Digging for all tastes in the Argentine capital.
Few cities in South America can match the vibrant cosmopolitanism of Buenos Aires, which acts as a hub for people from all across the continent.
A symbolic bridge between Latin America and Europe, Argentina’s capital presents a somewhat contradictory proposition for record buyers. With a rich musical culture leaving plenty to discover across the city, the notoriously unstable economy makes Buenos Aires a relatively treacherous place to run a business as precarious as a record shop. While it’s famous for its football, steak and myriad of architectural styles, the city’s record culture can be a littler harder to locate.
Scratch below the surface though and it becomes clear that as the rock-obsessed home of tango with a party scene built for insomniacs, Buenos Aires is also an electric environment for music. One of the few cities in Latin America which still houses a record pressing plant of its own, the ‘Reina del Plata’ was one of the foremost producers of vinyl on the continent, and has retained no shortage of second-hand jewels from Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay and elsewhere.
We pick out nine shops from across genres to get you started.
Location: Honduras 5270, Palermo
Go for: Lesser known gems from all over the world
What’s the story? Exiles comes from the old school of record shops, where boxes don’t just line the walls, but spill out onto the floor and every available flat surface. The desk at Exiles sits under a ledge bulging with antique speakers, an ancient Casio keyboard, and a huge Jimmy Hendrix canvas. Better still, the range of stock is exceptional, with used records making up the bulk of a collection spanning from US soul to Brazilian samba, ’70s psychedelia and modern indie.
Categorised efficiently, whether its tango or hip-hop, you’ll probably find what you’re looking for. And as is often the case in BA, the jazz section is particularly ripe for picking. Ask for recommendations and you’ll probably leave with a good knowledge of the local live music scene too.
Location: Av. Santa Fé 2729 (Local 10), Recoleta
Go for: Cutting edge Argentinian talent
What’s the story? On first sight, this tiny shop on the edge of Avenida Santa Fe might seem like a relatively short stop, with a modest collection of records dwarfed by a wealth of CDs. Look a little closer though and you’ll soon realise that this musical mirage in Recoleta houses one of the most on-point collections in town. New records rule the roost here, with releases from Argentina’s best independent bands proudly on display across a far wall that wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery.
As such, Mercurio is an immaculately curated record shop, with artists representing an expansive assortment of genres. Dig through the stacks and you’ll uncover electronic oddities, new rock explorations, and an abundance of the digital cumbia and neo-traditional music that has swept through Latin America in recent years.
Location: Soria 5125, Palermo
Go for: Reggae, punk and plenty more
What’s the story? Ring the buzzer for entry and you’ll be welcomed into a particularly special part of the trendy Palermo district, an area known for its bars and music venues. Digging spots rarely look quite as beautiful as Jarana does – its a spaciously-designed, two-level interior lined with artwork. Boasting all new records, Jarana carries a broad range of rock and pop, jazz, soul, funk and hip-hop. It’s also one of the few shops in town to offer a substantial collection of reggae and dub, alongside punk and metal, and an extensive selection of Argentine rock nacional.
Location: Defensa 1281, San Telmo
Go for: Brazilian music, tango and vintage rock n roll
What’s the story? Records swing from the ceiling of this lovingly decorated shop at the end of Defensa, a street known for its wonderful Sunday market. One of the larger shops on the list, it is a great place to stock up on rock n roll, as well as local tango from across eras. Time spent in the expansive Brazilian section will also yield a good range of MPB, bossa nova and samba, with records from other parts of the continent also well-represented in the Latin and tropical sections. With a broad range of genres, listening stations and friendly staff, Eureka is great for getting a feel of the influences that have made Buenos Aires the multicultural city that it is.
Location: Mercado de San Telmo, Estados Unidos 460 (Local 134), San Telmo
Go for: South American sounds, cumbia and salsa
What’s the story? Having found its home in the famous San Telmo market sixteen years ago, Elena is a little cove for records produced in South America, with a beautiful range of sounds from each corner of the continent. Sections for tango, rock nacional and Brasil are well stocked with the more popular names from each field, but it’s the lesser thumbed artists that hide its finest secrets. Scout through the cumbia/salsa/rhumba section for Colombian treats, or ask for tips on protest music from Chile, Paraguayan folk, cumbia from Cordoba and rhythmic folk from Peru. Digging here by yourself is fun, but ask for recommendations and you’ll be sure to walk away with something special.
Location: Carlos Calvo 423, San Telmo
Go for: International and Argentinian rock, jazz, tango and more
What’s the story? Over five decades of love spills out of this shop just off of San Telmo’s Plaza Dorrego, where every record on sale is straight from the collection of its owner Eduardo. Having collected a magnificent assortment of rock nacional and internacional, jazz, tango and more for over 55 years, Eduardo is gradually finding new homes for the music he loves, and with stories to all of the records, Estimado Vinilo is a great place to ask for a few questions. A good range of Brazilian, Latin and tropical gems, as well as sections for Italian and French music, make this a particularly idiosyncratic assortment.
Location: Callao 395, Centro
Go for: New imports, jazz, classic rock, and blues
What’s the story? Occupying the corner of Callao and Corrientes in the centre of the city, Zivals is a haven for anyone looking for imported new releases and reissues. While the large store devotes more space to CDs and books, its selection of LPs and 12″s is carefully curated.
As such, you’re as likely to find country and film soundtracks alongside the latest electronic music, with artists like Muse, Mika and Beirut appearing next to the likes of Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan. A good place to stock up on the classics, Zivals is a neat and well-organised spot with helpful staff.
Location: Maipu 971 (Local 10), Centro
Go for: Jazz, house, techno and electronic music
What’s the story? It might be small, but El Agujerito is a considered and popular shop that has been operating from inside this downtown arcade since 1968. Housing a wide range of CDs and vinyl, it is one of the few BA record shops where you’ll find new releases of contemporary European dance music from German labels like Pampa and Kompakt. Boasting racks of CDs and DVDs, as well as a healthy array of 12” records, the shop provides the goods whether you’re looking for jazz, rock, pop or electronic music, with the friendly owner on hand for a chat in English or Spanish.
Location: Av. Cabildo 2040, Belgrano
Go for: Rock, metal, folk and more
What’s the story? If guitars are your thing, you’ll find yourself at home in Maniac. The Belgrano shop serves everything from grunge and metal to country and folk, with a focus on US and European imports. Stocking only new records, the shop is hard to beat if you’re into the many branches of rock music, with complete discographies for many classic artists alongside new bands from the international scene. Maniac is a pleasant place to flick through records, with stalls provided for diggers with a little time to burn.
Photos by Hangyu Lee