Sanjiv Ahluwalia is a music and record shop enthusiast, journalist, and occasional DJ. In 2013 he mixed all four passions to produce the first Secret List, a guide to record shops in LA. This was followed by Paris, and then Brighton (written by Stephen Ellis), and he’s now released a London edition, with a review of 32 stores, and which contains some wonderful photography that captures the feel of record shops just perfectly.
So, read on to find out more about Sanjiv himself, the book, music in general, and er, roasted haddock and Batman!
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~ How did the idea for the original Los Angeles edition of The Secret List come about, and why didn’t the London book come first?
The idea for the series came about from two things: (1) the desire to go to the next level with my music journalism – I had worked as a music journalist for over twenty years and built up a name for covering new & innovative music, and also for new jazz, but I needed a fresh challenge and the idea for the books came from (2) a comment that Gilles Peterson made on air about the need for a Michelin style guide to clubs. I tweaked this idea and made it a Michelin style guide to record shops. Why Los Angeles first? Well originally the book was a global guide, and there is a version from 2012 which reflects this but this premise got scuppered by The Secret List team, who felt a global guide was too ambitious. So we agreed to release separate volumes for each city, building up to a final release for the London edition. Los Angeles was a good city to test the market with.
~ When did you first get bitten by the record shop bug, and what memories do you have of those times?
I can vividly remember my first visit to a record shop, ABC Music Centre in Southall Broadway, when I was around two or three years old with my Dad. I have memories of thousands of records and my Dad chatting to the owner. We visited ABC after seeing a Hindi film (the term Bollywood came later in the nineties) at the nearby Liberty cinema, and so began my love of music and film. ABC was the ‘go to’ shop for Indian music. and was later in the news when US super producer Timbaland visited the shop in the early 2000s with local music producer Rishi Rich. I think the Indian samples Timbaland produced for Missy Elliot were from ABC.
My first real visit to a record shop was to the legendary Groove Records in Soho when I was 15. It was the place in London to buy records, and for a teenager from suburban London it was scary. I think I was blanked by most of the staff, which was a common occurrence for many record buyers both in Groove and other record shops during the mid-eighties.
~ To help publicise the book you’ve been interviewed live on air by such luminaries as Gilles Peterson and Cerys Matthews, but if you could interview anyone, who would it be?
I’d like to interview Bradley Zero, DJ, producer and owner of Rhythm Section INTL record label. I really like the music he is putting out or playing.
~ If you could do another edition in any city on earth, where would it be?
A joint edition, Tokyo and Kyoto. Quite simply the best record shops I have ever been to are in these two cities (I never got to Osaka, which apparently is even better). Some record buyers talk about both cities being ‘cleaned up’ and that there are no more good records, but this wasn’t my experience. The staff in both Tokyo and Kyoto record shops are often very friendly and I remember some of the owners or assistants being fascinated by the concept of The Secret List. A good example was in a little family owned shop – Barn Home Records, Shinjuku, Tokyo. I was buying an array of records, from old soul to Californian surf, and having a long conversation with the owners about music, record shops, and Tokyo. Before I left the shop they came out from behind the counter, bowed and presented me with a seven inch single. Lovely.
You can read a photo essay on Tokyo record shops on The Secret List tumblr site here.
~ Who are the new jazz, soul, & world musicians out there you recommend we check out?
It is a very exciting time in music and there’s a lot of good stuff coming out of the UK. UK jazz is especially strong, I really like Nubya Garcia, Tri-Force and Moses Boyd. Yuseef Kamaal’s ‘Black Focus’ from 2016 is one of the strongest jazz albums released for a long time, it’s a shame the band have split!
And on the electronic/dubstep arena, which is going from strength to strength, my favourite tunes of the year are: FYI Chris – Snafubar, Byron the Aquarius – Nights in Jakarta, and Scott Grooves – Parts Manager part 2.
~ What were the first vinyl records you ever bought?
The first seven inch record I bought was Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ from Woolworths in West Ealing. The first album I bought was on cassette, I think it was The Police’s ‘Zenyatta Mondatta’. I can’t quite remember my first vinyl album, I think it was Prince’s ‘Around The World In A Day’.
~ Do you have a personal favourite record shop, and what shop best caters to your love of World music?
My fave record shop in London is Honest Jon’s; and my favourites in the world are: Superfly Records and Heartbeat Records in Paris; Touch Records in Los Angeles; Discland Jaro in Tokyo; and Workshop Records in Kyoto. For world music, the best source is probably Flashback in London, and in Paris, Superfly Records and Crocodisc.
~ Tell us a bit about your DJing?
Well I really am not a DJ! But DJing is something I enjoy, and a great way of promoting the books and meeting The Secret List readers.
~ Who were your musical heroes when you were growing up?
The Police, Prince, Miles Davis.
~ What’s the most impressive thing you can cook?
Roasted haddock with pomme de terre puree, green beans and a white wine sauce.
~ What would you tell your teenage self?
Be ambitious and follow your instinct.
~ If you could have a superpower for a day, what would it be?
I would like to be Batman and drive around Gotham City in the Batmobile.