Come out of Rye Lane station in Peckham and head a couple of minutes up the road and you will see the entrance to the K&S Arcade, just next to the emporium that is Khan’s Bargains. As you look into what seems like a rabbit warren of shops and stalls half way down you will see a little glowing sign saying YAM Records. This is one of the crop of new independent record stores springing up in Peckham opened by two mates Tom and Theo and it’s proving to be a corner stone of the exciting scene that has bubbled up in the area over the past few years.
I head down to speak to the guys on a Saturday morning before they open up. The Shop consists of two opposite units, one full of record crates, one with two listening posts. The guys are slowly getting the place ship shape and, like me, are nursing hangovers from the night before. As we talk we warm up, with the fuzz slowly lifting and the conversation beginning to flow. People from other units walk past saying hi and the first of the days diggers quietly slip into the shop and start rummaging through the crates.
Well firstly (in a shit impersonation of Cilla Black) what's your names and where do you come from?
Theo: Well, my name’s Theo. Do you want my full name? Hah! Is this an application for a job? Anyway, my name’s Theo and I’ve been living around here for about 5 years now.
Where did you move here from?
Theo: I studied in Kingston, and before that I was living in Southampton. My family is from South London so I’ve spent a lot of time around here despite living in Southampton. I’ve been in Peckham 5 years now, going back to the family roots I guess.
Tom: I'm Tom Lawes by the way. I was born in Camberwell, moved out of London and then moved back here 5 or 6 years ago.
How did you both get into records?
Tom: For me, with records specifically, it was my brother. He started DJing when he was about 14 and when I reached the same age I started getting interested in the noise that was coming from his bedroom.
And what noises were coming from his bedroom?
Tom: Well it was kind of nu-school breaks, so Stanton Warriors, Plump DJ’s that kind of thing. It was around then that I dropped my instruments and started playing records instead.
Theo: I guess I’ve always been into music heavily. I played jazz sax and I was super into Michael Jackson and shit like that. Then I got into dance music when I was about 11? I used to buy Ministry of Sound and Cream CD’s and stuff like that. All the stuff of the 2000 era. Super into that.I always wanted to DJ but then got into punk rock when I was 14 and picked up a guitar and stopped listening to dance music. Then out of that I got into drum and bass and that’s when I realised I needed decks. Then I re-discovered house and techno along the way and soul and everything. The record thing just got ever bigger from there I guess.
Where did the idea for YAM first come about?
Theo: I guess it started when I thought about starting my own booking agency. I was trying to come up with an idea for that. There was a moment when I was discussing it with Tom on a Thursday night…
Tom: We were at the Birds Nest in Deptford.
Theo: Yeah, We were just out having some beers listening to West Norwood Cassette Library doing a bit of a techno session.
Classic Thursday night.
Theo: Yeah, we were just jamming out and coming up with ideas for stuff and we decided that we should maybe do a little Saturday pop-up shop. And I thought I had the perfect place too.
Tom: Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us just open on a Saturday. They said that if we wanted to do it we had to have a whole unit. It just snowballed from there really. When we decided that we were actually going to do it, we didn’t actually have any records to sell. Neither of us had a massive collection either so we couldn’t just get rid of a bunch of our own. Then the realisation came down of ‘shit, we need to get some records to sell.’
Where did you get them from then?
Tom: Well, we just trawled the internet for various job lots and then the bulk of our initial stock came from Andrew Ashong. I think you bumped into him in Rat didn’t you?
Theo: Yeah. I knew him through a mutual friend and then…
Is that Rat Records in Camberwell?
Theo: Yeah yeah. I bumped into him there and we just got chatting and he said that he had loads of stuff…
Tom: I think we spent about 12 hours trawling through this insane collection…
Theo: Yeah that’s it. He’s got an amazing collection. Lovely bloke.
Tom: Yeah, and since then we’ve just been keeping an eye out for fresh bits. It generally all comes from job lots on eBay or Gumtree. There was one guy we met through eBay who had a massive collection, huge wealth of records, and we were like ‘right, we need to keep coming back to you.’ And there are a couple of secret spots as well that we won’t disclose the location of!
Fuck. There goes my investigative journalism. So how did you find out about this space? Did you look at anywhere else?
Theo: Well, I’d kind of spotted this spot a while ago and I wanted to do a record shop ages ago but that concept had just gone through my head. But then when the idea came back around we decided that we needed somewhere affordable rather than taking on some massive unit we didn’t need. I’d seen this place ages ago and I just liked the fact there was a guy playing music next door to us already and if I wanted to be anywhere I wanted to be where the music was coming from!
Tom: I think it was also the fact that there wasn’t really anyone doing anything down here, which was nice. It was great that we could just make it our own.
Theo: And there was so much free space available.
Tom: I think just having a blank canvas was a good thing.
What made you think it wasn’t the most ridiculous idea in the world to open a record shop in this day and age?
Theo: Well, we knew for a fact that we buy lots of records, our friends buy lots of records, and in Peckham there is quite a considerable amount of DJ’s considering where it is.
Tom: I think also the fact that we’ve been down here for long enough to see the scene grow as it has. Also being loosely involved in the music scene in various ways. We figured that there was enough of a market to warrant opening somewhere this small.
Theo: We also wanted to do it to support the scene.
Tom: To provide a platform for local artists like Bradley and the 22a boys.
Theo: That was a big inspiration in many respects. I’ve known Brad for years and been going to his vinyl only parties. I’ve always been vinyl only. It was just building on that.
Tom: The fact that there was a vinyl only party showed us that there was a market for it. People are willing to spend their money on records.
So now you’ve got Rye Wax opening up next door and the Bussey Buiding has been doing amazing things for ages and you’ve got Bradley and people doing stuff. It seems like Peckham is completely buzzing at the minute. What do you think it is? Do you think that it’s because space is cheap comparatively? Is a reaction to the whole East London/Hackney thing?
Theo: I think it’s just that a lot of people have moved here. When I first moved here there wasn’t a great deal going on but there were a lot of kids that stayed around after university and were trying to find something to make for themselves.
Tom: There was always quite a nice buzz around the place. There was always a feeling that everyone that lived here was onto something special. No one quite knew what it was but there was always that sense that was our little secret. I joined in on that comparatively late but it always felt like we were onto something. It was always full of creatively minded people who wanted to carve their own path in whatever medium that may be. It grew quite organically.
Theo: I always felt that there was quite a strong community. It has always stayed quite solid.
Tom: There’s always been a core group of people…
Theo: …that stuck it out!
Tom: I think the fact that the area itself is quite small and the transport links aren’t necessarily as good as East London, it just turned into a little pocket that was able to fester without any real external influence. It meant that everyone knew each other by just a few degrees of separation. And like I said, it just grew very nicely and organically.
Theo: Initially it was cheaper than East London and it was the people that didn’t want to be in that. It’s been good. So far, Peckham has been good to everyone that’s come here. Also, with the Internet, everyone can link up everywhere. But it seems like places like this highlight the importance of little hubs where people actually have face-to-face communication.
From being behind the counter, how much do you see people meeting in here?
Tom: Well since we’ve opened I feel like the shop helps join the dots between people that have mutual friends and stuff like that. It’s nice to have that face-to-face interaction with people that you might get the chance to meet but you probably wouldn’t unless you put yourself in a situation.
How important is this place for local DJ’s and artists and local labels?
Tom: Oh, really important. That’s the reason we started it. Not just to sell records but to have a space where people could just talk about music. Some of my favourite days here are when people don’t come in to necessarily buy records. They’ll have a little dig but then they’ll hang around for a chat.
Theo: Or when people like you come in saying ‘I’ve got this record I did the other day.’ That’s exactly what we want to hear. The best stuff in a shop is the stuff you get from local guys putting out records. They’re often the best to sell, as people want to buy that stuff. If anything it’s the Peckham based labels that really do well in the shop. People in the area dig being part of it as there’s something going on here and they want a bit of that. We had Danny Krivit down in the shop and all he wanted to see was the local stuff and the local records. He just wanted all of them!
Tom: People get excited by home grown talent.
I guess that’s something you’ve got over a store like Juno. They sell loads of records and they’re great for people selling records but…
Theo: They’re almost faceless in a way… But that’s the same with any large record store. For example, even Phonica. The more room they have for stock the less they can focus on specific artists and collectives and stuff like that. That’s the nice thing about having a small shop, that we’ve really got a focus on quality over quantity but also it means that if we actually believe in something we can really sell it - rather than just adding it to the sea of music from the rest of the world. It’s really nice to have that platform to support the smaller guys in what is quite a big pond.
I know we spoke about this a little bit before we started, but you guy’s work as well as running the shop. How’s the whole work/life balance going for you guys?
Tom: Well, the shop doesn’t really feel like work.
Theo: No, it doesn’t.
Tom: Which is a good thing. Despite all of the work that we do outside of it, which is knackering, when you come here it’s a relief. I don’t mind sitting around pricing records and sorting out the shelves. It’s a release in many respects.
Theo: It’s a labour of love. We didn’t start this to make money. We started it to sell records and meet people.
Tom: Supporting what we enjoy.
Do you see it as something that could support you?
Theo: That’s the end game.
Tom: I don’t think I could do a 9-5 and then evenings and weekends for ever. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work out (although I hope it does) worst case scenario is that we’ll be slightly out of pocket and we’re going to have a few thousand records!
You sound like you’re maybe quite looking forward to that!
Tom: Yeah, there are a few in there that I really don’t want to sell.
I suppose maybe your hand was kind of called on that as you wanted to do it just one day a week but they said that you had to have it for 7.
Tom: We did get forced into a bit but I’m actually glad we did.
Theo: There was a moment where I thought, ‘are we actually going to do this?’
Tom: Before we started it I don’t think we really thought about the logistics of maintaining a job that’s going to earn us money and keep our heads above water.
Theo: We kind of just went blind into the darkness. It’s 100% worth it though.
You guys DJ together, were you doing that before the shop?
Theo: Well, we’d been DJing independently outside of that for quite some time.
Tom: I think the first time we played together was NYE.
Theo: Yeah, we did a NYE at Rhythm Section and there was a similarity in sounds and stuff and then we played records on and off round each others houses after that.
Tom: I think we only played one gig together before we opened the shop. It was the first birthday at Peckham Springs I think. That was really good fun. We hadn’t really spoken about what we were going to play and we both turned up with very similar bags! There were a couple of records that we’d both bags but the rest was different but within the same vein. It clarified then that our musical outlooks were pretty similar. Since we’ve opened the shop we’ve actually been getting more booking which isn’t something we were expecting or looking for.
Theo: It’s stuff I’m not turning down that’s for sure. I love playing records and it’s good playing records with Tom.
Tom: Yeah, it’s good fun.
Theo: A good DJ partnership.
For the readers, I should say that they’re both hugging at the moment.
Tom: I love you so much.
With yourselves being big record collectors and diggers, what’s your most prized find so far? First for your own collections and then for the shop.
Tom: Personally, recently, a record by Madeline called Who is he? Really nice obscure soul with an amazing cover of Bill Withers. One of those girls that made one amazing record and then disappeared off the face of the planet. There’s probably some more in there but I’d have to have a dig.
Theo: There are so many good records. Sometimes it’s the obvious stuff and the gems on the b-side.I’ve got this J Blackfoot piece, I think it’s called Can You Hang. I don’t really dig the rest of his stuff much, but I think it’s the B2 on one of his records and that came in just as we were opening the shop. It’s just funky.
Tom: One that never leaves my bag is by a guy called Bileebob and he’s put a couple of pieces out on Underground Resistance. He doesn’t really have much out, but this track called Sunshine. It’s house but it’s got this really dusty hip-hop feel to it with a weird vocal. But it’s absolutely wicked. I think it’s from 2006? It’s literally never left my bag. Always there. Shop wise…
Theo: Last week I was really chuffed when we had a couple of Fela Kuti's in.
Did they last long?
Tom: No they didn’t. One girl came in and spent about an hour and half picking out this massive stack and then spent another hour and a half in the listening booth. She ended up buying about 50 quids worth then she came back in the next day and said she’d just watched Finding Fela and asked if we still had that Fela record. So I pulled out the album, which was £40, and she said she wanted the single. Then I went to put the album back and she was like, ‘no no, I’ll have that one too!’ She snapped them both up!
But that LA Nights white label, I can’t remember who it’s by as I can never pronounce their name… Yakuzosomethingorother. What is it? Yasuko Agawa. Even a repress goes for 15 odd on discogs.
Theo: What was that Japanese guy we had in…
Tom: I think the album was called Hunting Out Wind or something. Absolutely wicked though. I can’t remember his name.
Theo: Jazz Funk. God, what was his name?
Tom: That was amazing and that didn’t last long either.
Theo: I think that was in the first week of opening as well and in the first week it went.
Do you get this feeling of pride when you get this amazing find and then it goes straight out the shop?
Theo: Yeah yeah. We’ve had 2 copies of Miles Davis Bitches Brew, which you can say is both common and not. But we’ve both had original pressings in and they never last long.
Tom: (Triumphantly) Hiroshi Fukumura. Hunt Up Wind!
Theo: Yeah! That was an amazing find. I really enjoy when you find some good jazz bits.
Tom: It’s nice even just having one listen to some of these things too.
Theo: Or more often than not, when you get something in that’s really good and you’re putting it on the record player quite often, then people come in and snap it up because they walk in and go, ‘that’s wicked!’ But then we have to ask them if they can wait until we’ve finished the record as it’s the first time we’ve heard it!
Tom: Don’t take it yet!
So, the instores. You seem to have quite a few of them. I’ve never made it down to any but it look like they’re always well attended and quite a lot of fun and I have to say, it’s not the biggest shop in the world!
Tom: I think the fact that it is so small is great because you don’t need as many people to make it a nice vibe. Also the fact that it’s a pokey little shop means that there is a nice intimacy between the punters and whoever is playing.
Theo: People seem to quite dig that. Perhaps because it’s almost like it was when we all first came to Peckham and there were events and things going on hidden down little alleyways that were free. I’ve also been blessed by having lots of friends that put on parties.
You had Nick Hoppner down the other day right?
Theo: Yeah, exactly. Big up Ali (from Warm) for that one.
He’s not a small guy either; he probably took up most of the shop himself! Not being mean to him, he’s just very tall!
Tom: Huge! It was quite funny, we had one guy who came down, and everyone was pretty much spilling out into the corridor and having a few drinks and a chat, but there was this one guy who was sat in the middle of the shop for the whole two hours absolutely going for it. I had a chat with him afterwards and it turns out he’s seen Nick Hoppner 13 times in the last 12 months. It’s got to the point where he’s worried Nick is going to take a restraining order out on him!
What do all the other units think of your in stores? Are they closed up by that point?
Tom: No, they dig it!
Theo: If anything, they love it happening. From what I know. It gets people down. If it gets people down, it can only be good for their businesses.
Tom: Last night for example, a couple of the guys who were playing (Krywald & Farrer) disappeared for 10 minutes and then came back with a bag of stuff from Nest. It all feeds each other, which is nice. As far as I’m aware there’s no hard feelings from anyone here when we fill the place up with boozy kids.
Talking of that, where’s your Club-mate fridge?
Theo: (Moving the sign covering the fridge) That is a big plus point in this shop actually.
For the readers, there’s a load of Club-mate and one can of Stella in there.
Tom: (Guiltily) Don’t know who’s the Stella is…
Oh yeah, nothing to do with you guys.
Tom: Yeah (the fridge) was Theo’s idea. Getting something to keep people here.
Theo: I always get it when I’m in a record store and I’m digging and I really need to break something out to eat or a drink. It’s something that I felt ties in quite nicely with the scene and is associated with parties.
Tom: It’s a soft drink yet it’s still associated with parties.
It’s saved my life on more than one occasion!
Tom: There is one problem though… I think we’re both getting slightly addicted.
There’s probably a support group for that somewhere.
Tom: Yeah, in Berlin.
One thing I’ve noticed recently, about staff in record shops. It used to be very much the French waiter style of shop staff - looking down their nose at whatever you were buying. But now, it’s going back to everyone being all lovely and smiley. Like you guys for instance. But is it going back to that because it’s harder to sell records now?
Theo: I think that’s why a lot of places when bust. They were just a bunch of moody dickheads. We’re just really into what we’re selling.
Tom: Also, I wouldn’t say I was into every single record that we had in the shop, but you’ve just got to remember that music is entirely subjective. I’d rather someone bought a record and enjoyed it than me trying to push something on them that they didn’t want and then they’ve just got it sitting at home whilst they’ve thinking, ‘fucking hell, I wish I hadn’t bought that…’ Each to their own. If someone wants to buy something that’s shit, they can go ahead!
So long as they buy it from you!
Tom: Nah, I’m all for it. Music is music at the end of the day.
Theo: Peace and love.
That’s it! Right, there's one last thing I wanted to ask you about. You guys are in the process of building your website and stuff. In this day and age, do think it’s vital to be online support the physical shop?
Tom: I wouldn’t say it’s vital to support it but it’d be stupid not too. There’s a whole fucking world out there that we can tap into.
Theo: We quite often get people abroad asking if we can ship things. I don’t want to not send people music just because they don’t live in Peckham. If they’re into what we’re selling…
Tom: …and if we can get to them then why not. It’s actually interesting looking at the mail out each week and where people are opening it from. More and more often we’re getting people open them in the states and various places in Europe. Even some in Asia. It’s bizarre how far it’s reached, and we don’t even necessarily know anyone over there.
So that’s just from people coming and signing up to it?
Tom: It just goes to show that the reach of the shop isn’t just this area. If we can get records to them then why not! We do want to do this full time and online sales are another stream of revenue. It’d just be silly not to tap into it.
Theo: If we’re going to quit our day jobs I think the online part is a must.
Finally, one more thing. If I’m going to go have a bit of a dig, recommend me some records.
Tom: What’s your tip? You’re fully across the board right?
Fully across the board. Although my wife keeps taking the piss out of me for not buying any techno.
Tom: Percussion Toolkit #1 is absolutely wicked.
Theo: Yeah that’s dope man.
Tom: This new Hack E.P. as well (on Untzz).
Theo: Or 12 x 12 actually if you haven’t heard that yet?
12 x 12?
Theo: Yeah a friend of ours from Brooklyn.
I have heard that! Actually, I haven’t heard it. The guy sent it to us at the Ransom Note and I emailed him back and told him I'd listen to it but completely fogot! So I'll check it out now!
Theo: Yuri Shulgin, if you like a bit of acid.
Oh yeah I love it.
Tom: It’s kind of off-acid.
Acid that’s gone off but you take it anyway!
Theo: If you’re into a bit of hip-hop there’s this south London guy. What’s his name…
Tom: Jessie James Solomun.
Wicked, I’ll have a look at that.
Theo: He shot his music video in Canavans. Worth a listen because it really is local produce.
Wicked, nice one guys.