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Violinist and music lover at the Pompidou │© Chris Ruggles / Wikimedia Commons
Violinist and music lover at the Pompidou │© Chris Ruggles / Wikimedia Commons

A Music Lover’s Guide to Paris

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 20 May 2017
Enjoying great music in Paris is easy if you know where to look or, perhaps more accurately, listen. Our guide tells you where to find free live gigs and mint condition vinyl records and gives you a rundown of the hottest festivals, most eclectic radio stations, and quirkiest music-themed monuments.

Bars

Two places in Paris where live music is the expectation and not the exception are the adjoining neighborhoods of Bastille and Oberkampf. In the former, three places to try are Pop In, whose music is free, alternative and unpretentious, Les Disquaires, where you can enjoy live jazz, funk, hip-hop and soul over a craft cocktail or beer, and La Mécanique Ondulatoire, a favorite of rock, ska, punk and metal fans that charges €5 for entry to its nightly downstairs gigs.

Up in Oberkampf, three great joints to check out are L’International, which is dedicated to promoting new rock, pop, folk, hip-hop and electro acts, L’Alimentation Générale, a bar, restaurant, concert hall and club with wildly eclectic tastes, and finally Onze Bar, a boho dream with the shabbiest chic interiors you’ve ever seen, diverse line-ups and French gourmet treats.

If all that live music sets your heart racing, feet tapping, and soul in need of a night on the tiles, head to one of Paris’ best nightclubs.

Concert halls

Paris has plenty of legendary concert venues, where homegrown and international superstars have played over the years. Two neighborhoods of particular interest here are Pigalle, where new music can be heard in antique surrounds, and La Villette, where modern temples have been built to showcase the classics.

More famous for its cabarets, Pigalle has two excellent venues in the Le Trianon, whose stunning Belle Époque architecture must surely be partially responsible for attracting its impressive roster of artists, and La Cigale, which has been entertaining Parisians since it opened in 1887 – first as a dance hall and now as the venue of choice for visiting indie and rock bands.

On stage at Le Trianon │ Courtesy of Le Trianon

On stage at Le Trianon │ Courtesy of Le Trianon

Further north and east in the modernist dreamscape that is La Villette, you’ll find a number of cultural venues and attractions, the largest of which are Le Zénith, which can seat nearly 6,300 people and has one of the best sound systems in France, and the newly opened Philharmonie de Paris, which is attempting to democratize classical music by making ticket prices affordable and providing an engaging program of performances. This is also where you’ll find Paris’ museum of music.

Metro buskers

Another great way to hear live music in Paris is by riding the metro. The artists have to pass through a hyper-competitive audition process to get their busking license so the quality is likely to exceed expectations. You can also normally find music students rehearsing in front of the steps of the Palais Garnier most days. While this is technically free music, you should really chuck them a few euros or buy an album as your good cultural deed for the day.

Festivals

There are music festivals going on in Paris right through the year, from the one held by The Peacock Society in February (and again in July because they really love a good party) to the Transient Festival in November, which celebrates electronic music, audiovisual arts and digital cultures.

As you’d expect, the number and diversity of festivals increases during the summer months. In May, you have the ten-day long Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Paris Ukelele Festival and Villette Sonique. In June, you can head out of the city for France’s version of Download, hang out in the Bois de Vincennes for the eco-friendly We Love Green or the Bois de Boulogne for Solidays, or dance in the city streets with the Fête de la Musique. The Paris Jazz Festival runs into July, which also brings Lollapalooza, and the season winds down with Rock en Seine at the end of August.

Record stores

Paris has hundreds of places to shop for music and, handily, we’ve already cherry-picked the 10 best record stores. Of these, two that need checking out are L’International Records and Souffle Continu. The first was opened by the owners of the ace bar mentioned above and the passionate, friendly staff are only too happy to guide you through the extensive collection of new and used records. The second, launched by music-loving duo Bernard and Théo in 2008, is over by Père Lachaise cemetery and stocks everything from jazz improv to harsh noise.

If you’re in the mood for musical instrument (window) shopping, head to the Rue de Douai for guitars, Canu Millant near Saint-Lazare for violins and cellos, and Sax Machine for, well, you can guess from the name.

Radio stations

There’s a Parisian radio station out there for everyone and even if you aren’t in the city you can tune into local channels easily enough online. Of the national stations, FIP (France Inter Paris) is arguably the best, offering an uninterrupted and eclectic mix of genres. Without question, the station with the best name (and attitude) is Radio FG. What exactly the initials stand for has never been quite clear but the current tagline ‘Radio FG… fucking good music’ is amazing.

Musical monuments

Many big names in western culture are buried in Père Lachaise but the most visited grave by far is that of The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison, who died in Paris of a suspected drug overdose in 1971. Other musical legends in the cemetery include Frédéric Chopin and Édith Piaf.

Another memorial worth checking out is the bust of Dalida in Montmartre. Little known in the English-speaking world, the Italian-Egyptian singer is one of the biggest selling singers in French history and her statue is one of very few depicting famous women in Paris. For this reason, it’s with mixed feelings that we relay the local tradition of rubbing her, well, bust for good luck. However, if her hilarious video for Laissez moi danser is anything to go by, she too would probably laugh at the way it’s kept the bronze shining.

You might also want to visit the backdrops of unforgettable music videos set in Paris like Adele’s Someone Like You and Savage Garden’s Truly Madly Deeply, both of which took in the Seine and its bridges. To get you in the mood for a musical tour of Paris, listen to these 12 songs that vibe perfectly with the city.