The french city of light -and love- is well known for being one of Europe’s culture capitals. With some of the world’s top museums -like the Louvre or Pompidou-, outstanding examples of architecture and some of the finest restaurants around, Paris is one of the go-to places for the most discerning and enlightened tourists. While, historically, it might not be as synonymous with electronic music as other cities like Detroit, Berlin or Sheffield, the late 90’s and 2000’s influence of many so-called “french touch”acts (such as Daft Punk, Mr.Oizo, Laurent Garnier, Motorbass, Air and the whole Ed Banger crew) certainly helped put this metropolis on the map of clubbing and general DJ culture.
The city has many worthy nightclubs such as “Djoon” -great for Chicago house and black music lovers-, “La Java” -a bohemian venue with a retro atmosphere where, depending on the night, styles like afrobeat, dub, punk or techno can be heard-, “Badaboum” -a recent newcomer to the scene that specializes in house & techno-, and of course the legendary “Rex Club” -located at Boulevard Poissonnière, near la Porte Saint Denis-, that at this point should need no further introduction.
Paris also boasts a number of excellent vinyl record stores. Whether you like classic house and techno -easily found in shops like “Syncrophone” and “DDD Records”-, disco and funk -abundant in “Heart Beat Vinyl”, “Music Please” and the amazing “Betino’s Record Shop”- or more experimental genres like krautrock -for which I love taking a visit to the “Walrus”, to also have a great cup of coffee!-, there’s always a good place in Paris for all kinds of crate diggers. Other than that, there’re also some very cool book stores that specialize in music such as “Librairie Musicale Falado”, or Woodbrass’ own little shop (on Av. Nouveau Conservatoire). Both of them have a good selection of biographies, essays and music history books, but are better known for their sheet music collection.
This is all fine if you’re more of a music listener, but what about us (pro and amateur) musicians, electronic music producers and engineers? Well, if you wanted a synth-friendly guide to Paris you’ve come to the right place!
Here is a curated list -and route- of the best places for synthesists, electronic musicians and DJs; where you can hang out, buy and test the best current production, used and dusty vintage gear.
If you’re a modular synth geek -and a part of the current eurorack craze- this is definitely your shop. Modular Square certainly honors its name with an excellent selection of manufacturers, ranging from local brands like Mutable -or Eowave, to whom the shop are closely related-, to other brilliant makers such as Verbos, Intellijel, Befaco or Cwejman. A big wall of modular system(s) salutes you on the way in, begging you to twist some of its shiny knobs -and to spend some of those hard earned bills, I might add!-.
But there’s more to the shop than just modular gear. In the store you can also find more “mainstream” brands like Roland, Elektron or Arturia, and products quite far from the typical modular ethos like the Vermona DRM drum module, some OTO fx boxes, a mighty Haaken Continuum controller or the new Jomox Alphabase drum machine.
Although Modular Square has existed for quite some time now, the shop previously operated pretty much via appointment only -as it was more of a distributor than a traditional shop-. But things have changed! Since 2016 the store is now open to the public from 13:45 to 18:45 (tuesday to saturday) at 47, rue Sedaine. If you pass by, Cyril and the crew will be happy to help you there.
Univers Sons is more of a “pro-audio” shop at its core, but it also has a bunch of cool synthesizers and some well regarded DJ and electronic music gear in stock. With more than 30 years in the business the current store has over 500 square meters crammed full of top notch equipment.
It has -for example- a huge wall of headphones, where you could choose your next audiophile pair of cans; a studio-like space to try out some of the finest monitors -from premium brands like Focal or Neumann (formerly Klein and Hummel)- and also an area with some very stylish flush mount racks, full of compressors, EQs and other studio processors (from brands like Manley Labs, Chandler or Thermionic Culture).
Apart from this, in “Univers” you can also find some of the latest keyboard synthesizers and modules like the new Elektron Rytm and A4, Korg’s new Prologue or Novation’s Peak; plus a lot of DJ gear ranging from controllers and interfaces -for digital DJs- to mixers and record players. The shop is open mondays to fridays -from 11 to 19 p.m.- at 159 Rue Amelot.
In the neighbourhood of Pigalle you can find “Home Studio”, which not only caters to the casual hobbyist (as its name seems to imply) but also to stablished pros. It’s a very cool place with a kind of modern -but vibey- atmosphere, and it has excellent customer service.
The place has a lot in common with Univers in regards to gear, with an amazing selection of rack units -from Universal Audio, Tube Tech, Manley, SSL, Burl, etc.-, top of the line synths -like DSI’s Pro 2 and OB-6, Roland’s System 8 or a limited edition Moog Model D- plus some very cool studio controllers and interfaces -such as Roli’s Seaboard Grand-.
The shop is open tuesdays to saturdays, from 10 to 13 p.m. in the morning and from 14:15 to 19 in the afternoon. You can find it at 39-41 rue Victor Massé.
A bit of an odd-ball in this list, Master-Wave specializes in second hand gear, ranging from synths to studio signal processing, with some Hi-Fi material thrown in. It’s a place were most of the stuff is vintage, ranging mainly from the 70s to the 1990s. So if you want to try some of the latest and shiniest this is probably not your spot, but it’s a great place for connoisseurs, looking for that weird, once in a lifetime gear find. I’m more of an old-school guy so I certainly like it.
Here you could find some amazing under-the-radar vintage mics (like a Neumann UM-57 or a pair of Schoeps), along classic machines like Roland’s TB-303 or TR-909, and pair them with some ancient EMT comps or UREI EQ racks. If you are hunting for classic pieces the prices are usually a bit steep, but for less well known stuff there are always a few bargains to be found. The shop is also in Quartier Pigalle (14 rue Victor Massé, very close to Home Studio), and opens tuesdays to fridays, from 10:30 to 19 p.m.
Just a few streets away from Home Studio you can find Star’s Music shop. With its wooden floors and furniture and its walls full of acoustic and electric guitars, this feels more like a “traditional” music store. But, even if you don’t like stringed instruments that much, there are some very cool effects and stompboxes -from the likes of Strymon, EHX, et al.-, nice monitors -like Dynaudios or Genelecs-, drums -from Pearl, Gretsch…-, microphones, classical instruments and general studio necessities.
For us electronic-heads there’s also selection of synths, keyboards and controllers, some mixers and P.A. Speakers, plus general DJ gear. Star’s has also a few more shops in Lyon and Lille, so if you happen to be elsewhere in France you can also check them out. The Paris store is open tuesdays to saturdays from 10 to 13 p.m. and also from 14:15 to 19 in the afternoon (much like Home Studio). Address is 1-11 Boulevard de Clichy.
This is different from the Woodbrass book store we mentioned before, although it shares the same brand and management. Quite a bit far from Pigaille, this time near la Cité de la Musique -another recommended stop- you can find Woodbrass’ music shop. A store that most of us know because of its web presence as a music retailer, it’s certainly more of an all-arounder (like Star’s, but much bigger) that specializes in electric and acoustic guitars, but also sells almost anything related to music. From Empirical Labs Distressors to EMI-TG comps, from the priciest Fender axe to the cheapest Squire, from studio to live gear, they have everything covered.
Woodbrass is one of France’s biggest music distributors, and as such it shares some resemblance with german monsters like Music Store or Thomann. Because of this, one of the best things about it is that prices are generally pretty competitive -that’s what happens with economies of scale, so if you prefer to support small businesses look elsewhere!-.
With more than 1500 square metres, Woodbrass’ Paris instrument shop is a great place to buy guitars, drumsets, classical instruments and of course home studio equipment. Maybe it’s not the first stop for an electronic musician -although they had some cool synths like an Arturia Matrixbrute, Korg Prologue, Moog Theremins or even some Dreadbox stuff-, but it’s a very well balanced (and huge) generalist music store. The shop is open mondays to saturdays, from 10 to 13:30 p.m. in the morning and from 14:15 to 19:30 in the afternoon. It’s located at 184 avenue Jean Jaurès.
About the author: José -Pepe- Coca is a musician, producer and audio engineer from Zaragoza (Spain). He has a PhD in Art and teaches Sound Systems, Synthesis and Mastering courses at CPA Salduie and SEAS. He has also worked as a sound designer for companies such as Elektron, Befaco or HelloSamples.