Pure Groove Records began as a market stall in Camden in 1989, before quickly moving to a bricks and mortar home in Archway. Initially synonymous with the import and breaking of US house records in the UK, it later became the epicentre of the UK Garage, before evolving into a key cornerstone in the indie scene, accommodating exclusive releases, inhouse record labels and instores. The shop moved to Faringdon which allowed it to accommodate even more – and bigger – instores whilst simultaneously being a coffee shop and bar.

Below is an oral history of Pure Groove written by Simon Singleton, store manager between 2003 and 2010, when it eventually closed its doors.

When I joined Pure Groove in 2003, it was already two-thirds through its 21 year history but the biggest changes were still to happen. During the shop’s final eight years the music industry was going through some pretty radical evolutions that made many naesayers claim the humble record shop was on its last spin, but us, along with many other stores around the world that survive and flourish to this day, knew that places run by music people, for music people, would always have a role to play. We just had to change things up a bit.

The shop had grown out of the London dance music scene, with its owners, Nick Worthington, Tarik Nashnush and Ziad Nashnush, already immersed in the burgeoning movement of house music all night long, pirate radio and white label vinyls at the tail end of the 80s. In 1989, Pure Groove was born, importing the records from the US and Europe that they couldn’t find themselves.

It wasn’t long before local DJs were booking some studio time to knock their own productions together, which led to tapes being handed over the counter, which led to a record label or ten coming together. The most notable was the recently revived Locked On, which pretty much defined the late 90s/early millennium UK garage sound, and of course, Pure Groove was where Mike Skinner AKA The Streets handed in a demo. Let's push things forward.

There were two Pure Groove stores. The first was a cosy, no-frills, very traditional record store in Archway, North London, which survived on simply sourcing heaps of amazing records which thankfully people would (generally) purchase. The second was a strange beast, a beautiful and very styled ‘boutique shop’, which might have been a little shiny on the opening day, but we fixed that pretty quickly…

When I joined in 2003, the success of The Streets and the various labels meant that the shop had a definite dance bias but we started to work bringing the records in that were inspiring us, immediately forming close relationships with the likes of Transgressive and Moshi Moshi, major imprints now but at the time just small, DIY projects run by dedicated fans. It was a boom-time for aspiring 7” labels, and you had to constantly stay tuned in to find the key new releases. These were real salad days when you could hear a demo on John Kennedy’s XFM show, phone the label that night, order as many copies of it as they’d let you have, and have them sold in an afternoon. Young people were flocking to the seven inch single and a new wave of bands like Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys and Maximo Park were emerging. The Libertines’ impromptu gigs had people desperate to hear music up close and personal; a chance to get away from the impersonal brewery-owned chain venues and actually connect again with the bands. Pure Groove’s instore performances boomed in this thrilling new musical climate.

Our first ‘official’ instore was in the old Pure Groove on 12 March 2005. It was Nine Black Alps, who were being tipped as the British Nirvana at the time, and it was quite a coup to have them come and play in the shop. We found a local soundman with PA hire for just £50, including delivery in the boot of his weathered old car. We bought some Red Stripes from the dodgy off-license down the road that was clearly a front for something. It was going to be a special day. It started a bit chaotically, with an ex-girlfriend of mine arriving inebriated and shouting obscenities at me and my flatmate. Locals were used to this kind of antics though – it was a pre-gentrified Archway after all so boozed-up confusion in the middle of the day was standard fare. She eventually moved on and we got on with the show. It was fucking loud, but the horde of young people loved the sweat-from-the-band intimate show and especially the opportunity to meet the band, buy a single and get it signed. It was everything that was good about music – a chance for fans of any age to see a buzz band in a unique space for free. We were hooked, and started booking the instores thick and fast. It meant working late; sometimes being a soundman, sometimes a doorman, sometimes running to the shops last minute to buy the tinnies, and we all loved it.

Instores were memorable for many reasons. Diamond Hoo Ha Men (AKA Supergrass) was the most famous perhaps, a frankly unsafe number crammed into the tiny space and the band thrashing out on amps fit for a much, much larger stage. But I’ll also never forget so many turning up for Kate Nash that she played one show inside before decamping to play to the latecomers on the street outside. Or Jamie T attracting such an audience that we had to rush to the nearby pub and beg them to use their beer garden for an impromptu ‘festival’ show. And our Christmas season of instores I niftily titled The Pure Groove Festive-Al. Still proud of that one… We had the likes of Noah & The Whale, Laura Marling and now super-producer Dev Hynes (AKA Blood Orange) all perform their own tracks and Christmas classics.

But it wouldn’t be a DIY record store without a few hiccups too. There was a band (well, a solo act but they'll remain unnamed…) that played an instore and not a single person turned up. No girlfriend, no manager, no oddball fan who thought the early stuff was better. I moved from my usual spot behind the band overseeing it all to stage-front so he felt like he had some kind of audience. Incredibly, he played a second instore some months later! And even more incredibly, three people turned up this time.

We needed a bigger store. Records were being stored in boxes on top of boxes full of records held up by a shelf of records. We were sat on each other’s laps squeezed in a space with an internet connection seemingly made from yoghurt cups and string. It was frankly unhealthy, and we wanted to bring more music to more people.

The move to large space in a quiet bit of town beside a London meat market in Smithfields was met with bewilderment by some punters, and there are still many who question the location to this day. But being off the high street, for all its financial hit, also helped craft an atmosphere in that store that I’ve not experienced since. It was a bit of a split personality venue - part record store, part licensed bar, part gallery, and part whatever we felt like that day.

We started hosting instores pretty much every evening, and one day I suggested we should try putting on something at lunchtime as well, which was unheard of at the time. Somehow we got incredible LA noiseniks HEALTH to come and play at 1pm and it was mobbed. So one instore a day became a double whammy, with many of the lunchtime sets becoming people’s favourites. We attracted some real stars to play, as often they’d drop in en-route to an evening London show. Frightened Rabbit, Amadou & Mariam, War On Drugs and Lambchop were just some of the leisurely 1pm shows, and in the evening we had the likes of Friendly Fires, Example, Mystery Jets, Lykke Li and Edwin Collins perform amazing shows. Sometimes we chanced our luck when we heard bands were in town just because we loved them. I remember when The Woodentops played for the first time in years, or when Shonen Knife blasted out their unique power pop and even dedicated a song to me. And sometimes we were blessed just to be offered incredible shows, like Billy Bragg singing at 8am (!!) before leading the crowd to a London May Day demonstration. We even kept the Festive-Al going strong in the new store, with Bombay Bicycle Club, Mumford & Sons and The Wombats all playing special Yuletide shows.

The lines were blurring as to what the shop was, but that was fine as it meant we could try out all manner of new ideas. We hosted a book launch for DJ History’s best of Faith annual. For the uninitiated, Faith was a magical early 90s lo-fi hand-printed fanzine created by the Junior Boys Own record label, one of the key imprints in the London house music scene, a movement not adverse to attracting pretty hedonistic characters. And so this was no ordinary book launch, with hundreds (and hundreds) of old skool ravers turning up to hear the likes of Andrew Weatherall play a special DJ set. And in true old-skool rave spirit, the police turned up and shut it all down.

Why not start a dating night for London’s music lonely hearts we thought? The brilliantly named (if we say so ourselves…) Top 40 Singles was a much-loved monthly speed-dating night where the DJ spun people’s favourite tunes as a conversation-starter and we made the room as cosy as possible. Not sure if we need to get our hats ready for an indie-pop wedding any time soon, but people constantly told us how much they just loved hanging out with like-minded people. There were so many other music-themed events, from poker to silent cinema soundtracked by DJs, that we put on in the space. Some were spectacular, some were spectacular failures, but all were worthwhile. Record Store Day was unsurprisingly the peak of the year, both in ambition and takings, and having boyhood hero Graham Coxon play was another milestone I’m immensely proud of.

It all came to an end in summer 2010 and we didn’t really burn out or fade away – we were just a bit noisy and neighbours complained one too many times. It came at a point when people were considering new ventures so moving to a new space wasn’t an option and we decided that the memories would have to suffice. But fuck, what memories they were!

We were often asked about what the music policy was at Pure Groove. One of the founders Tarik would always reply that the music was driven by the young people that worked there – and we had many, many incredible staff in the store, all inspired by a relentless passion for new music. Some became stars of their own such as Daniel Avery, Derwin (AKA Gold Panda) and Kelly Lee Owen but there’s a long list of just as important lesser-known curators who would arrive late each morning (it was a record shop after all) but always with a good reason. They’d happen to have seen this amazing band late last night and we really had to hear them…