician Maggie Nicols in a small basement up the road.

The shop is a pop-up, though they prefer the word experiment, and it’s a treasure trove. There’s not just vinyl but prints, T-shirts, zines, books. I want it all. As if on cue, the first customer walks in. “This is sick,” she says to her friend. I chat to Peter from Richmond who has come all this way to buy some Luc Ferrari and Stockhausen. A young French man on his holidays spends hours going through everything. I notice a special little Norwegian black metal corner. “Satanists are people too, Suzanne,” Thurston says, drily explaining the story of Necrobutcher, bassist of the church-burning band Mayhem.

Treasure trove … Ecstatic Peace Library.
Treasure trove … Ecstatic Peace Library. Photograph: Sarah Lee/the Guardian

Indeed this is the joy of hanging out here, hearing fans exchange knowledge. Frankie, who is 19, says this is much better than the time she tried to buy a Doors album and the man selling it to her asked her what she knew about them. “It was scary. Like a test!”

This is indeed more welcoming. “Are you dog friendly ?” a customer asks. “Oh sure,” comes the reply. “We are everything friendly.”

There is a looseness where all sorts of esoteric knowledge is passed around. Savage, who created many of Sonic Youth’s graphics, is explaining John Fahey to me (a big influence on Moore and Beck among others). Someone suggests that every morning there be Savage meditation, where everyone draws. This may be a shop, but they all hope that is is also a small community place “with vinyl”.

The relaxed vibe emanates from Moore himself. Is he worried that people will just come to get a selfie? “It’s fine. If Patti Smith walked into this place I’d want a picture with her.”

A friend comes in and is ecstatic to find an Edwyn Collins single that Lou Reed said was the best cover of Pale Blue Eyes.

Chiara Ambrosio, an Italian artist, has brought her child in a pushchair. She gets it. “You must write about small spaces,” she tells me. “This is how we survive, how we don’t get hemmed in, this is where we collide, our shelter, our harbour. This is micro ecology. Look at the erasure of public space.”

Perceptively, she tells me English people wouldn’t have done this. “There is something hopeful and generous that Americans have.”

I fall back into Savage Pencil’s tales of getting the paintings from Fahey who was staying in a motel room, living on popcorn. “The whole place smelt of burned butter”. As light floods into the shop I find an album by one of my favourite poets, Louis MacNeice. I didn’t know such things existed.

I so want this place to find a home. In these days of doom and shutdown, a gorgeous space has been created for fans of music, ephemera, poetry, life. It’s “entirely idealist to open up ship in a climate of demagoguery” says Moore. Yes it is. And wonderful.

Ray of hope: Suzanne Moore digs in the crates.
Ray of hope: Suzanne Moore digs in the crates. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

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Suzanne Moore

The GuardianTramp

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