There are a lot of record stores in Europe, but few have the relaxed appeal Misbits. It’s a home in multiple senses of the word, both for the house and techno communities in Bucharest, but also literally, for its owner Iona Parlog (a.k.a. Miss I). We caught up with her to find out more about the importance of maintaining a space like this in a city that’s never had an abundance of quality vinyl record stores.
You never know what you might find down a nondescript concrete corridor in Bucharest. It’s a city of many architectural styles where pleasant surprises can hide around seemingly random corners. Turn one way down its Ottoman-influenced street plan, and you might find a building with neo-Romanian or art nouveau design. Turn another way, and you might find a brutalist relic from the communist era. Turn yet another, and you might just as well be invited towards a private residence that’s also one of the country’s most well-regarded vinyl record stores, Iona Parlog’s Misbits Record Shop.
Mistbits, which opened in March 2013, sits behind a locked iron gate. You have to ring the bell—equipped with a video camera—to gain entry. Down a narrow path lined with airbrushed street art and geometric designs lie a few patio chairs and a vintage brass ashtray which identify the entrance. They are reminders of the countless cigarettes Parlog and her customers enjoy outside during the warmer months.
It would be fair to say that there aren’t any other record shops like Misbits in Bucharest, but there aren’t many record shops in Bucharest at all. That’s the essential reason that Misbits is such a crucial fixture in the city’s electronic music community.
“When I opened the shop, a lot of people were thinking to do that, but they didn’t try it because they thought for sure it wouldn’t work,” Parlog told me from the ivy-laden wooden patio in the shop’s backyard. “Then they saw that I opened, that it’s working, and they thought, ‘Let’s try,’ I guess.”
Today, there are still few shops open and none as reliable as Misbits. That’s what initially drew Dragos Ilici to the shop, Parlog’s colleague and former customer.
Ilici was happy that there was finally a record shop in Bucharest focused on electronic music. “There was nothing else like this before,” he said. With a cozy, comfortable interior stocked with multiple couches, carpets and listening stations, it was a place where Ilici could meet like-minded people. “I was also super lucky that she let me use the turntables,” he said. “Here is where I learned how to play records.”
Ilici would move to Copenhagen before returning to Bucharest four years later. Over those years, the shop’s importance to the vinyl community in Bucharest would continue to grow.
For Bucharest-based DJ and producer Vlad Dinu, it’s more important now than ever. After being forced to sell a portion of his collection, he struggled to replace a number of important records. “My ‘gems’—those rare tracks people want to know about when they get played—have been lost from my hands,” he told me. “Misbits was the only spot in Romania that I found to have those ‘gems,’ and I am very appreciative of that.”
But the fact is that the majority of DJs in Bucharest are not playing vinyl. It’s changing, but slowly. “People are getting more and more into it and also Romania is getting more attention from other countries,” Ilici said. “So I think the economy is just going to grow and so will the record shopping and the interest.”
More economic growth would help balance out the difference in affordability. The price of a record remains largely the same in Romania as it would in Germany, anywhere from 40 to 60 lei, or €8 to €12. But in Germany, where the minimum wage is approximately €1,498 per month, according to Reuters, buying records is easier than in Romania where the minimum wage is less than €408.
But despite the inherent challenges involved in running a brick and mortar record shop in the digital age, Parlog has built a reputation for having one of the country’s best stocks and most comfortable lounge spaces. Shelves are labeled with house, techno, minimal, electro and experimental sections. Although the new collection is refined and heavily curated, the second-hand records are worthy of just as much, if not more, attention.
Paintings from a variety of artists line the walls. Some are from live painting exhibitions at events like the shop’s third birthday party, while others are remnants of the house’s past as a kindergarten. But when describing the shop, almost everyone eventually uses the same word: “homey.”
And while Parlog does actually live there, the feeling extends beyond just the comfort of a hot cup of tea on a fall afternoon. It’s rooted in the partial secrecy of the shop’s location and its mainly word-of-mouth reputation. “We are not advertising that much, so we try to keep it for people that are really interested,” Ilici said. “It’s nice that you can meet nice people and talk to them about music and it feels like being at home.”
Although Parlog underplays the role living at the shop has had on her DJ career, being surrounded by records has certainly not halted her growth. Since learning to mix over a decade ago on a set of turntables owned by a former boyfriend, she’s become a household name at clubs and festivals across Romania.
As Miss I, she has a penchant for smooth mixing. Her selection of dubbed-out house, techno and fresh electro cuts has been the talk of festivals like Romania’s 3 Smoked Olives and Waha. But beyond national borders she’s played sets across Europe and the U.S., at clubs like NYC’s Output and London’s Studio 338.
According to Parlog, it’s in her genes. “My father was a DJ when he was younger,” she said. When he would play his “main track,” as she refers to it, he would throw flowers into the crowd from a local florist. “When I was younger, he had a real reggae radio show; his jingle was ‘black music for white ears.’”
You’re unlikely to see the bartenders or Parlog throwing bouquets at the crowd during one of her sets. But there’s a good chance you’ll see a concentrated group of dancers—and a number of hawk-eyed DJs staring at her impeccable mixing.
She’s also proving to be a natural figurehead for female DJs in Romania. The numerical gap between male and female artists across the country can be vast. Taking a look at festival bills, from 3 Smoked Olives to Sunwaves, the disparity is striking. “Because we didn’t have so many record shops, [women] didn’t have the chance to think about this. They were focused on something else,” Parlog said. “It’s changing a bit because I heard a lot of girls want to try, but at the moment, we are not so many.”
Her desire to break the mold also extends to Romania’s reputation as a place of exclusively minimal and micro-house. It’s a desire she shares with her colleague Ilici, and it’s of endearing value to her customers.
“I know before people were very interested in this minimal side, or what they call Romanian, but I don’t like to call it the Romanian sound,” Ilici said, sitting on a cushion outside in his ‘80s-style jumper. “Now, we’re bringing a wider selection of techno, electro and more—it’s just more eclectic—and I’m happy to see that people dig this, too.”
That breadth of styles is due to the tastes of Parlog and Ilici. She has been successful so far in choosing her musical collaborators. She’s also struck up a fruitful friendship with Cosmin Dumitru, her partner in the shop’s label arm, Misbits Recordings.
Focused on beatless experimental music, Misbits Recordings has already released the label’s debut, The Emerald EP. It was launched in 2018 along with an installation series; it featured performances by Misbits artists like Romeo Poirier and Parlog and Dumitru (a.k.a. Smooth Operators).
Misbits Recordings has been an intriguing experiment so far for Parlog, but production still takes up a fraction of her time. In between gigs in Tel Aviv and London, she tries to find time to dig abroad with Ilici in hopes of maintaining a fresh stock.
Digging trips across Europe, Romanian bureaucracy and a burgeoning DJ career have limited Parlog’s time in the studio. They’ve also kept her away from her former Groove ON radio residency. But she’s remained busy enough to maintain a natural development.
That’s the way Misbits opened in the first place: organically. After collecting records for years online and graduating from university, Parlog sat at home, confused with what to do. “This friend of mine said, ‘You have a lot of records here, why don’t you open a shop?’ I thought, ‘Whoa, that’s a good idea.’”
Since that point, she’s turned her shop into the sort of communal living room that Bucharest’s DJs so sorely needed. Clubs prove a tying link for musical movements, but there need to be daylight-hours options for discourse and discovery. Through Parlog and Ilici’s buying habits, their helpful dispositions and the shop’s relaxed vibe, they’re bringing the wax-digging community closer together.
“Whenever I am over [at Misbits], I feel like I’m at home,” Dinu told me. “And my home at the moment is perfect.”
Published March 11, 2019. Words by Daniel Melfi, photos by Andrei Cojan.