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Record stores in Paris (part 2)

Jun 25

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Thursday, June 25, 2009  RssIcon

Thanks to everyone who e-mailed, commented, texted, Facebooked, Twittered and physically cornered us after our recent article on record stores in Paris. We’ve got plenty of tips on music shops in the capital and en province: our plan is to visit them and report back here with our findings. Keep sending them in. First up, then, are a pair of neighbouring Paris stores suggested by FL reader Lorcan; all hail Lorcan.

The two shops are in the 11th arrondissement near Bastille, a part of town your correspondent hadn’t previously checked out in great detail. Mostly, the streets closer to the Bastille are home to kebab takeaways and alcopop bars, and we didn’t leave Dublin just to hang out in Temple-Bar-sur-Seine. But a block away on Passage Thiéré there’s a cool little venue called La Mécanique Ondulatoire (we saw Wavves there recently), so it’s no surprise that there are good music shops nearby too.

Around the corner from the Mécanique Ondulatoire is rue Keller, a wonderful street full of charming cafés and idiosyncratic specialist stores. (We’re especially thinking of the shop that sells tap-dancing shoes and associated paraphernalia. Who’d have thought the Paris hard-shoe scene was so active?) It’s also the street that clothes the rockers, metallers, ravers, skaters and Goths of Paris: whatever your taste in music you’re sure to find your gang colours in one of the boutiques here. It was our first time on this street and from this day forth we’ll be there regularly.

On rue Keller you have a record store called Born Bad which deals mainly in punk, garage, rockabilly, surf and other alternative retro. The guy behind the counter had black slicked-back hair and a well-groomed moustache like some young stud in an ‘80s New York fashion magazine: this wasn’t our usual indie-kid record shop where your correspondent is confident of out-suave-ing the hired help.

The store’s bigger sections include ‘Punk Oi ‘77-’84’ and ‘Surf ‘60s Compilations’, genres that don’t correspond to anything in our record collection. Of the more prominent album sleeves on display, among the kitsch and DIY cover art, we only recognised Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Histoire De Melody Nelson’ - best French album ever, as we've said before. Still, we got great pleasure and no little education from flicking through the garish and bizarre record sleeves, some of which you can see on the Born Bad website along with vintage clothes and badges they stock.

The other of the two record stores was similarly strange to us. Bimbo Tower is tucked away on nearby Passage Saint Antoine, with a discretion that befits its alternative and often countercultural stock. The shop mostly sells electronic, avant-garde and experimental music for punters who probably find Warp Records just a bit too mainstream. They also have a Japanese pop section, perhaps because many of its punters are also manga fans. (The Bimbo Tower website has a section devoted to Japanese pop culture.) Like in Born Bad, almost everything on the Bimbo Tower racks was unfamiliar to us – except, surreally, the face of goofy old Jonathan Richman gurning on the cover of his recent Spanish-language album. He seemed as out of place as us.

As well as CDs whose artists we didn’t recognize, Bimbo Tower also sells that classic and almost-extinct weapon of subversion: home-made cassettes, mostly looking like they contain Teutonic metal. And they also stock books on punk and revolutionary movements and political theory; we had a flashback to the flat of a rather intense girl from our college days. Like when we were in Born Bad earlier (and that girl’s room earlier again) we felt overwhelmed and a bit out of our depth.

And this is exactly why we love Born Bad and Bimbo Tower. Pop and rock records should be new and strange and challenging and flashy and slightly intimidating – and if pop and rock record stores are like this too, so much the better. (Of course, perhaps such shops are banal to you, and your correspondent has lived a particularly sheltered and innocent live until now.) We didn’t find anything to buy there today, but we’re bloody well going to check out Punk Oi ’77-’84 and Surf ‘60s Compilations and Teutonic Metal On Home-Made Cassette and then go back there with these seeds of knowledge.

That said, we’re still not brave enough to go into the tap-dancing shop.

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Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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