Your essential companion to digging in the French capital.
As one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the world, Paris often labours under the weight of expectation as “the city of light”, but scratch the surface even slightly and there is a huge amount to discover, not least a fresh and exciting musical scene.
While the bulk of visitors come for the museums, the architecture or the food, densely packed micro-areas that have precious little in common with the Latin Quarter or the Champs Elysées often provide a complete change of atmosphere in just a few blocks.
Home to many disparate underground musics, from revolutionary jazz and psychedelic rock to a thriving house and techno scene- not forgetting its historic role as a production hub for large swathes of French-speaking African countries, the city’s musical DNA is reflected in its numerous record shops.
And while Paris is perhaps best known as a destination for second hand records, with numerous specialist shops and frequent markets, as the boundaries of the city expand away from the centre, there are plenty of shops, labels and collectives pushing a different agenda.
From radio stations like Le Mellotron and shops like the proudly alternative DDD to house stalwarts like La Mamie’s crew and the more eclectic Soukmachines and Ligne 15 outfits taking up residence in disused industrial spaces of the oft-dismissed ‘banlieues’, there has been a flowering of creativity and opportunity over the past decade, bringing Paris into line with other European capitals in the studio, and on the dance floor.
Here are a selection of the record shops that reflect this vibrant world.
Location: 32 Rue Saint-Sebastian, 75011 Paris / Metro: Saint Ambroise, Saint Sebastien Froissart, Chemin Vert
Go for: New 12”s, house, soul, disco, jazz, Latin and African
What’s the Story? Betino Errera is something of a local institution and has been supplying records to the people of Paris in one form or another since the mid ’80s. Initially starting out selling US imports at legendary boutique Radio Pygmalion in 1986 and working for Caramel distribution, he set up his own shop in 1999. Betino’s roots in the early days of house and the jazz funk scene are still evident today, and the shop gives equal weight to new 12” releases and a wide selection of second-hand jazz, soul, disco, Latin and African records. It also happens to be one of the friendliest shops in Paris.
Crocodisc / Crocojazz
Locations: 42 Rue des écoles 75005 (1), 40 Rue des écoles 75005 (2), 64 Rue de la Montaigne-Sainte-Geneviève 75005 (Jazz) / Metro: Maubert-Mutualité, Cluny-Sorbonne, St Michel
Go for: Rock, psych, French music, folk (Crocodisc 1) / Soul, funk, reggae, Latin, Caribbean and African (Crocodisc 2), Jazz (Crocojazz)
What’s the story? Right next to the Sorbonne University and not far from the touristic St Germain area, Crocodisc (and sister shop Crocojazz) will be celebrating 40 years in the business this December. Starting out in the original shop at 42 Rue des écoles, the early days saw owner Philippe travel across Europe and the UK, scouring distributors for cut-out stock and independent releases that weren’t easily accessible at the time. The shops retains that same ethos today, covering many styles in-depth that are not always well represented in Paris.
Now spread across three shops, Crocodisc covers pretty much all bases. The shop at number 42 has an enormous selection from the French Caribbean and Haiti as well as an enviable salsa section, while the original shop has deep racks of classic and obscure French records.
Les Balades Sonores
Address: 1-3 Avenue Trudaine, 75009 / Metro: Anvers
Go for: Rock, experimental, soundtracks, electronica, jazz, African and world
What’s the Story? Now with a sister shop in Brussels, Les Balades Sonores started out as a roving pop-up in 2004 before setting up at 1 Avenue Trudaine six years ago.
Overflowing with records, the original location covers rock, psych and French music, with new releases on the ground floor and a second-hand section in the basement that is particularly strong, unsurprisingly, on French releases.
The more recent extension next door is focused on jazz and music from around the world, as well as soundtracks, books and ephemera, with a 70/30 split between new and second hand releases and more than fair pricing. The shop hosts regular in-store performances on Thursdays and the first Sunday of the month.
Address: 26 Rue Godefroy Cavaignac, 75011 / Metro: Charonne, Voltaire
Go for: Soul, jazz, disco, rare house and techno 12”s
What’s the Story? Situated in the golden vinyl triangle of the 11th Arrondissement and named after a classic War track, Heartbeat Records – open since early 2016 – is small but well curated and has more in common with specialist shops in Shibuya than the larger second hand stores normally found in Paris.
Prior to opening the shop, owner Melik Bencheikh spent many years working in distribution in London and it shows. The selection is a painstakingly curated mix/range of jazz, soul, disco and funk rarities in tip top condition with a large selection of rare (and mint!) house and techno 12”s – informed as much by time spent at Plastic People in London as Paris’ more leftfield clubs. Perhaps one of the best places to find serious US disco 12”s in Paris, it’s a regular haunt of DJs like Dmitri from Paris.
Les Puces de St-Ouen
Address: 132-140 Rue des Rosiers, 93400 Saint-Ouen / Metro: Porte de Clignancourt
Go for: Second hand bargains and rarities across all genres
What’s the Story? The enormous puces (flea markets) extending from the northern péripherique (ring road) that circles Paris are some of the largest in Europe, selling everything from eye-wateringly expensive furniture and paintings to vintage clothes and cheap and cheerful knick-knacks. There are numerous records stands, stalls and dealers spread throughout the markets but some of the best can be found on the first floor of the large Marché Dauphine. Boasting 10 different shops stocking everything from classic rock, yéyé, French rarities, jazz, soul and world music, it’s often cheaper than the shops in the city centre and is a regular haunt for many of Paris’ ever-expanding horde of diggers.
Every stall has a different speciality and it’s easy to lose an entire afternoon doing the rounds but special mention must be given to Gemini Cricket (stand 267), Panorama Records (stand 227), French Connection (stand 268) – all for funk, soul, Jazz, African and reggae – while On the Ground (stand 269) and Rocket Records (stand 228) are great for rock, punk and French music.
Location: 12 Boulevard Saint-Martin, 75010 / Metro: République, Strasbourg Saint Denis
Go for: Techno, house, experimental, tribal
What’s the Story? Open since January 2017, DDD records combines an on-point selection of techno and house with a punk attitude, emerging out of owner Xavier’s DJ sets, where he sold records straight off the turntables. The shop also stays true to a more underground way of selling records – no shop frontage, small in-store events showcasing upcoming producers and DJs, and a related series of events at La Java nightclub.
As well as a selection of up-to-the-minute house and techno, the shop boasts some unexpected selections in its corridor-like space, hidden away in the Paris offices of Club Maté. Here you are as likely to find a stash of early ’90s Italian tribal 12”s or a batch of Caribbean zouk as you are the newest releases from labels like Berceuse Heroique or Don’t be Afraid.
The shop is set to move north to a bigger space in the 18th Arrondissement over the summer, combining forces with Parisian record dealer Vincent Privat to bring in more second hand stock, which is certainly something to look forward to.
Location: 6 Rue des Taillandiers, 75011 / Metro: Bastille, Ledru-Rollin
Go for: Upfront house and techno
What’s the story? Opened by bosses Didier and Blaise in 2005, Syncrophone has long been a community hub for the French electronic scene and probably has the widest selection of house and techno 12”s in Paris. The shop also stocks a good selection of disco and jazz funk and is a regular stop-off point for DJs playing at nearby clubs like the Badaboum (located next door) and Concrete.
Le Silence de la Rue
Address: 39 Rue Faidherbe, 75011 / Metro: Charonne, Faidherbe Chaligny
Go for: Rock, Jazz, Soul, Blues – new releases and reissues.
What’s the story? Silence de la Rue has been open since 1989, initially in the 18th Arrondissement before moving to its present home in the 11th in 1998. Unlike near-neighbour Heartbeat, Le Silence de la Rue has an across-the-board ethos and owner Christophe works hard to keep the shop stocked with new independent releases that sometimes slip through the gaps elsewhere, often with the keenest pricing in the city.
Address: 53 Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth 75003 / Metro: République, Strasbourg Saint Denis, Temple, Arts et Metiers
Go for: Jazz, soul, funk, Latin, African
What’s the story? Opened by Paulo Goncalves and Manu Boubli in 2009, Superfly Records has installed itself as one of the top second hand record stores in Europe. The shop regularly brings in collections and deliveries from across the world, running the gamut from Japanese jazz to Venezuelan salsa, Nigerian boogie to independent American soul as well as a consistently strong selection of European jazz.
Beyond the high-ticket items and well curated selection of reissues, there are many boxes of €3 or €5 records that are always worth a thorough rummage. Paulo and Manu also helm an eponymous reissue label, producing limited runs of otherwise unaffordable rarities.
Le Souffle Continu
Address: 20-22 Rue Gerbier 75011 / Metro: Voltaire, Philippe Auguste
Go for: Experimental, rock, psyche, free jazz, krautrock
What’s the story? Opened by Bernard Ducayron and Théo Jarrier in 2008, a stones throw from the Père Lachaise cemetery with a mission to inject some energy into a then-stagnant record market, Le Souffle Continu (French for circular breathing) stands as a hub for what co-owner Théo calls “niche sounds”.
Initially focusing on CDs, the vinyl section has grown substantially over the years, with barely a handful of CDs left in the shop. The open, inquisitive attitude of the owners shows in the selection, covering everything from free jazz, krautrock, psych and all manner of improvised and experimental music that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
Not content with simply running a record shop, Bernard and Théo launched the Souffle Continu record label in 2015 as a home for reissues of French experimental and jazz records – notably reissuing Barney Willen’s seminal and much sought-after 1972 album Moshi. The shop also hosts regular in-store performances and has a well-tended selection of books and magazines.
Photos by Bertrand Niquel.