Ben Helliker-Hales, one half of Chaos In the CBD, tells us why he moved from New Zealand to South London
South Living with YAM RecordsWritten by: Jack Blocker
Theo Kozlowski of South London record store YAM Records explains why South London is the best place in the world to make, sell and play music right now. He also recommends Morleys Chicken, which is no surprise.
A trip to Peckham’s main thoroughfare, Rye Lane, really engages your senses. It’s full of colour and noise, and on hot days the din seems amplified. The smell of meat and fish, resting on ice, carries down the road, and the voices and energy of traders, barbers and buses spill out all over. I hate to be corny and use the word ‘vibrant’, but I guess that’s what you’d call it. With so much amid the throng, it would be easy to miss YAM (You and Music), a record store at the end of a short arcade off Rye Lane, unless you were looking for it.
The space isn’t big, but they’ve packed a lot of vinyl into their spot. When I spoke to YAM co-founder Theo Kozlowski the other night, he said this sort of thing’s pretty typical of the area. “Most of the scene in Peckham is hidden. For example the Gowlett is at the end of a road in the middle of a neighbourhood, like you wouldn’t know it's here if you were just walking down the main high street.”
The Gowlett, where we meet up, borders Peckham and East Dulwich. While a new pop-up/roof-top bar seems to open in Peckham on a weekly basis, this local pre-dates any of the hype that’s surrounded the neighbourhood these past couple years. When Theo first moved to Peckham eight years ago, The Gowlett and Bar Story, another spot in the arches under the station “were the only places people would really hang out, so you'd drink there and then you’d come and drink here, so there would be that crossover between the two.”
Then there were also the odd parties, at venues like Bussey Building. As most of them were free, and hosted nights by local heroes Rhythm Section, word soon spread. “When I first moved here loads of my mates were out east,” Theo tells me. “There wasn’t a great deal going on but they used to come down for parties - things like Rhythm Section, whatever was on at the Bussey - and they thought ‘hang on a sec, how much are you paying for your rent?’”
Naturally, people started swapping East for South-East, and Theo and his YAM co-founder, Tom Lawes, realised a scene was growing. So why did they want to open the shop? “Rhythm Section sort of primed us. We were like ‘shit! There are people coming to this vinyl party. We're massively into records and then the Bussey building was kicking off. It felt like there was a vibe going on - this is the time to do it. We’ve got to grasp that energy.”
Before I get too ahead of myself, let me allow Theo to give a quick rundown of Rhythm Section: “Rhythm Section is a bi-weekly night at Canavan’s, an amazing pool hall on Rye Lane. It started as a Motown night then sort of exploded.” It was founded by Bradley Zero, who wanted to re-shift the focus back to the music with two decks, two or three DJs at each night, all spinning vinyl. “It’s a shakedown from beginning to end. All the DJs are hardcore diggers, so it's more about the music than showing off. People come to dance for one, and they come to listen, which people often don’t go to do at a lot of parties. I’ve had the pleasure of playing there a few times and it’s great to be able to play to such a responsive audience who are like ‘what the hell are you playing? That's sick!”
As someone who’s made a fool of myself at a few Rhythm Sections, I can’t argue with Theo when he says “you don’t get many nights like that in London. It’s a big inspiration to us.”
Before opening YAM, Theo had originally attempted to break into the music business as a booking agent. But he realised it wasn’t for him: “In that game you have to be quite brutal. It’s pretty cut-throat.” Given all that was going on with RS and venues like Bussey, Theo and Tom soon had another idea. “We were chatting one night and we thought 'shall we just sell records on a Saturday' on a stall in Peckham. I had an idea of where we wanted to do it - which is where we are now - so we got in contact with them, but they said we can’t let you do it on just a Saturday. Still, rent was the right price that we could just about afford to rent it on a weekly basis.”
Theo says the little arcade, which houses the shop, was “kind of falling apart” when they first opened, but that didn’t deter them. “We didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We were just super passionate, like we really wanted to do this. We know loads of people, we’ve got the links, so let's try and make this a reality, because if we don’t do it now, we might miss the opportunity.”
Luckily, Theo and Tom made the most of it. And as YAM approaches its second birthday, it’s starting to look old in comparison to some of the places opening up around Peckham. Given his relative expertise on the area, I figured it was a good time to ask Theo about his favourite spots around Rye Lane. “Peckham Springs is run by some friends of ours, who managed to twist the arm of the man who owns Bar Story into renting them a couple of arches so they could cobble together a bar. They put us on a lot of the time to DJ and they've given us a considerable amount of free beer.”
Food-wise, there’s south London chicken institution Morley’s (“you wouldn't be doing Peckham if you didn’t take a trip to Morleys.”) Or if you want a healthier option, there’s Lerryn’s, a cafe where Theo and Tom would get “super hyped on caffeine and crunch figures” when they were planning the shop.
But wherever you go in Peckham, you’re sure to find something you like. At the very least, people will offer you something to try. “Peckham is a constant hustle. Whether it's the butchers, fishmongers, or guys coming to the shop with their records, everyone’s got something to sell you. That's just one of the amazing things about it.”
So make sure you look for YAM next time you’re down. Otherwise you might miss it.