Crate Digging: Paris

Working my way though flea markets, record shops and record conventions in search of the elusive Serge Gainsbourg

by

The wild sounds of ’60s Yé-Yé French pop served as my gateway into international music, so when the opportunity to visit Paris with my girlfriend arose, I was quite excited. In preparation for the trip I reached out to a few Parisian contacts to get the lowdown on the best places to for crate digging. Thanks to the likes of Sofiane Boudjemline from Groovy Record and Grégoire de Villanova I was supplied with an extensive list of flea markets, record shops and even a record convention that I diligently compiled into a Google treasure map.

Salon du Vintage Record Show

The first digging destination was the Salon Du Vintage, a weekend market that specialized in vintage clothing and vinyl that was hosted at Docks en Seine. I little knew what to expect as I approached the wave-like glass convention center just by the Seine. Upon entering I was bombarded by an array of record dealers. While I wandered about the booths flipping through every dealer’s Serge Gainsbourg section in hopes of uncovering a copy of my grail for the trip, his Bonnie and Clyde EP, my girlfriend, Jessica explored the extensive mid-century modern furniture and housewares, discovering some finds of her own.

I eventually settled in with a dealer who was rather eager to supply me with stacks of recommendations, which I furiously sampled with my mini Crosley turntable after filtering out the titles I already owned. After listening to about 25 records I up picked up a copy of Les Ysper-Sound’s “Psyché Rock”, a wild instrumental full of bizarre sound effects, fuzz and bells, as well as “C’est Pas La Jolie” by Henri Salvador, a funky Brazilian-influenced tune and favorite of the seller. Other finds of note were Jane Birken’s Lolita Go Home LP, which contains a breathy ode to prostitution as well as Man’s “Erotica” which features a whole lot of heavy moaning that gradually rises to a climax layered over a sleazy funk instrumental.

The second day, we woke up early from our Airbnb apartment in the 13th arrondissement and walked a few blocks to Rue Sorbier where I was taken aback by the sight of a bustling neighborhood sidewalk flea market that stretched as far as one could see. I was excited to be a part of a local event where there were so many LPs and 45s. I saw quickly that I needed to become selective in regards to where I would devote my time.

Records at Rue Sorbier Fleamarket

Venturing a few blocks deeper into the market I came across a few legitimate record dealers with large selections of French 45s meticulously organized by artist. As I flipped through one of the boxes I looked to the dealer and ask him “how much”? He spoke less English than I French, so I followed up with “combien?” Despite all my preparation for the trip, I had failed to learn my numbers en français and his response led me to grab Jessica to translate. Two for five Euros. Not bad, I thought. I set up my turntable, began sampling discs and almost immediately began attracting a crowd of older Frenchmen who were curious about this device of mine. One man joyously spoke to me in French, adjusted his glasses and closed in for a better look. When the attention died down a bit, I burned through several stacks and pulled aside a few Johnny Hallyday records. The man was truly a chameleon of his time. In the late ’50s to early ’60s he recorded rockabilly, in the late ’60s he went psychedelic and in the ’70s and ’80s he adapted hard rock ballads and donned leather body suits. He still records and tours today at the age of 70 and amazingly, after a 53-year career, played his first show in New York in 2012.

Rue-Sorbier-Fleamarket-Puces-Records

After a couple hours we grabbed a couple beers à emporter, and embraced the final leg of the market. I was quite pleased to bargain a nice price on a vintage French light-up globe as well as pick up a couple more 45s. By that point we decided to head back to our apartment, drop off our things and head off to our next destination.

Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, with around 3,000 dealers, is one of the largest flea markets in the world located near the Porte de Clignancourt Metro stop in the 18th arrondissement. The market was started in the late nineteenth century by scavengers who collected their wares from the trash during the night, and were referred to as pêcheurs de lune, or moon fishermen.

To speed things along, we hailed a cab and were dropped off along the outer perimeter of the Flea. We wandered through several aisles of typical everyday flea market fare: knock-offs, cell phone cases, and tube socks, meanwhile wondering what the hype was all about. After a few more disappointing aisles, the scenery changed dramatically and we realized that we had just broken into the old market. We found a map labeling around a dozen indoor and outdoor micro markets that are grouped together by theme and connected by a vast maze of alleyways. Of these dedicated markets, one specializes in music.

The Marché Dauphine building, an indoor mall of two floors, housed many dealers that specialized in vinyl. It was recommended to me to stop by the shop of Karim Belkedah, a Lebanese seller who carried an assortment of rare North African vinyl and other international treats. I flipped through his 45s and made conversation, learning that he sold on eBay under the familiar username of discolibris. There were a few titles I was mildly interested in but the prices were a bit off from what I wanted to spend so I moved on.

Les Puces de Saint Ouen Vinyl Records

I continued to check every seller’s Serge Gainsbourg section in hopes of finding the Bonnie and Clyde EP. Eventually my luck paid off. I excitedly set it aside, along with his Initials B.B. EP. At €60 and €80 apiece, neither were cheap, granted both were difficult records to come across. I inspected Bonnie and Clyde, which had a few light scuffs, nothing bad, but I wanted to have a listen. I asked the owner, a quintessential Frenchman—slim, dressed in black, with silver shaggy hair and a hand rolled cigarette dangling from his mouth, “écouter?” while pointing at my turntable. He shook his head “non” and proceeded to grab the record and play it on the house system. As the hypnotic bassline kicked in loudly he sat behind his desk. Eyes closed, he began to speak along with the call-and-response lyrics as if he was channeling Gainsbourg’s tortured spirit. Jessica and I glanced at each other with the acknowledgment that we were in the midst of a rather special moment. Upon the song’s finale I handed him €120 in hopes that he would accept a discount for both records. He counted the money and again shook his head “non” indicating that he required the full €140. I reluctantly returned Initials B.B. to its box and walked away with Bonnie and Clyde in hand.

We also took in the sites of the best world-class antiques that I have ever seen in person. There were bizarre taxidermy specimens, Art Deco furniture and upscale household decorations, although they were priced out of range. The market appeared to be of no end, and with a looming thunderstorm, we eventually had to call it quits.

In my preparation for the trip I had asked a few Parisians what their favorite record shops were and their consensus top pick was Superfly Records. I had bought from their website and was familiar with their superior inventory. They regularly acquire in-demand West African, Brazilian and other international records and I looked forward to seeing what their storefront had to offer. They are located down a long, quiet stretch of high-end garment shops along Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth. Upon entering I scanned the impressive collection of international records which, as expected, included an expansive Afro section. I found an LP that had been on my want list within their North African section, Ya Nefsi Toubi by Freh Khodja, which I purchased for just a bit more than the cost of shipping it to the states. It’s an odd ball disco funk record by a Tunisian artist that has a couple of nice upbeat cuts.

Another shop that I briefly visited was Crocodisc, which mostly offered a selection of American rock, disco, soul and hip-hop LPs although I once again made a find within the North African section with the LP Laissez-Moi Raconter by Djamel Allam. Laissez-Moi Raconter is a beautiful prog-folk record from Algeria that masterfully blends the sounds of east and west.

Aside from the record digging, we enjoyed the Catacombes de Paris, Deyrolle (a bizarre museum quality taxidermy shop full of exotic animals), Montparnasse Cemetery, a DJ set by Grégoire de Villanova at Le Divan du Monde, the Eiffel Tower at night, Père Lachaise Cemetery (location of Serge Gainsbourg’s grave) and much more. I will be looking forward to my next visit as there is still plenty more to find and experience.

Share your thoughts

One comment

  1. John

    Serge Gainsbourg’s Grave is located at Cimetière du Montparnasse, not at Père Lachaise.
    Sorry bro.

×